As is well known Oxfordshire County Council is under considerable funding pressure and has indicated that its spending priority is on social care and protecting the vulnerable. This means that the other services provided by the County Council are likely to suffer.
Of particular interest to parishes is the impact on highway services. The policy adopted by the County Council to address this is to make a proposal to town and parish councils under the esoteric title “Transition of Highway Services”. This envisages that a parish council will take over responsibility for providing services such as grass cutting under a three year legal agreement in return for a grant. Wootton Parish Council is still considering its response. However, there are potential shortcomings in such an arrangement. T
he agreement expects a parish council to take over Oxfordshire Highways’ statutory responsibility for cutting visibility splays to ensure road safety at road junctions; this would leave the parish council vulnerable to being sued in the event of an accident even if it were due to the negligence of the contractor. Furthermore, the level of the grant is only guaranteed for the first year of the contract.
In the meantime, residents will have noticed that the grass on verges in Wootton is getting unacceptably high and there are areas where the visibility at junctions does not meet the statutory responsibilities of Oxfordshire Highways. Oxfordshire Highways has undertaken to sort out the visibility splays as soon as possible and to carry out the first grass cut of the verges; there does appear to be a backlog in their grass cutting programme presumably arising from the change in policy.
As we have not signed an agreement Oxfordshire Highways’ statutory responsibility for ensuring safe visibility at junctions remains in place and Wootton Parish Council will continue to press for appropriate action. Residents can, however, also help by reporting direct to Oxfordshire Highways, either on its website, by e-mail Highway.Enquiries@Oxfordshire.gov.uk or by telephone 08453 101111, any unsafe road conditions.