HIGHWAYS cuts could create a Wigan floods nightmare, unions claimed today.
Town hall chiefs want to halve the local road gully-cleaning service as they battle to balance the books amid Government spending reductions.
But in a plea to councillors demanding a re-think, Unite regional industrial organiser Graham Williams warned that there could be a wholesale increase in the incidence of flooding because the remaining crews will be unable to cope, especially when autumnal leaves start blocking grid covers.
Mr Williams said: “The council’s stance was that due to the cuts imposed by the Government, they would reduce the wagon and driver numbers and accepted there would be a reduction in service and a reduction in clearing the 61,500 gullies within the borough.
“They say that they are in line with other councils in the county but I don’t believe that Wigan council taxpayers will be comfortable with this stance as they have suffered through floods and blockages in the recent past.
“By taking this view there is a possibility in the short term that voters’ insurance premiums will climb and that ultimately the value of properties will drop if properties become uninsurable.”
He was backed by Wigan’s opposition leader Coun Gary Wilkes. He said: “To cut the number of vehicles from two to just one is like saying to the Wigan taxpayer the Labour-controlled council doesn’t care if parts of the borough flood because we are not bound by law to prevent it.
“We should be increasing the number of times gullies are cleaned especially after the wet summer we have just had.
“Leaves and silt mounting up which could cause people’s properties to increase the risk of flooding. This type of essential maintenance is not expensive but will save home owners thousands of pounds if their property floods.”
But environment cabinet member Coun Kevin Anderson said the council’s Places Directorate was facing £6.5m efficiency savings, with Highways Infrastructure allocated a target of saving of £1.9m in addition to the £1.1m already saved.
He said: “There is no statutory requirement to provide highway cyclic gully cleansing.
“After carrying out a benchmarking exercise and a risk assessment of the incidence of a risk of flooding from highway gullies within the borough, a proposed service standard was developed that will allow the council to continue to provide the service, while offering value for money and securing efficiencies.”
Head of Infrastructure Mark Tilley said the council had entered a 30-day consultation with staff over the proposals but said emergency measures to tackle floods would not be affected.
He added: “A number of consultation meetings have been held with staff and union representatives to share the business case, engage them in the process and actively seek their input and suggestions on alternative solutions for maintaining highway cyclic gully cleansing service while delivering the necessary efficiencies.
“Regardless of the outcome of this consultation, neither the highway gully cleansing fault repair service that is provided to respond to reports of gullies’ being blocked nor the Highway Services emergency service that is provided to respond to major flooding incidence will be affected by the proposal.”