In an opinion piece last week, I made the comment on the perceived changing relationship between Rother District Council and Rye, to the advantage of both. Sadly the same cannot be said about East Sussex County Council (ESCC), despite the fact that the council leader, Councillor Keith Glazier, is also the ESCC councillor for Rye.
Residents and businesses alike will be only too aware of the willingness with which East Sussex Highways has allowed road closures around the town, often at times of the year that could have a significant effect on Rye’s economy and only vociferous complaints have sometimes, but not always, forced changes.
Now I fully appreciate that applications from, say, utility companies to dig up a section of road are probably processed by a junior clerk who has never been to Rye, probably can’t point to it on a map, has no qualms in sending traffic on a ten mile diversion and absolutely no idea of the potential financial damage to local business when the period for the road closure coincides with a particularly busy time of the year.
Last week, they did it again. On Friday afternoon, notices went up adjacent to 100 – 105 High Street advising parking was suspended for three days from Monday, December 13 in order to renew a power cable. This was not an emergency and could have been done at any time.
This year has, as we all know, been a disruptive one for local traders, dependent as the town is on visitors and the tourist trade, so any further disruption, however short, in the potentially busy run up to Christmas is going to be unwelcome. No prior notice had been given of the work and the signs went up too late for any contact to be made with the power company concerned before the weekend. It seemed, therefore, that there was nothing that could be done and any high street business affected would just have to take the financial hit.
Fortunately, Ryers are made of sterner stuff and first thing Monday morning Justin Smith of Ashbees, the shop that would be primarily affected, started on the tedious task of tracking down the right person at the right power company (UK Power Networks in this case) to re-arrange dates for the work. Meanwhile a neighbour parked their car in the centre of the area designated for the work and refused to move it when the workmen arrived to close the area off, until Justin’s phone marathon had achieved a result.
And it did. Having reached the relevant department, it was easily agreed to re-arrange the work for a date in January when the disruption to trade and general inconvenience would be significantly less.
So a good outcome. But one has to ask the question, why was all this necessary in the first place? One can understand East Sussex Highways not appreciating that there might be a problem in digging up a chunk of the high street on one of the busiest out-of-season shopping weeks of the year – they have rarely given the town any consideration before, so why start now?
However, the one person who should have known about both the work and its timing is, of course, our representative, Councillor Keith Glazier, and if he did not know, then why not? It is, as our councillor, his job to know all that concerns Rye in relation to the county council and his first responsibility is, after all, to those who elected him and who rightly expect that he will work on their behalf. So I asked him, and received this reply:
“On this occasion, I wasn’t aware of the work planned. I understand UK Power Networks were granted a permit to replace a junction box in the pavement. They did not directly inform me or, I believe, residents, traders or other councillors. It is the responsibility of utility companies to give appropriate warnings of forthcoming work but it is normal that for smaller scale works (for example which don’t involve road closures) they will not contact us directly but will simply post signs – as they did in this case. I appreciate though that this doesn’t take into account the importance of this time of year for traders.
“You may like to know however that anyone can subscribe to automatic alerts about roadworks in their area here Roadworks in Your Area (eastsussexhighways.com).
“In any event, I’m always available to be contacted by you, or any constituent, in situations where I might be able to help. It’s true that being council leader makes me very busy, but it’s equally my job to represent Rye and the rest of the ward to the best of my ability and I’m very proud to do that”.
This is interesting information and the alerts to roadworks may well be a useful tool for local businesses, however it does not entirely let ESCC off the hook. The sign mentioned earlier in this article, and to which Councillor Glazier also refers, was indeed posted, but too late for proper representations to be made to either UK Power Networks or East Sussex Highways.
This surely is not acceptable as a standard practise and when even small works are going to cause disruption for several days, as in this case, it seems not unreasonable that there should be a requirement of a minimum of, say, seven days notice so that businesses might have time either to make arrangements to accommodate the disruption or to explain to the originators of the work why, unless it was an emergency, it should not be done at the time and date proposed, but on another occasion, mutually convenient to all parties.
Perhaps Councillor Glazier might like to take this proposal forward.
Image Credits: John Minter .