City council leader Wayne Fitzgerald ends the week facing a political crisis following the resignation of three of his fellow Conservative councillors, but it had begun so much better.
On Monday, before the shock resignations, he had received that rare accolade of praise for a council leader in the House of Commons.
Michael Gove, secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, praised him warmly during a brief exchange with Peterborough MP Paul Bristow.
Mr Bristow told Mr Gove: “Thanks in part to £20 million-worth of levelling-up money, Peterborough University has constructed a brand-new research and innovation hub and is constructing a new living lab.
“We are turning Peterborough into a high-skill, high-wage economy.
“Will my right hon. Friend come to Peterborough and visit the university to see our progress and to congratulate everybody who is transforming Peterborough?”
Mr Gove replied: “I can think of few things I would enjoy more.
“I always enjoy visiting Peterborough, which gives me an opportunity not only to work with my hon. Friend, who is such an effective advocate for Peterborough, but to meet the stellar council leader Wayne Fitzgerald, who did so well in the recent local elections—a vote of confidence in Conservative leadership in Peterborough.”
Cllr Fitzgerald modestly declined to mention the congratulatory words – or make reference to the three latest resignations – in his weekly blog published on the Peterborough City Council website.
But he did include a large chunk of his blog to explaining himself after the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA) was obliged to pause passing a Local Transport and Connectivity Plan.
(As leader of a unitary authority, his vote is crucial to adoption of transport policy by CACA).
Cllr Fitzgerald said coverage of the meeting has “not all been accurate, and so I would like to make my position clear.
“I have repeatedly aired my views on 15/20-minute cities, or LTNS as they are sometimes known, including at a meeting of full council on 22 March when I was asked a question by a member of the pubic.
“My position has not changed – the Conservative administration in Peterborough will not be introducing 15/20-minute cities, nor will we support workplace charging policies or congestion charging.”
Cllr Fitzgerald: “I have repeatedly expressed concerns to the combined authority via council officers that the Local Transport and Connectivity Plan in its current form is not something that the Conservatives in Peterborough can support.
“Even as late as the Saturday before the CAPCA meeting I had a conversation with the Mayor, Dr Nik Johnson, and reaffirmed my position. The night before the meeting, CAPCA officers were working to amend the policy, but it did not go far enough.
“To clarify, I did not use my veto as has been reported elsewhere – there was no vote for me to do so.
“The mayor, as he knew there were concerns in the room, withdrew the paper and it will now be considered at a meeting in July, where hopefully we can reach consensus as there is a lot of good stuff in the policy.
“To suggest the meeting was hijacked is simply untrue. “
He added: “It was a convivial meeting, where there was discussion about the best way forward for the plan. In addition, there is no jeopardy in the funding we are due to receive from Government and I personally confirmed this with ministers beforehand.”
On a separate issue he noted that the council had received “a good response to our social media poll on the Cathedral Square fountains and I’d like to thank everyone who took part.
“I am always looking for innovative ways to engage with members of the public and make the council more transparent.
“Whilst we may not always take decisions based on the outcomes of such polls, it helps to inform our thinking and to understand how people feel about a particular subject.”
The council leader also wrote: “When I became council leader in 2021 one of my main aims was to make the authority more transparent and engaging – I wanted residents to get a better understanding of why we do what we do and where possible, give people a chance to have their say.”
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