Livid Baxter sees red over inoperable school speed warning signs

Local resident Chris Jones, left, with Councillor Andrew Baxter at the non-working warning lights beside Lundavra Primary School in Fort William. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, NO F44 Lundavra Lights 02
Local resident Chris Jones, left, with Councillor Andrew Baxter at the non-working warning lights beside Lundavra Primary School in Fort William. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, NO F44 Lundavra Lights 02

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Council bosses could be in for a rough ride at today’s meeting of the full Highland Council, after they failed to ensure the 20mph speed warning signs outside schools were operational in time for pupils returning after the October break this week.

It was expected that only a handful of the flashing 20mph signs on the approaches to schools across Lochaber and the rest of Highland region would be operational on Monday.

The problem appears to lie with the current SIM card technology within the units as they are apparently no longer supported by the current or alternative suppliers due to out-dated 2G capabilities.

Chris Jones, from Fort William, lives near the town’s Lundavra Primary School, told the Lochaber Times it was beyond belief the situation had not been rectified in time for pupils’ return to schools.

‘I’m gobsmacked the signs are still not working,’ said Mr Jones, who took the matter up with local councillor, Andrew Baxter.

‘It is absolutely vital these signs are working in places where children are walking to school, otherwise something bad is going to happen. The dark nights are now here and will keep getting darker, so it is absolutely crucial this is rectified as a matter of urgency.’

Mr Jones said he had informed Councillor Baxter, adding: ‘I’m surprised that such a dangerous situation could have been allowed to develop in the first place and astonished that it hasn’t been addressed with the utmost urgency long before now.

‘Given that it has now been confirmed to be a pan-Highland matter, urgent action – and that means urgent, must now be taken.’

And Mr Jones added: ‘Not one child’s safety must be compromised because of this most unfortunate situation.’

The council told the Lochaber Times that the SIM cards had been deactivated by Vodafone, without the local authority’s knowledge, as the system used to contact the signs has been phased out.

The replacement SIMs do not work with the equipment the council has and so it is now in contact with another company to find a work-around in order to get the signs operational again at least short term.

In time, the control equipment at all the signs will need to be replaced and the council is looking to see how this will ultimately be funded.

Asked to comment, a council spokesman told us: ‘There is an ongoing technical fault with the school 20mph warning light system that our staff have been working really hard to resolve.

‘Due to the age of the controllers the new SIM cards that were supplied to try and fix the issue turned out not to be compatible with the system so further work is on-going to find a solution.

‘We are also looking at the option of changing to a new supplier and purchasing a more modern system and have asked for quotes. We are acutely aware that we need to have a solution as soon as possible and we are working hard to achieve this.’

Although the issue is not on Thursday’s agenda for the full council meeting, it would be surprising if Councillor Baxter does not try to tackle local authority leaders over the situation given the concerns over pupils’ safety.

Asked for his reaction, Councillor Baxter did not hold back: ‘It is staggering that this balls-up still hasn’t been sorted out. When councillors ask about progress we are brushed off and hear more excuses.

‘We were told it would be sorted in August. Then by October. It is unacceptable that council incompetence is putting our children’s safety at risk.’