The leader of Wiltshire Council apologised for getting “political” during a heated discussion on potholes with another councillor in the most recent cabinet meeting.

Councillor Richard Budden had submitted a question prior to the meeting that suggested the budget per mile for maintenance of Wiltshire’s non-principal roads should be "at least doubled."

This comes after he labelled the state of the roads in Donhead St Andrew and Donhead St Mary “atrocious” and called for urgent action in his community.

Speaking at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, February 5, the Liberal Democrat councillor said he was concerned for the non-principal roads of Wiltshire, specifically in the south of the county.

In the preamble to his original question, Councillor Budden stated that Wiltshire’s roads “compare unfavourably” with similar roads in other counties and suggested that members of the cabinet would “jeer or sneer” about the bankruptcy of such authorities.

Richard Clewer, the leader of Wiltshire Council, argued that there was “nothing amusing” about the impacts of “financial mismanagement".

Referring to Somerset Council, he said: “That’s a Liberal Democrat administration that seems to be following your view rather than the evidence-based, financially prudent view that we take.

“If you want to go down that line, good luck, but it’s not a path I’m going to take this council down.

“I’m going to keep every library, every leisure centre, every HRC open, and I’m going to invest in services for the people of Wiltshire, not leave a £72 million hole in my budget and no idea how to fill it.”

He concluded: “I do apologise for getting a bit political there, but you’ve been political in your preamble, and I will respond back forcefully if we get it.”

In response, Councillor Budden claimed that the people of a rurally dispersed community like the Donheads “feel like they are being deprived by neglect".

Wiltshire Times: Councillors showing damaged roads in Donhead St Mary and Donhead St Andrew.Councillors showing damaged roads in Donhead St Mary and Donhead St Andrew. (Image: Richard Budden)

He said: “There are very few things that affect more people, more residents of Wiltshire, more deeply, more immediately, than a broken-down road.”

Cllr Clewer disagreed, saying: “The most important thing we do is not repairing delamination or minor potholes on minor roads.

“When it’s a safety issue, yes, it will be addressed, but the critical services this council provides are those services to vulnerable old people, to vulnerable children, to children who are at risk of going into care, to try and keep their lives on track, to those families, to the areas where we’re actually talking about serious harm to people’s lives, not simply to a tyre.”

The recent draft budget proposals show that Wiltshire Council has allocated an extra £10 million over the next two years to spend on filling potholes and a road resurfacing programme that is designed to help to prevent potholes and other highways defects across the county.

This funding is in addition to the £20.7m from the Government's Highways Maintenance fund for 2024/25 and the £5.2m from the Department for Transport's recently announced Road Resurfacing Fund.

The budget also proposes an additional £1 million for extra gully cleaning work and reactive pothole filling. 

Nevertheless, Cllr Budden believes the commitment to spend an additional £10 million over two years on road maintenance is “an admission that failing over a number of years to provide sufficient funds to satisfactorily maintain non-principal roads has merely stored up problems; an example of being penny-wise but pound-foolish.”

Councillor Caroline Thomas, cabinet member for transport, told Cllr Budden that in 2022/23, the largest proportion of surfacing works expenditure was on C class roads.

She said: “This notion that we don’t spend on our non-principal roads just isn’t supported by the evidence.”