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Funds will be sorely missed
12:00pm Thursday 10th January 2013 in News
A SHORTLIVED “big society” roads initiative at County Hall will be sorely missed, according to campaigners who have seen pay dividends.
Last week, council chiefs announced the area stewardship fund would be one of the casualties of £46m of extra cuts needed as a result of a 12 per cent decrease in the council’s grant from central Government.
The fund was introduced about 18 months ago to link in with plans in Westminster for David Cameron’s localism bill.
It divided a £1.09m pot of cash between councillors to pay for highways work requested by their constituents.
Money from councillors John Tanner and Chip Sherwood’s slice of the fund was last week put into a £16,000 crossing in Weirs Lane, south Oxford, after 20 years of requests from residents.
Mr Tanner said: “The stewardship fund has enabled some very valuable projects and I’m very sad that it’s going.
“But what’s really important is that local councillors continue to have a say on the money that’s spent in their areas.”
In December, £25,000 from the fund was welcomed in Abingdon, where a new crossing in Spring Road will make children’s journeys to school safer.
Another success story for the fund is a zebra crossing in Denchworth Road, Grove, which was put in in July last year after an eight-year campaign.
Roughly a third of the cash for the £20,000 crossing came from Lib Dem councillor and leader of the opposition Zoe Patrick’s share of the fund.
She said: “The thing you hear a lot on the doorstep as a politician is that people don’t see how their council tax is being spent.
“This was one thing we could do to prove we were spending some of the money on things they needed.
“People are going to be very disappointed about this. We weren’t very happy to see that they are planning to phase it out.”
She said the new crossing was welcomed in the Grove area, and helps pupils at Millbrook Primary School and Grovelands Pre-School, along with elderly people.
She said: “It’s all in now and it’s excellent. It’s something we had wanted for many years.”
Other initiatives paid for by the fund include traffic management schemes, refurbished footways, dropped kerbs and verge improvements in urban areas.
County council leader Ian Hudspeth said: “The fund has been very successful.
“It’s been working in collaboration with parish and town councils on what they see as benefiting their areas.
“The main point to make about it is we’re going to be putting the money back into the maintenance programme budget which will be used for the upkeep of the existing infrastructure.
“While we recognise the value of the fund, the priority has to be the road infrastructure.”
The fund is between areas based on various social and population factors.
From this year’s funding pot, £244,000 went to Oxford City, £234,000 to Abingdon, £244,000 to Didcot and £247,947 to Bicester.
Smaller or rural areas got less, with £114,507 given to Wallingford councillors, £116,532 to Faringdon and £111,285 to Thame.
Under the budget proposals, the fund will run for another year but will not be available from April 2014.
Cutting the highways fund is a double blow, as the council has also announced it will cut back on “pro-active” road maintenance schemes to the tune of £0.7m in 2015/16 and £0.3m in 2016/17.
These would include carrying out any non-emergency road repair, including pot holes.