THE new Highland Council transport chief says local communities will be encouraged to have their say on road repairs to the region’s crumbling network.
Newcomer Graham Phillips has started work as the chairman of the authority’s transport, environmental and community services (TECS) committee, despite protests from opposition councillors who claimed he lacked the necessary experience.
However, the SNP councillor has hit back at his critics and insisted he HAS ability to tackle one of the toughest roles on the authority over the next five years.
The business consultant, who runs his own firm in Golspie, said he had been involved in a range of multi-million projects during his career.
The father-of-two also served on Sevenoaks District Council in Kent in the 1970s and 1980s where he specialised in planning and housing.
The new Highland councillor has pledged to involve community councils to influence and shape road resurfacing schemes and pothole repairs in tandem with the resurrected area committee set-up.
An estimated £161 million is needed to tackle a huge backlog of repairs to the sprawling 4200 miles of roads in the Highlands but there is only £27.5 million in the council budget.
“That shows the magnitude of the problem,” said the East Sutherland and Edderton councillor, who admitted potholes were a top priority after local residents made their views clear during the election campaign.
“Community councils are the best channel and we need to make more effective communication with them,” he said. “I am not sure it has been working terribly well up to now. Having spent three weeks tramping around a very large ward just about the only thing people wanted to talk about were potholes.”
He said more cash would be directed towards schemes on drainage and gullies to prevent potholes because they could undermine the fabric of the road if neglected.
Councillor Phillips said community interaction could be improved by setting up a dedicated website to report road defects but added nothing had been decided as the first TECS committee meeting is not until August.
One-third of the council’s roads are categorised as “red” or “amber” meaning urgent work and investigations are required.
Councillor Phillips said another major priority after roads was to cut the amount of cash spent on landfill.
The council currently pays £5 million a year in landfill tax and Councillor Phillips said there had been a marked decline in road investment by TECS in the last decade but an increase in paying for waste disposal.
Encouraging Highland households to start composting with left-over food was one method which could be investigated.
Councillor Phillips’s nomination was among a raft of new office bearers proposed by the new SNP, Liberal Democrat and Labour coalition at a meeting in Inverness last week.
But it raised eyebrows given his short time in office and was the only one the opposition group of Independent councillors tried to block.
Instead, they proposed his SNP colleague Maxine Smith, who had been the party’s respected TECS spokeswoman in the last council term.
She rejected the surprise nomination amid some squirming and red faces and will instead chair the Highland licensing board and committee. Councillor Phillips said he did not take the snub personally and had the utmost respect for his colleague’s abilities.
“I know it caused a little bit of surprise on the opposition benches,” he said.
“It is the opposition’s job to oppose but I wished they had spoken to me directly first, it was rather ham fisted. Maxine has been very supportive to me. It might have been good if they had listened to her in the last five years.”