One issue is raised with me everywhere I go in High Peak – traffic.
From lorries thundering through Tintwistle on long-distance journeys to Manchester, to communities like Dove Holes – cut in half by the A6, to standing traffic on Fairfield Road in Buxton and the High Street in Glossop to fast cars on narrow roads, often with no pavements, in many of our towns and villages.
The pack routes through High Peak were designed for horses and carts, and many of our houses that line those narrow streets were built before motor cars, when pavements weren’t provided.
Now that almost every household owns a car, and many own multiple cars, and we often make several car journeys a day, many of our streets have become crowded corridors of traffic.
And it’s a vicious circle – the more we use our cars, the more unsafe and unpleasant it is to walk or to cycle, the less demand there is for buses, and the more we need our cars, perpetuating the problems.
Last year I organised a traffic survey outside the school in Whaley Bridge and we counted 8,000 vehicles between 8am and 6pm every day – 800 an hour on an ordinary street.
It’s no wonder that road safety is such a concern. The County Council is looking to save £300,000 a year on School Crossing Patrols – more than the combined wages of all the ‘lollipop’ men and women, who are so much liked and valued by children – and their parents.
I visited Furness Vale School last week, where my eldest children were at school over ten years ago, to find that it’s now impossible to cross the A6 without a ‘lollipop’.
Schools have been asked to fund crossing patrols themselves, but with almost every school in High Peak facing further budget cuts of thousands of pounds, it is impossible for most schools to do so.
Derbyshire County Council, which has already seen a 58% cut to its government funding, has cut everything it can safely cut. Now with a further £12 million of ‘savings’ to find, even safety measures are targeted.
£400,000 is being cut from the already meagre road safety budget, making it almost impossible to deliver any road safety, even where it is desperately needed.
Last November, the Council increased the criteria for even looking at safety measures to spots where there have been at least seven accidents with injuries in the last three years, meaning almost no areas qualify now that you are very rarely hurt when in a car. But pedestrians – who suffer far worse injuries in accidents – are more at risk.
Even the invaluable gritting service, whose drivers did such a brilliant job this winter, will see cuts of £500,000 and the council say, “existing gritting routes may be reviewed.”
Communities up and down Derbyshire will pay a very high price for these cuts. We’ve just seen our Council Tax go up by 5%, but these government cuts are now biting.
I will carry on working with communities to do the best we can to improve road safety – helping to set up Community Speed Watch patrols, working to improve our public transport, and encourage walking and cycling where it’s safe.
But communities that want to see real safety improvements on our roads will need a government that’s prepared to fund councils enough that they can afford to invest in safety before accidents happen, not afterwards.