There are lies, damned lies – and then there is the Facebook activity of Peterborough MP Paul Bristow. “A Labour Mayor tried to push through a plan that could lead to road charging in Peterborough,” he screamed across his Facebook page today.
“It has been blocked – for now – by the Conservative council. But the Labour Mayor won’t give in. Oh, and petulantly he cancelled the £200k Government have given to start a new bus depot in Peterborough.”
Little of which is true, as are many of his previous claims and those of Peterborough City Council leader Wayne Fitzgerald.
And, with his metaphoric pen finely poised, Mayor Dr Nik Johnson accused both tonight – of perpetuating “misleading rumours that have swirled around Peterborough of late. “Despite multiple attempts to clarify privately, in the press, and at Combined Authority Board meetings, it is disappointing that you both continue to insist, in public, that the Combined Authority’s proposed Local Transport and Connectivity Plan is an attempt to enforce congestion charging in Peterborough.
“Just to be clear, and in case you have forgotten, as the highways authority for Peterborough only Peterborough City Council can introduce congestion charging in the city. Any insinuation that the Combined Authority holds these powers is completely misleading to the public.
“Furthermore, the Combined Authority have not held any discussions regarding the introduction of congestion charging in Peterborough, again, it is misleading to the public to continue to insist so.” A CambsNews investigation has revealed that not only were Peterborough City Council senior officers aware of the link between £200,000 funding towards progressing a new depot in the city for electric buses, but his own Conservative councillors were also fully up to speed on it.
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA) could not have made it clearer – apart from perhaps writing the full report using 72pt typeface and delivering it on a tablet of stone to Peterborough Town Hall. And marked for the ‘personal attention’ of Cllr Fitzgerald (cc MP Paul Bristow).
On September 13, CAPCA’s transport and infrastructure committee met at Huntingdon – and one of the items for debate was approval of £200,000 to enable Peterborough City Council to consider possible options for the new bus depot. But it was made abundantly clear of the link between agreeing the funding and the expectation – shared by most if not everyone at the time – that a refreshed Local Transport and Connectivity Plan (LTCP) would be agreed yesterday (Thursday) by the CAPCA board.
When Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald used his veto – unexpectedly – to scupper the LTCP (outside of the meeting and in a Facebook video citing the spurious claim it would lead to a congestion style of charging for Peterborough), Mayor Dr Nik Johnson successfully moved to remove the £200,000 funding for the bus depot. Cllr Fitzgerald and Mr Bristow weighed in with claims of ‘foul’ with Mr Bristow going so far to slate Dr Johnson for being a “childish and arrogant Mayor” who “reacts by refusing to hand over £200,000 the Government has given him for a new bus depot”.
— John Elworthy (@johnelworthy) September 21, 2023
But, as the transport and infrastructure committee reports make clear, “the success of the bus depot project is explicitly linked with the approval of the Local Transport and Connectivity Plan (LTCP). “This document provides the strategic policy position and commitment from the Combined Authority and partners to continue to develop alternative fuelled vehicles, including buses.
“In addition, the LTCP and the bus strategy (child document of the plan) strengthens the authority’s position around improving the delivery framework and operating environment for buses across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. LTCP will also significantly strengthen the case to Government for additional funding required to deliver the depot.”
All of that, of course, lost on Cllr Fitzgerald and the MP.
Another stark reminder that @PeterboroughCC leader Wayne Fitzgerald knew full well link between electric bus depot funding and LCTP. Senior @PeterboroughCC officers even headed to Huntingdon to address the @CambsPboroCA transport committee. pic.twitter.com/1e3iICEtWI
— John Elworthy (@johnelworthy) September 21, 2023
Their actions surprised Dr Johnson who had asked at the transport committee, for assurance that Peterborough City Council was committed to delivering the bus depot. “I just need the reassurance that Peterborough City Council is really behind this,” he said.
Cllr Nigel Simons is the Conservative city councillor for Eye, Thorney and Newborough, and sits on the transport committee. He is also Cabinet member for Infrastructure, Environment and Climate Change.
He offered little doubt that his party was behind the bus depot – and knew the conditions. Cllr Simons went so far as to describe his visit to the electric depot of Stagecoach at Cambridge as “very successful and worthwhile”.
Debate over – it means road charging in #Peterborough.
The Labour Mayor is pushing for this and the Conservatives are blocking it
Vote Labour – get road charging in Peterborough 👇 https://t.co/IQn7GttaCD
— Paul Bristow MP (@paulbristow79) September 20, 2023
He added that “this is important to Peterborough” and hoped £200,000 to advance the next stage could even be reduced. Crucially he agreed “Peterborough City Council is fully committed to this – there are no issues at all” as he waxed lyrical too about the “huge” environmental and health benefits it could bring to the city.
