DENBIGHSHIRE’S rural roads were compared to those in the “third world” by concerned councillors demanding more money is spent on them.
The heated debate took place at a cabinet meeting at Ruthin County Hall where councillors discussed the draft budget plan and agreed on a council tax increase of 3.8%. The final budget will now be decided by full council at a future meeting.
But during the cabinet meeting, leader Cllr Jason McLellan explained Denbighshire had to plug a £10.8m funding gap.
Several councillors complained not enough money was being spent maintaining the roads, especially rural roads damaged by adverse weather.
Whilst leader Cllr Jason McLellan was pleased Denbighshire was in a better position than predicted in the autumn, several councillors grilled him over a lack of investment in the county’s roads – with one councillor branding some country roads “third world”.
“It is very disappointing that there is nothing in the budget for roads, particularly rural roads,” said Alyn Valley councillor Terry Mendies.
“Yes, Tim Towers (Denbighshire’s highways manager) has £4m a year, and it is pleasing that the council is going to endorse that and continue that; however, that was set 10 months ago by a previous cabinet.
“So what Tim Towers bought for £4m last year he’s not going to (be able to) buy this year (due to inflation).
“I would like to invite Cllr Barry Mellor to come with me. I’ll take you around two wards that I live and work in, and they (roads) are absolutely positively third world. Some of them (roads) are even impassable, and that’s before we get this next cold snap in February.”
Cllr McLellan acknowledged Cllr Mendies’ complaints and said the matter could be further debated when the budget was next discussed by full council.
Then cabinet member for highways Cllr Barry Mellor responded: “I went a full day with Tim (Towers), travelling all through the south, and you’re right; some of the roads are in a really bad state,” he said.
“You can only do what you can do with the money that you’ve got.
“But I’ve always been told if you need more money put into the budget, then you need to find it because the staff (finance officers) have worked, trying to get a budget set and come up with 3.8% for our residents, which has been marvellous.”
He added: “Wait till you see the other councils around and what they’ll come out with -much higher than the 3.8%.
“So I put it to you: where is the money coming from?”
Cllr Bobby Feely then responded: “All I’m saying is the conditions of our weather of the last year, or certainly six months, have been at times so unusual and bad that maybe our estimate was wrong in the first place as to how much it (the work) would cost.
“It is not a question of us saying ‘we don’t like that’. We are talking about roads that are hardly passable.”
She added: “We can’t just leave them like that. Some of them are that bad they are going to damage cars. They could damage people.”
Leader Cllr McLellan said: “Weather is getting harsher, climate change. We need contingencies and longer-term planning. I think that is what you are saying, and I wouldn’t disagree with that. I hear what you are saying. You’ve made a good case for rural roads.”
Cllr Mellor added “I would like to see £6m in the budget, but that wouldn’t be enough. But where do we get that money from – putting the council tax up?”
Denbighshire’s officers explained the budget could allow an additional £2m of capital expenditure that could be used for highways if the council wished.
But the conversation then returned to setting the draft budget, and it was agreed the debate would continue at a future meeting.