The ‘shocking’ state of North Devon’s roads has led to a Conservative councillor quitting his party saying there is a ‘non-committal’ response from the government when asking for help.
Lewis Clarke www.devonlive.com
Councillor Paul Henderson who was a Conservative district councillors in the South Molton ward and Devon County member for the Culmleigh & Landkey division for the past two years, will now sit as an independent. He is also a member of South Molton Town Council.
He said: “The decision for me to resign from the Conservative Party in the middle of February was one which I did not take lightly. I must stress at this point that my decision is not a reflection on my councillor colleagues for whom I only have great respect – regardless of any political allegiances.”
As well as the state of North Devon’s road, he says the governance of the North Devon Conservative group also forced him to make the decision to quit.
On the highways, Cllr Henderson said: “Devon County Council is responsible for the maintenance of our roads. However, for well over a decade funding from central government has been reduced and with increasing pressures on both adult health and social care as well as children’s services, the highways budget has declined drastically. That’s simply a point of fact. If the money isn’t there, then the necessary repairs cannot be carried out.
“Both our ‘A’ and ‘B’ roads are in a shocking state but many unclassified rural roads are now to my mind dangerous to drive on. I spend as much time on two wheels as I do driving my car, but I cannot ride my motorcycle any longer in the wet or at night because to put it bluntly, I simply don’t trust the road surface under my wheels. At my age I’m not going to mend terribly quickly (or worse) when – not if, I hit a broken road surface or pothole on the bike.
“I and a number of my parishes have asked our MP to lobby Westminster for additional funding to stop the deterioration of our road network – particularly here in North Devon. The response received was non-committal, instead quoting overall funding for the country instead of detailed information relating directly to Devon. There was also veiled criticism of Conservative run Devon County Council as to how the money they do receive is spent. Please bear in mind that I was, at the time, in the same party as the MP.
“Unless significant investment is made into Devon Highways – and we’re talking £100’s of millions of pounds over the coming few years, then I fear the damage many of us are experiencing to our vehicles will deteriorate into personal injury or death because of the condition of our highways.”
On North Devon Conservative governance, he added: “In May we’ll all have the chance to vote for candidates to become parish, town and district councillors. These elections are carried out under the strictest of rules and once elected, all councillors must follow a code of conduct.
“In essence, that means that if you attend a council meeting you must declare an interest on any agenda item to which you have either a personal or potentially prejudicial interest. That’s there to protect democracy. Unfortunately, the same rules do not appear to apply to the Conservative Party when going through their selection process to decide who should stand to contest a particular seat/ward.
“I’m sure all the political parties have a similar selection process but to me the one run by the Conservative Party is unacceptable and this was my primary reason for deciding to leave the party.
“Conservative Party candidates are selected by either their very local members or in many cases, candidates are interviewed by the executive of their relevant Conservative Party Association.
“Prior to a recent selection meeting, I queried the attendance of one voting member of the executive as they were, in effect, a paid employee of the candidate that was to sit before the panel. The response I received from the chair of the local Association having checked with Conservative Central Office was that this member of the executive did have the right to take part in the selection process and vote.
“To me, that is wrong on every single level. It is nothing to do with the personalities involved. As a councillor, the Code of Conduct is there to protect democracy, but the Conservative Party system to select candidates is by its very nature deeply flawed. I’m not suggesting any wrongdoing by the North Devon Conservative Association, but that system is open to manipulation and/or abuse and for me, I cannot be part of something that fundamentally goes against basic rules of democracy.”
In response, Selaine Saxby MP for North Devon said: “I am fully aware that we have the longest road network in the United Kingdom by 2,000 miles and that the council is working flat out to try to repair the proliferation of potholes that we have seen this winter. Not only has the weather contributed but we need to recognise that in rural Britain we have enormous farm vehicles on tiny lanes and we therefore create even more potholes, yet our council is not assigned long-term funding solutions to tackle them.
“The short-term approach to funding, with inadequate rural weighting, makes the cost of repairing each pothole far higher. At this time, Devon is moving teams off scheduled roadworks as we cannot take on full-time highways teams due to the uncertainty around long-term funding. I hope that the Minister will be able to take that away and see what more can be done to address the entirely unacceptable state of our roads. If there were an Ofsted inspection of roads, I suspect we would go into special measures, yet the current funding mechanism contributes to that. The damage that potholes do to vehicles is also hugely expensive to motorists and the council, which is no doubt reimbursing a growing number of inconvenienced motorists with damaged tyres. And it deters people from switching to active travel solutions because of the potential risk of falling due to a pothole.”