Low take-up of Highways Together initiative across Herts

PUBLISHED: 13:31 24 May 2018 | UPDATED: 14:41 24 May 2018

Volunteers have been clearing overgrown vegetation in some parts of Herts. Photo by Kevin Keenan

Volunteers have been clearing overgrown vegetation in some parts of Herts. Photo by Kevin Keenan

Kevin Keenan

Cleaning signs and clearing overgrown vegetation might usually be down to the council – but in pockets of Herts volunteers have been rolling up their sleeves themselves.

A small number of groups have already taken on some highway maintenance tasks, through their local town council, as part of the county’s Highways Together initiative.

But a report to County Hall’s highways cabinet suggests that take-up of the scheme has been low.

And now the county council wants to talk to town and parish council leaders to find out why.

As part of the Highways Together scheme, parish and town councils have the automatic right to carry out ‘low risk’ highway works, without seeking permission from the council.

Those works can include tree maintenance, clearing overgrown vegetation, maintaining planted areas, sign cleaning and even re-painting street furniture.

And it can be done by volunteers, paid for from town or parish council budgets or, in some cases, it can be completed by the Community Payback Team.

Highways Together was launched in 2015 so work could be completed quickly for the benefit of local residents, at a time when public sector budgets were under significant pressure.

Harpenden Town Council, Hertford Town Council, Wheathampstead Town Council and Little Gaddesden Parish Council are among those to have completed or contracted works under the scheme, that have included planting, painting, clearing overgrown plants and even drainage work.

But it is acknowledged that take-up across the county is low, with concerns including onerous Health and Safety responsibilities and difficulty in attracting volunteers.

Feedback also points to a sense that parish and town councils are being asked to pick up responsibility for what the County Council should already be doing.

There have been recent calls for the scheme to be enhanced, to include a wider range of tasks, and for the enhanced scheme to be better promoted to parish, town and community councils.

And at the meeting Cllr Steve Jarvis said there was a need to make the scheme work.

“We have to look at ways we can work together more effectively,” he said.

Highways cabinet panel chairman Cllr Ralph Sangster said that there were advantages to be gained from town and parish councils being a part of this process.

He highlighted criticism of the sheme from town and parish councils, which he said included documentary requirements and other things.

And he suggested that they now talk together to see what improvements could be made to make it more productive.

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