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Motorists in Southend could soon be hit with a fine if they are caught driving over footpaths or grass verges, the deputy leader of the council has revealed.
The council wants to crack down on anyone seen causing damage to the borough’s footpaths and is looking to recruit a wave of new enforcement officers with the ability to start handing out the fines.
Deputy council leader, Councillor Ron Woodley, said the fine would be “relatively small” but he expects it will save the council millions in repairs costs.
Over the past five years, he explained the council has seen the damage caused to the borough’s footpaths go up from around £500,000 each year to around £2million – the equivalent of around 3 per cent of council tax each year.
Some of the damage has happened in Cllr Woodley’s own ward of Thorpe.
He said: “It has happened throughout my ward. The damage is usually severely broken up paving slabs and under those slabs you have services like water, gas, and electricity. All of it needs to be repaired otherwise it can create trip hazard and other problems.”
The councillor put much of the blame on housing developers who he said rarely put down any form of protection for footpaths before driving across them using large vehicles such as skip lorries and diggers.
Other measures being considered include increasing the size of kerb stones or installing bollards.
Conservative transport spokesman, councillor Kevin Buck said he agreed damage to footpaths is a problem in the borough but going straight to enforcement seemed “draconian”.
He said: “I don’t disagree with the principle of what this sets out to achieve but I would prefer a softer approach in terms of communicating with residents that we will take enforcement action if we have no other choice.
“It seems a little draconian to go straight to fines. There are other ways to achieve it and I don’t think enforcement is the best message from a council that is working with the community.”
It is all part of a major expansion of the council’s highways department that will see the recruitment of a raft graduate engineers who will help to deliver major regeneration and infrastructure projects in the town, along with the new enforcement officers.
The recruitment drive is expected to come at a cost of between £900,000 and £1.4m and will expand the highways team from 61 full time roles to 76. At the same time, the restructure will see the current large number of agency and interim staff removed.
It is unclear at this stage how many of the 15 new posts will be civil engineers and how many will be enforcement officers.
Cllr Woodley called the expansion “substantial” and “much-needed” investment in a crucial area of the council’s operations.