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'The number of near misses people have told me about is really scary' - one-in-five school crossing patrols disappear in five years

PUBLISHED: 06:30 01 May 2015 | UPDATED: 11:15 01 May 2015

More than 50 school crossing patrols have ceasesd in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire over the past five years.

More than 50 school crossing patrols have ceasesd in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire over the past five years.

Archant Norfolk Photographic© 2007

More than 50 school crossing patrols in our region have been lost over the past five years, according to information released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Case study: North Walsham

Last spring, Tom Cornwall resigned from his job as lollipop man serving Happisburgh Road in North Walsham.

Norfolk County Council did not replace him, saying there were not enough children of a relevant age crossing the road.

According to Rachael Baylis, who has four children, the crossing was used by children walking to and from North Walsham High School, Manor Road junior and infants schools, Town Tots Pre-School, Bright Start Montessori Nursery and Poppies Nursery.

She said that crossing the road had become “terrifying” since Mr Cornwall’s departure.

She said: “[The lollipop man] meant that everyone had a safe place to stop and cross the road. Even the teenagers would use him to cross the road safely. It also slowed the road a lot. It’s supposed to be 20mph, but people go a lot faster. It’s just not safe.

“Kids are walking between cars and the number of near misses people have told me about is really scary.”

More than 350 people have now signed Mrs Baylis’s petition calling for a pedestrian crossing to be installed.

Graphic: School crossing patrol changes since 2010

The figures came as road safety charity Break urged councils to keep their lollipop men and women, despite funding cuts in recent years.

Suffolk has seen the biggest decrease, with the number falling by almost a quarter, from 81 in 2010 to 62 in the current year. The figure for Cambridgeshire fell from 58 to 48 in the same period.

Figures from Norfolk County Council showed a net loss of 22 school crossing patrols between 2011 and now, from 126 to 104, although a spokesman said it currently runs 110 patrols.

The loss of lollipop men and women has been felt differently in different communities.

North Walsham mum Rachael Baylis said that crossing Happisburg Road has become “really dangerous” since the county council decided not to replace the lollipop man after he resigned last year, and more than 350 people have signed a petition calling for a pedestrian crossing to address the problem.

In contrast, Jim Graves, clerk of Horsford Parish Council, said the council’s decision not to replace Christine Longman, who retired last May after 17 years with the infant school, had little effect because only two or three children used it, and were accompanied by parents.

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said the loss of crossings had not been because of budget cuts, and added: “Over the years, some crossings have stopped running because they had fallen below the local government road safety criteria guidelines – for example fewer numbers of children at a school, the installation of equipment like pelican crossings outside a school, or where new roads have taken the traffic away from the road where the school is.”

However, councillors last year approved a £150,000 cut in the school crossing patrol budget this year, and a further £150,000 cut next year.

At the time, the council said it would look at new ways of funding crossings, such as sponsorship or using volunteers.

A council spokesman said: “They are still looking at the detail of various options and no decisions have been made. There might be more mileage looking at this after the elections.”

Reasons Suffolk County Council gave for shutting crossings included using zebra or light-controlled crossings, or its school organisation review.

Dave Nichols, spokesman for Brake, the road safety charity, said: “School crossing patrols are an important service, highly valued by communities, ensuring children can cross roads near their schools safely, without fear from traffic.

“While we appreciate councils have faced significant financial challenges in recent years, the safety of children should not be compromised as a result.

“Brake urges councils to retain crossing patrols, and implement wider measures like 20mph limits, to enable children to get about on foot - which is important for their health and development - without being endangered.”

Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: “Local authorities have had to make many difficult decisions due to their reduced funding, and the school crossing patrol service has had to carry some of these cuts.

“However, it’s crucial that authorities do a very careful assessment of the risk to children if a patrol is removed and only remove a patrol if they are confident that there are other measures to protect children, such as a light-controlled crossing, a reduction in the speed limit to 20mph or a reduction in traffic.”

Despite the overall reduction in lollipop men and women in recent years, Norfolk County Council said it was currently seeking four new recruits, at Bure Valley, Terrington St Clement, Overstrand and Mattishall. See www.norfolk.gov.uk/jobs

Are changes being made to your school crossing patrol? Email martin.george@archant.co.uk

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