An expected promise of £200,000 to move forward plans on creating an electric bus depot in Peterborough was withdrawn today – much to the dismay of Peterborough City Council leader Wayne Fitzgerald.
To the cry of ‘outrageous’ from the Conservative leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, Cllr Anna Bailey, Mayor Dr Nik Johnson successfully moved for removal of a report pledging the money, to be withdrawn by the board of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA).
Like a rabbit caught in the headlights Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald fell victim to a devilish political move in what looked like payback time for his earlier vetoing of a new CAPCA transport plan.
Cllr Bailey accused the mayor of voting against funding for the proposed new Peterborough depot as exacting “punishment for Wayne” before adding “this is outrageous”.
Even during the lengthy debate on the Local Transport and Connectivity Plan (LTCP), hopes remained high that, unlike when an earlier draft was voted down after Cllr Fitzgerald’s veto, the revised document would be approved.
It describes in detail how transport and digital interventions can be used to address current and future challenges and opportunities for the region.
And it sets out what CAPCA believes are “policies and strategies needed to secure growth and ensure that planned developments can take place in the county in a sustainable way”.
But the LTCP again needed both Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council approval. And Cllr Fitzgerald has the final say.
Dr Johnson told me after the meeting there had been “every indication” the LTCP would be agreed but, and without saying a word, Cllr Fitzgerald vetoed it.
Later in the meeting, however, developments took a new turn when the CAPCA board was invited to approve £200,000 to meet expenses yet to be incurred by Peterborough City Council to commission further feasibility work, investigate governance and funding models, establish site infrastructure requirements, and formulate a site specification for the electric bus depot.
It was at that moment Mayor Johnson pulled his own proverbial rabbit from the hat.
He proposed withdrawing the paper supporting the £200,000 since the bus depot was part of the new LTCP which had not been approved.
“We can’t talk about it because we haven’t an LTCP,” he said.
His deputy, Cllr Anna Smith, seconded the motion and described it as a “situation none of us want to be in” and “incredibly disappointing”.
But she said the point had been well made at a transport committee last week that the success of the bus depot was explicitly linked to a new bus depot.
Wowser of a twist @CambsPboroCA after @PeterboroughCC leader Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald uses his power of veto ( again) to block local transport and connectivity plan. Cllr Fitzgerald did not speak during the debate. @NikJohnsonCA crestfallen pic.twitter.com/uQuQO4RlYq
— John Elworthy (@johnelworthy) September 20, 2023
Pulling the recommendation did not mean it would not be back at some later date for a decision.
Cllr Fitzgerald described withdrawing the recommendation as “ridiculous” and argued effectively it was tit for tat for his veto.
“My advice is to push this through,” he said. “I have the bus minister coming tomorrow and it won’t look good on you and your commitment to buses,” he told the mayor.
Mayor Johnson said: “I do not believe I am punishing to the community of Peterborough; I would suggest that the decision on the LTCP not voted on by representative of the city council was the main reason why we are not proceeding with absolute commitment to deliver electrified depot for Peterborough.”
After the meeting I spoke with Dr Johnson.
He explained that from the outset of the meeting the “elephant in the room” was always going to be the LTCP but every indication from Peterborough City Council had been that they were going to accept it and vote in favour.
Mayor Johnson said there had “clearly been heavy lobbying in Peterborough” and he criticized MP Paul Bristow for constantly raising the “false flag” of a congestion charge.
The mayor said revisions to the LTCP had been made since Cllr Fitzgerald first vetoed it and his actions at today’s meeting “have let the community of Peterborough down. Even his own deputy leader, attending the meeting, did not expect it to happen – he looked as surprised as anyone.”
— Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (@CambsPboroCA) September 20, 2023
“Cllr Fitzgerald’s unwillingness to articulate his lack of reasons for using the veto does not make sense, having previously been supportive through regular meetings
“Something happened during the meeting, and I am not sure what.”
Dr Johnson added: “I think we are more likely to have a positive outcome if the current leader is no longer leader.”
Next steps for CAPCA, he said, would be to go back to all organisations and address concerned.
“I am disappointed of course,” he said. “I accept people have different political thought processes, but clearly external influences altered the expectations that the leader, Cllr Fitzgerald, would support this excellent document.”
In a later statement, issued through CAPCA, he added: “The LTCP is an ambitious, bold strategy, which supports the investment in transport infrastructure our region so urgently needs.
“That means joined up, decent, affordable, and reliable public transport, more opportunity to walk and cycle and less congestion and pollution.
— John Elworthy (@johnelworthy) September 20, 2023
“The LTCP will support the sustainable growth of our economy, reducing inequality, opening up opportunity and improving public health. And with the impact of climate change already being felt, this strategy sets out how to reach net zero carbon emissions.
“The LTCP has the support of the majority of our council leaders and of our Business Board, made up of business leaders from industries across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
— Anna Bailey (@AnnaBailey_Ely) September 20, 2023
“It is the strategy through which we will engage with Government to bring much-needed investment to transport in our region.
“We have had positive feedback about the quality of the LTCP from Government and other local transport authorities.
“The current Local Transport Plan remains in place.”
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