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Suffolk's Community Self Help scheme for road repairs is 'double taxation', claims opposition councillor

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Sudbury councillor Jack Owen. (11291072)
Sudbury councillor Jack Owen. (11291072)

A scheme which will see community volunteers carry out low-level maintenance around their roads was launched this month.

The Community Self Help scheme was first tabled last year, after it was revealed that Suffolk Highways only had a third of the budget it needed to carry out all of the work on the road network.

That left low-level work, such as road sign cleaning, maintaining passing places on rural roads and trimming back hedges and pathways, on the back-burner as highways bosses prioritised potholes and defects.

Mary Evans, Conservative cabinet member for highways, said: “The scheme is about enabling and empowering communities to do those minor maintenance tasks.

“We recognise every year that communities do things like litter picks, and we applaud that, and this is doing those little extras that we won’t do as an authority anymore.

“This is not about filling potholes. We spent a lot of time researching what other authorities do, not many highways authorities have gone this far yet.

“I think it’s a big step for us, but it’s huge empowerment for local communities.”

A survey of 150 parishes last year revealed that 90 were already carrying out some work, which highways chiefs say can now be carried out safely with the correct supervision and equipment as part of this initiative.

The authority – facing another year of cutbacks – has put £100,000 from the Chancellor’s autumn budget into paying for training sessions and safety equipment, such as goggles, high-vis jackets and hard hats.

Speaking after the launch, Labour’s highways spokesman Jack Owen, a Sudbury town and county councillor, said: “This is double taxation, plain and simple.

“The Conservatives running Suffolk County Council are trying to wash their hands of responsibility, forcing town and parish councils to do their own highways work without providing proper funding.

“For the Tories to try to spin this as ‘empowering communities’ is, frankly, insulting.

“They should at least be honest for a change – if they want to push yet another burden on our communities, they should at least have the guts to say so.”

The first training sessions are to take place in June and July, with parish and town councils now able to request projects.