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Bid for 'safer schools' in West Berkshire not suitable for blanket implementation

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Liberal Democrat motion included fining drivers who left engines running outside schools

AN attempt to fine drivers leaving their engines running outside West Berkshire schools, along with a focus on other safety measures, have been ruled out, as they are not suitable for blanket implementation and would have little benefit.

In March, Liberal Democrat councillor Erik Pattenden (Newbury Greenham) called for an action plan for No-Vehicle-Idling Zones across West Berkshire, with the aim of implementing enforceable zones around all primary schools in the district by the end of 2021.

Mr Pattenden, the shadow portfolio holder for education, said that residents, staff and children were “exposed to unnecessary levels of pollutants outside of schools at peak times in the morning and afternoon”.

Schools could also sign up to a Safer School Zone, which would include red road markings to prevent dangerous parking and additional visits from traffic enforcement officers.

One-way sections and businesses sponsoring green walls outside schools were also proposed.

The council has now said that while the measures may be appropriate in certain circumstances in some locations, they should not be implemented as a single initiative.

Consultant WSP was commissioned to investigate the practicalities of the motion as the workload and priorities of council staff had been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The WSP report said that the council already had several different initiatives in place to address road safety and environmental issues outside schools.

But practical, legal and resource issues prevented some of the measures from being taken forward.

The report went to the council’s transport advisory group in October, where some members said it was defensive and that the environmental issues were not being treated with sufficient urgency or priority.

Discussing the motion at a recent executive meeting, executive member for transport Richard Somner (Con, Tilehurst South and Holybrook) said the report was factual, honest and identified what the council was doing and where support could be continued or improved.

Executive member for the environment Steve Ardagh-Walter (Con, Thatcham Colthrop and Crookham) added that the motion covered a complex area and that while everyone was behind the spirit of the suggestion, it overlapped with other issues such as traffic congestion around schools.

Mr Pattenden said that although a number of objectives were in progress, his motion would have brought them under the focus of a safer schools umbrella.

“If you’re already doing those things in other disparate areas of the council, that focus of a safer school doesn’t exist,” he said.

Mr Somner replied: “I don’t like the word disparate.

“I don’t believe it is disparate.

“I believe what we have got is a programme of works throughout the department that reach out and work with other departments.

“That doesn’t mean it’s disparate.”

He said the council “needed to be careful with what it was trying to achieve” and not prioritise one area of safety over another.

He said: “What we’ve got is a situation where those things that we do aren’t necessarily just for the benefit of our schools, and I think that’s important.

“I think if we were to focus on one area specifically, we may well lose sight of the need in other areas, and that would be remiss of us to make sure that safety applies to everybody.

“We need to make sure we are doing everything we can across the district and for all areas, and schools are part of that.

“It’s an important part of that, but it’s only a part of it.”

Mr Somner questioned the benefit of car sharing in the current climate, saying “mixing families together to get them to school isn’t best practice at the moment”.

Tony Vickers (Lib Dem, Wash Common) said that the council needed to bring back a schools safety officer role that had been cut, but agreed that now was not the right time.

He said: “The last nine months have been very, very difficult to make progress on this.

“Schools have been run ragged through Covid, they’ve got to keep the show on the road and one can quite understand why this has not been able to be given priority by schools.”

Dr Vickers said he was hopeful that the Government pushing for more active travel measures could play a difference.

“Starting with schools is the best place to start because you build habits of a lifetime into an idea that the way to go from home to work is with your own two feet, whether it’s walking or cycling.”

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