County Councillor’s Report, 16 June 2019
It’s been a funny old month but I’m not laughing after the bone-shaking drive on the first seven miles of the 30 miles to Abbey Foregate.
Newcomers to Highley have it in their heads that no-one has done a thing to improve the situation. As newcomers they won’t know about a recorded history of at least four generations, discovered by Mandy Burgess who found letters to the Bridgnorth Journal from ‘citizens’, businessmen/farmers, even local councillors, complaining about the state of the Highley/Bridgnorth road back in the day when it didn’t even have the number we all now know and love it by, the B-four-triple five.
Geology and geography is our problem, not helped by a self-perception that militates against any serious consideration of Highley as a viable place in which to invest the kind of money it would take to bring our road up to a usable state, let alone a decent one.
In terms of geology? Well, you don’t need me to tell you about the problems on the New Road. It’s built on a series of hillsides all of which give the distinct impression that they’d really rather be in Borle Brook and can’t wait to get there: as fast as a slippage is addressed it starts to reappear, although we’ve been fairly lucky with the last three/four, with just the one bit beginning to move (and older readers will doubtless detect a fair bit of touching wood there), attributable to my insistence that the job(s) be done “properly” this time. It’s worth noting that based on previous geological surveys, Highways give ANY repair to the New Road an expected life-span of five years!
When the recent work on Knowle Sands was being planned I received a conditional promise that if there was “anything left over” then serious consideration would be given to the state of the rest of the B4555. I wasn’t holding my breath.
We’re stuck down here in the remote south-east corner of the county with no A-road giving us a direct link to the commercial centres of the West Midlands, even our doctors and nurses have to travel a considerable distance to get here. I remember when we moved here 19 years ago friends saying: “We’ll call in when we’re passing.” And I’m thinking: “No you won’t because Highley isn’t a place you pass on your way to somewhere else.” It doesn’t matter that we’re a diversion to some of the most interesting countryside in the county, we’re still a diversion. Which, of course, is what makes it an attractive place to live.
Right, that’s geology and geography covered, now what about that “self-perception” bit?
In their recent contentious announcement, Shirehall planning department told us that THEIR “preferred site” for the location of another 122 houses was on the field backing on to Yew Tree Grove. (For reference, 122 houses is exactly the number of houses we’ve seen built since 2013 (Taylor Wimpey 58, Rhea Hall 29, Staley Grove 35), so that’s the scale of the intended development AND WITHOUT REFERENCE TO THE IMPACT ON OUR INFRASTRUCTURE.
So what’s that got to do with what I’m saying is Highley’s self-perception and why is that a problem?
Highley sees itself as a “village”. In the documents that accompanied Shirehall planning department’s notice of the Yew Tree Grove site as the one THEY preferred for 122 houses, the planners said that in 2016 our population was “estimated” to be 3,195. Yet according to the 2011 official government census (not known for making ‘estimates’) the population then (eight years ago) was 3,602, since when we’ve seen 122 houses built since 2013. And the population has shrunk? Hmmm.
According to those eight-year-old census figures a population of 3,600 makes us bigger than at least two other population centres in the southern half of the county, both of which are designated “towns” (figures as per the 2011 census), Cleobury Mortimer (3,268) and Bishops Castle (1,639).
You see the problem? How we see ourselves is how others see us, in a way that reinforces the view that couldn’t be better expressed than how it is in the ‘Highley & Surrounding Area Place Plan 2019/2020’:
“The area’s predominantly rural nature will require development to be both limited in scale, and sensitive to the environment.”
Despite tourism being a major contributor to Shropshire’s economy, would you invest money ANYWHERE that was predicted to remain “predominantly rural”? At one time, certainly when I was first elected in 2013, I actively pushed – and still do, actually only a matter of weeks ago – the 2004 feasibility study commissioned by the rather wonderful and sadly missed Highley Initiative with the intention of developing the old Kinlet Colliery site as a tourist attraction along the lines of the lead mines at Stiperstones.
I’ve consistently pushed the technology-based industry argument because ‘rural’ doesn’t always faze them, not least because we have a site with outline planning permission in the form of the area behind the existing Netherton workshops which contains a global player in the high voltage sector: Genvolt. (And there has been some ground-breaking innovations at both our pen factories!)
But I am constantly reminded of Highley’s perception of its status as a “village”. “Villages” no longer attract public funding because most – if not all – current funding from central government or the EU (through the Local Enterprise Partnership), has to be match-funded and used to “promote growth”, housing comes into it ONLY if it supports proposals for industry and/or commerce. So that’s Highley out of it and goes a long way to explain Shirehall’a reluctance to spend money on our roads.
I sometimes feel as if I’ve been entered into a race with my shoe laces tied together.