Wayne Fitzgerald, the former leader of Peterborough City Council, has admitted that a CambsNews photograph of opposition councillors – which he dubbed ‘the magnificent 7’ – was the final straw behind his decision to veto a new transport plan for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
He had assured other city councillors and the chief executive he would support the Local Transport and Connectivity Plan (LTCP) when it went before Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA) on September 20.
But he voted it down.
And to understand why, you need to go back to two days earlier.
On September 18 CambsNews published a photo of opposition councillors leaving Peterborough town hall having discussed a possible vote of no confidence in Cllr Fitzgerald as leader.
CambsNews had even observed Cllr Fitzgerald walking past the town hall whilst the meeting was in progress, murmuring “they’re plotting” -only too aware of those who had met inside to determine his fate.
At the city council meeting on November 1, Cllr Fitzgerald was asked to explain to Lib Dem leader Christian Hogg why “you voted against the adoption of the new combined authority’s Local Transport and Connectivity Plan (LTCP), despite giving assurances to various group leaders and the chief executive that you were happy to support it?”.
And it was during an exchange with Cllr Hogg he admitted: “The decision to finally reject it was based on the ‘magnificent seven’ photo, which I thought to myself, why am I approving a policy that’s so unpopular when there are people looking to remove me in the administration with council; let them do it”.
Cllr Fitzgerald, who later in the meeting on November 1 was ousted as leader after a no confidence vote succeeded, replied to Cllr Hogg that he also could not support the transport plan “because it would lead to road user charging in Peterborough.
“I’ve never been supportive of this policy and in fact we put a motion to council that all of you on that side of the chamber didn’t support.”
He said he had gone to great lengths to “discuss and negotiate the precise wording in that document to a point where it may been acceptable to perhaps consider doing it, affording the protection to this council.
“The other councils in the district aren’t transport authorities however your Liberal Democrat colleagues in Cambridge changed it. They changed the version that I had approved.
Cllr Fitzgerald said if Cambridge Liberals and Labour councillors had abandoned their plans for congestion charging, “then why not take it out of the document.
“However, your Liberal Democrat colleagues in Cambridge changed it. They changing the version I had approved.
When Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald used his veto – unexpectedly – to scupper the LTCP for a second time (he had done so previously in May), Mayor Dr Nik Johnson successfully moved to remove £200,000 funding for a study into a new bus depot for Peterborough.
Mayor Dr Johnson also explained that the possibility of road charging in Peterborough was a “false rumour”.
And despite Cllr Fitzgerald being aware that CAPCA cannot unilaterally impose road charging on Peterborough.
Mayor Johnson has said he wants to see the LTCP back in front of the CAPCA board as soon as possible.
He said: “There was real ambition here for the people and the communities of Peterborough to get an enhanced bus service, better air quality, regular buses and an electrified fleet.”
He added he wanted to see the LTCP in front of the board again “as soon as possible”.
— John Elworthy (@johnelworthy) November 2, 2023
Withdrawal of the £200,000 bus depot funding will be re-instated should the new city council leader Mohammed Farooq agree the transport plan.
He told the Local Democracy Reporting service that his group, Peterborough First, will “negotiate every single line and make sure it delivers for Peterborough” before agreeing to sign up to it.
“If we feel it is beneficial to our city, no doubt we’ll sign up to it.”
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