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BATH: Councillors reflect on 2021

BATH: Councillors reflect on 2021

Lib Dem B&NES Council leader Kevin Guy and Conservative group leader Vic Pritchard. B&NES Council.

Nothing says “season of goodwill” like old rivals exchanging blows and hurling insults. 

Conservatives said the leadership of Bath and North East Somerset Council over the past 12 months had been “hapless and embarrassing”, with poor decisions and avoidable mistakes.

The ruling Liberal Democrats hit back, accusing the Tories of talking the district down, playing politics and misleading residents.

Here are nine things Conservative group leader Vic Pritchard (VP) says the administration got wrong in 2021 – and how council leader Kevin Guy (KG) and his colleagues responded.

Congestion 

VP: “This year congestion has dramatically increased across Bath, especially at weekends, with one driver reporting an eight-minute journey taking three hours.

“Alarmingly, the chaos on Bath’s roads has been welcomed by the Lib Dems, with the administration arguing that traffic disruption is needed to force people to change their driving habits.”

KG: “Wessex Water roadworks caused some unusual traffic congestion in Bath over a couple of weekends this autumn.

“Bath’s road network is at 95 per cent capacity, so it only takes a small change to cause disruption. We suspended the essential works over the Christmas period to minimise disruption in the run-up to Christmas and help local businesses.

“The Lib Dems have never “welcomed” traffic disruption for any reason – this suggestion has been invented by the Conservatives in a clear example of deliberately divisive ‘fake news’.”

Cleveland Bridge

VP: “The repair work to Cleveland Bridge, which began in May and was initially meant to take four months to complete, still isn’t finished and relationships have soured between the council and neighbouring authorities, which means finding a long-term traffic solution has been made more difficult.”

KG: “Repairs to the 200-year-old grade II*-listed structure of Cleveland Bridge are essential to make it safe for use and to protect the heritage structure.

“The repairs were and are funded by government. As works progressed, more deterioration was uncovered, which means the works are taking longer.

“The political leadership of the council has no bearing on the physical condition of the bridge.

“We’re working hard to find a solution that will protect Cleveland Bridge in the long-term, including working with neighbouring councils.

“Our goal is to avoid the further expense and disruption of another closure for repairs in 10 to 15 years’ time. We intend to establish a sinking fund and regular annual inspection regime to avoid such major works in the future.”

Bath’s ring of steel 

VP: “The administration has pressed ahead with the Ring of Steel, despite repeated pleas for a rethink from residents.

“And it was revealed at December’s cabinet meeting that plans for the ring’s ‘inner zone’ were not, as the administration has always claimed, initiated by Avon and Somerset Police.

“Cabinet infighting over the ring of steel has been played out in full public view, with Councillor Guy and Councillor Dine Romero exchanging petty blows in the local press.”

KG: “Security measures for Bath city centre are essential but are also proportionate, preventative and based on police advice to protect residents and visitors from terror attacks.

“We have listened to feedback and improved the original proposals to ensure access for blue badge holders, residents and businesses and to implement additional accessibility measures.

“We worked closely with the police on the two anti-terrorism traffic regulation orders for Bath and we are implementing the inner and outer zones in line with police requests. The suggestion that the council has gone further than the police requested is untrue.”

Liveable neighbourhoods

VP: “Low traffic neighbourhoods are still being pursued, despite other local authorities removing them after finding they created more problems than they solved.

“In some areas they have been successful, but the BANES Council administration has dismissed concerns that Bath’s unique topography will result in LTNs having an overall negative effect on the city.”

KG: “Liveable neighbourhoods will be community-led schemes.

“We have created a unique ‘co-design’ process to involve residents in the preparation of schemes, ensure there is widespread support and mitigate any traffic displaced from residential streets – before any interventions are put in place.

“This careful approach will help avoid the problems that have caused a small number of other councils to remove similar schemes. This is an ambitious transport strategy aiming to create connected, healthy, vibrant communities where cars are less dominant.”

Christmas market

VP: “This year’s Christmas markets were extended and then completely cancelled by the leader of the council, creating great uncertainly for businesses at what should be a highly profitable time of year.”

