The leader of Wiltshire Council, Richard Clewer, has been called a “disgrace” and told to “hang his head in shame” during a debate on parking charges for blue badge holders in the county.

The proposal of reinstating free parking for disabled drivers was included in the Liberal Democrats’ budget amendments to the Conservatives' draft council budget.

The amendment was refused at the full council meeting on Tuesday, February 20, with 28 councillors voting for, 53 councillors voting against, and 5 abstaining.

Addressing the chamber before the vote, Liberal Democrat Councillor Gavin Grant called the September 2022 decision to introduce parking charges for blue badge holders a “fundamental mistake.”

He noted that the challenges that blue badge holders face mean that their household costs are “significantly higher” than average.

He said: “Those 30,000 people deserve our support and recognition.

“They deserve to park safely and without charge in our car parks and I urge you to support the amendment.”

Councillor Clewer said: “We’ve had this discussion before, the evidence is still the same.

“80 per cent of blue badges are issued to people because they have developed mobility issues as they age.

“Not because they are facing a degree of poverty, but because they’ve got older.”

He went on to give examples of “reasonable adjustments” such as an hour of free parking or moving parking meters closer to disabled parking spaces.

He added: “The idea of subsidising people because they’ve got old to get free parking doesn’t make sense based on the evidence.”

In response, Labour Councillor Caroline Corbin said: “Councillor Clewer, I hope you hang your head in shame.”

She added: “You are a disgrace. I had to fight to get my disabled badge back, I’ve had cerebral palsy since I was born.”

Independent Councillor Jon Hubbard said: “I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry and so upset in this chamber as I am now.

“How dare you Councillor Clewer?

“When my mother had her blue parking badge, it wasn’t because she was old or decrepit, it was because she was dying of cancer.

“She wasn’t in her seventies, she was barely into her sixties, that’s not old, that’s disabled and they are different.”

He added: “I think, Richard, you owe an apology to each and every disabled person who lives in the county for the statement that you made, it was truly shocking, I’m disappointed in you.”

Councillor Hubbard also contested Councillor Clewer’s claim that 80 per cent of blue badge holders are issued to people over 70 years old.

He referenced 2020 government data, which indicated that 10.3 per cent of those aged over 60 years old were blue badge holders, as were 3.1 per cent of 50 to 59-year-olds, 2.8 per cent of 40 to 49-year-olds, 1.8 per cent of 30 to 39-year-olds, and 0.8 per cent of 25- to 29-year-olds.

Wiltshire Times: 0.7 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds were blue badge holders in 2020.0.7 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds were blue badge holders in 2020. (Image: GOV.UK)

Independent Councillor Matthew Dean said: “I would be in favour of this if I’d been approached, if there was some evidence for it, if I really thought it was going to make a difference to a group of people in our community who, of course, we all agree are disadvantaged.

“But I’m not sure the case for any of those things has been made today and I think we risk making judgments based on emotion, and I don’t think that is a good way to proceed.”

The Lib Dems suggested that the sum needed for this amendment could be found in the business plan priority reserve, which is the money set aside to “help fund activities over and above what is included in the base budget.”

According to Councillor Clewer, a large amount of this reserve is set aside for enforcement activity across the county.