Absolutely this. Given the concern raised in the depot paper, I wanted to ensure members were very clear about the link. Cllr Simons, the Peterborough member, was not only there – he seconded my proposal of the report. (The report was passed unanimously.) https://t.co/sSrPvydjOC
— Anna4Labour (@anna4labour) September 21, 2023
CAPCA’S transport head Tim Bellamy told the committee of the £4m secured from the Government last December to support the bus depot, but also reminded members that it had become clear the funding was insufficient. He also noted that CAPCA officers were “working closely with Peterborough City Council officers and had discussed proposals and that there could be scope for private sector funding to bridge the (funding) gap, subject to more feasibility”.
— John Elworthy (@johnelworthy) September 21, 2023
Jim Newton, Peterborough City Council director of infrastructure, also addressed the transport committee explaining how they proposed to move the bus depot proposals forward. He said his brief had to been to find a suitable and viable site and to narrow down parameters and to work out a standalone or combined site that could work with other aspirations of the city council.
“We believe we have a good understanding of size and location, and we are asking now for funding to undertake more detailed work,” he said. It was important to “ensure the right site, at the right time and on budget”.
A second city council representative, consultant John Sawyer, explained that a project such as a new bus depot remained “conceptually straightforward but commercially complicated”. Finding a suitable site, however, had added to the challenge and with costs expected to rise (some estimates put it as high as £30m) funding the new Peterborough depot is going to present a challenge.
Mr Bristow, feeling the city has been slighted by the Mayor, believes he can get the £200,000 himself by a direct approach to the Government. “I am going to lobby the minister to give us the money direct,” he said last night.
Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald on why he vetoed crucial transport plan at @CambsPboroCA yesterday. Clearly @paulbristow79 thinks both he and Wayne are into a vote winner. Unfortunately not many seem to agree – and Wayne himself here acknowledging a leadership challenge pic.twitter.com/1FLpryxtyw
— CambsNews.co.uk (@CambsNewsOnline) September 21, 2023
But all of this is a long way from finding the millions needed for the depot and a site owned by Peterborough City Council at Nursery Lane, Peterborough, which was originally identified as potentially suitable but may no longer be viable. CAPCA has been advised that a depot for electric vehicles will require a significant electrical supply to charge large batteries and the cost of providing this infrastructure has yet to be determined.
One report already carried out suggests that before Nursery Lane could be “effectively utilised” there were “significant issues to address”. CAPCA believes that if the proposal is not viable then they can consider alternative options but whatever the case “it is apparent that a significant amount of further funding is likely to be required to implement the proposal”.
Tonight, the ongoing saga took a new twist as Mayor Johnson released an “open letter” to Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald and Paul Bristow MP. Mayor Johnson said: “I’m writing to clarify the misleading rumours that have swirled around Peterborough City of late.
— Mayor Dr Nik Johnson (@NikJohnsonCA) September 21, 2023
“Despite multiple attempts to clarify privately, in the press, and at Combined Authority Board meetings, it is disappointing that you both continue to insist, in public, that the Combined Authority’s proposed Local Transport and Connectivity Plan is an attempt to enforce congestion charging in Peterborough. Just to be clear, and in case you have forgotten, as the highways authority for Peterborough only Peterborough City Council can introduce congestion charging in the city.
“Any insinuation that the Combined Authority holds these powers is completely misleading to the public. Furthermore, the Combined Authority have not held any discussions regarding the introduction of congestion charging in Peterborough, again, it is misleading to the public to continue to insist so.
“References to congestion charging in the Combined Authority’s proposed Local Transport and Connectivity Plan are purely to outline a menu of measures that are available to our highways authorities, across our whole region, should they wish to take those forward in their local areas. The Combined Authority’s track record in Peterborough is strong.
Fair to say it’s been an eventful day for the @CambsPboroCA board today. Lots of positivity, continued progress towards better governance and strategy ,delivering for communities across the area -despite a few probLems- You still have to appreciate the good stuff in #Peterborough https://t.co/w0LBE2x48d
— Mayor Dr Nik Johnson (@NikJohnsonCA) September 20, 2023
“We have worked collaboratively with partners to establish a fantastic new university for the city, ARU Peterborough, which is already winning multiple awards. The lasting impact this will have on the city will be immeasurable. We have secured £35million from Local Growth Funds for Peterborough, transforming Bourges Boulevard and to provide a new Net Zero curriculum student space at Peterborough Regional College.
“£2.6million has been drawn down from the UK Shared Prosperity fund for 6 projects which includes, regeneration of Lincoln Road and establishing a Youth Zone for the city. We have also been instrumental in the £65million redevelopment of Peterborough Station Quarter.”
Mayor Johnson added: “This is by no means an exhaustive list; the Combined Authority has worked with local partners to deliver for the people in Peterborough. We are not complacent; I am incredibly proud to serve the city of Peterborough and will continue to work collaboratively to build on these successes.
“High on that agenda will be the successful delivery of a new bus depot for Peterborough, which will be fit for the future and able to house electric buses for the city. Residents in Peterborough just want us to get on with it. I, and officers at the Combined Authority, stand ready to work with you in order to make this happen.”
Mr Bristow remains unrepentant and said of Mayor Johnson that “he has thrown his toys out of his pram – and proved he is not a Mayor for Peterborough. All he cares about is Cambridge”.
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