KG: “The council worked with partners to put on a festive programme this month to attract shoppers and visitors to Bath. This included market stalls, illuminations, the carousel and street entertainment.

“By contrast, Conservative voices spent the run-up to Christmas talking Bath down.

“Sadly, it was not possible to hold the full Bath Christmas market due to the double whammy of Covid and Brexit which meant the staff needed to run the event safely could not be recruited and supply lines and Covid uncertainties affected trader’s confidence.

“This recruitment crisis is affecting businesses across all sectors as well as the public sector. The decision to scale back was taken as soon as practicable and before any money was taken from stallholders for their chalets.”

Green Park car park

VP: “The Green Park car park was only reopened after a campaign by local residents and Conservative councillors.”

KG: “Green Park car park was built to mitigate the loss of car parking when Avon Street is pulled down as part of the Bath Quays North scheme next year.

“Work on the car park was completed early and it was opened to the public as soon as possible. In advance of the full opening, it was in use by Green Park Station traders.”

 

Responding, Councillor Guy said: “2021 has been an exceptionally busy year for BANES Council.

“As the Lib Dem administration, we are determined to be an open, listening council, delivering outstanding services to our residents.

“We’re proud to have delivered record-breaking recycling rates, the first clean air zone in the country outside London, and continuing sound financial management.

“We’ve also been working hard towards building the first new council housing in Bath and North East Somerset for a generation, establishing the first liveable neighbourhoods and sustainable transport schemes and adopting new planning policies to respond to the climate and nature emergency.

“Covid-19 has and continues to have a significant impact on council finances, workloads, recruitment and staff.

“The pandemic has meant new responsibilities and financial pressures for councils. Nevertheless, we have protected vital services on which residents rely, worked closely with local care and health services, and provided welfare support for the most vulnerable in our area.

“Unlike the Conservatives we have balanced the books every year and avoided wasteful vanity projects costing millions.

“This month’s Keynsham Town Council by-election result, with a win for Lib Dem candidate Alex Beaumont, was an endorsement of the Lib Dem approach to working for our communities.

“By contrast, the Conservative councillors have spent their year talking Bath and North East Somerset down, playing politics and misleading residents.

“This is not what people want to see from their local councillors.”

Reflecting on the year, Councillor Pritchard said: “I hope members of the current administration look back at their performance over the past 12 months and find the courage to be honest in their evaluations.

“They have done very little to make us feel proud of where we live but plenty to embarrass us. They have antagonised residents, ignored legitimate concerns about controversial policies, called each other names in the local press and sought to hide from scrutiny whenever possible.

“Even as the leader of the opposition, I want this administration to succeed. Because if they succeed, Bath and North East Somerset succeed. But their record over the past year tells us only one thing – they are failing, and it’s residents who will suffer.

“As we head into 2022, one thing is crystal clear – Bath and North East Somerset deserve better.”

 

Responding, Councillor Guy said: “2021 has been an exceptionally busy year for BANES Council.

“As the Lib Dem administration, we are determined to be an open, listening council, delivering outstanding services to our residents.

“We’re proud to have delivered record-breaking recycling rates, the first clean air zone in the country outside London, and continuing sound financial management.

“We’ve also been working hard towards building the first new council housing in Bath and North East Somerset for a generation, establishing the first liveable neighbourhoods and sustainable transport schemes and adopting new planning policies to respond to the climate and nature emergency.

“Covid-19 has and continues to have a significant impact on council finances, workloads, recruitment and staff.

“The pandemic has meant new responsibilities and financial pressures for councils. Nevertheless, we have protected vital services on which residents rely, worked closely with local care and health services, and provided welfare support for most vulnerable in our area.

“Unlike the Conservatives we have balanced the books every year and avoided wasteful vanity projects costing millions.

“This month’s Keynsham Town Council by-election result, with a win for Lib Dem candidate Alex Beaumont, was an endorsement of the Lib Dem approach to working for our communities.

“By contrast, the Conservative councillors have spent their year talking Bath and North East Somerset down, playing politics and misleading residents.

“This is not what people want to see from their local councillors.”

Words: Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter


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