West Sussex roads are in ‘crisis’ and a ‘Third World-type disgrace’ according to Lib Dem county councillors.
West Sussex County Council approved its budget for 2016/17 including a council tax increase of 3.95 per cent on Friday, and also voted to put off a decision on the allocation of £6.2m one-off transitional grant funding from central Government until more work had been done.
But a Lib Dem amendment resolving to spend up to 50 per cent of the extra grant settlement on improving West Sussex’s roads and pavements was defeated by the majority of councillors.
James Walsh (LDem, Littlehampton East), leader of the county council’s Lib Dem group, explained how the council had pleaded with the government for more money and now they had it they were proposing to ‘dither’ for two months about what to spend it on.
He added: “The rural roads in this county have become a Third World-type disgrace to West Sussex.”
Dr Walsh said that many white lines were ‘virtually invisible’, and it was ‘only a matter of time’ before a coroner recorded their absence as a contributory factor to a serious or fatal accident.
Nigel Dennis (LDem, Horsham Hurst) felt parts of West Sussex were looking ‘shabby and uncared for’ and suggested the extra money could ‘rectify the highways crisis before it gets out of hands and undermines other areas of good work the county council undertakes’.
John O’Brien (Con, East Grinstead South and Ashurst Wood), WSCC’s cabinet member for highways and transport, replied: “The condition of the roads is an ongoing job to keep the roads in a reasonable condition and safe for all people to use.”
But he described ongoing needs and pressures on all services, and thought the use of the transitional grant funding needed ‘careful examination’.
Although overall funding from central Government to the county council is falling dramatically, the transitional grant funding was announced earlier this month.
As well as £6.2m this year it is set to receive £6.3m in 2017/18.
Richard Burrett (Con, Pound Hill and Worth), cabinet member for education and skills, said the Lib Dem amendment was asking them to commit spending to one particular services without looking at all the options.
But Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate and Crawley Central) called proposals as a ‘Mr Micawber budget’, referencing a character from Charles Dickens’ novel David Copperfield, ‘hoping that something will turn up’.
He added: “There’s a serious problem facing us with the highways and transport of this county and it needs more money.”
Mr Jones said that parking was reaching a ‘crisis of epidemic proportions’ in some of their towns, while a large number of footways were not up to the appropriate standard.
Peter Lamb (Lab, Northgate and Three Bridges) felt the budget ‘did not fundamentally add up’ if they were banking money they had told the Government they needed.
He said: “This new grant from the Government was for a particular purpose to tide us over.
“We are saying we do not really need that money this year.”
Jeremy Hunt (Con, Chichester North), cabinet member for finance, explained that although the grant money would be put in reserves temporarily, they would be making a decision after proposals had been worked up and scrutinised by one of the council’s select committees.
The county council will also need to look at the impact of a reduction in the Public Health Grant it receives from central Government.
Mr Hunt joked: “Of course we have to put it in the bank, do you want to put it down the back of my sofa?”
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