The Conservative Party’s candidate to become the first elected mayor of North Yorkshire and York has sparked fury after accusing opposition councillors of setting back a key project and delaying long-awaited action to tackle speeding in built-up areas.
Long-serving councillors said they were taken aback as North Yorkshire Council’s executive member for highways, Cllr Keane Duncan, issued a rebuke to five Liberal Democrat councillors as well as a Green Party councillor before a full meeting of the unitary authority at County Hall in Northallerton.
During a strictly time-limited session in which councillors can question executive members in the meeting, he said the multi-million pound Harrogate Gateway transport infrastructure scheme had initially received support from Liberal Democrat elected members.
He said they had “defied public pressure and party whipping to put the people of Harrogate first” and support the proposed project to move forward, before withdrawing their backing just eight weeks later.
Coun Duncan, who was selected as the Tory mayoral candidate last Friday, then accused the Liberal Democrats members of being “anti-investment, anti-cycling, anti-walking, anti-environment, and most gravely and damaging, anti-goodwill”.
He added the council’s executive would not “be backing down” over the Gateway scheme.
Coun Duncan then said the authority had been ready to embark on the development of a speed strategy that would guide a review of speed limits in every community before Aire Valley Green councillor Andy Brown, backed by 12 opposition members, had used their power as an elected member of the authority to “call in” a decision of its executive by a scrutiny committee.
Those calling the strategy said insufficient weight had been given to the likely impact of the decision on accidents and fatalities in residential streets in North Yorkshire.
Opposition councillors said further consideration of the strategy was needed as the tendency of the majority of the public to slow down and respect speed limits had been significantly underestimated in the proposed strategy and widespread non-compliance of speed limits had been assumed without adequate evidence.
They added evidence of the benefits of 20mph speed limits had been underestimated and the difficulties overestimated, while insufficient consultation was conducted with members of the public and parish
Coun Duncan told the meeting Coun Brown’s actions had only caused delays to actions which were wanted urgently by some communities.
He said: “That work has now stalled. Officers are not able to move forward with the development of that strategy, we haven’t been able to issue an an update to our town and parish councils to explain our position and what we are hoping to achieve on their behalf…”
Coun Duncan said it meant if the transport and environment scrutiny committee, which would debate the proposed speed strategy on Wednesday (July 26), referred it back to full council in November, officers faced being unable to progress the scheme for four months.
Humanby Independent councillor Michelle Donohoe Moncrieff told the meeting she took great exception to councillors being “berated” for calling in one of the executive’s decisions.
She said: “It’s baked into the tin, it’s part of life. Get over it. It’s called challenge, it’s called democracy, and if you can’t deal with it you shouldn’t be in high office.”
Harrogate Liberal Democrat councillor Chris Aeldred added: “I would like to congratulate him for the start of his campaign and I hope his campaign goes a lot lot better than he has started it today.”
After the meeting, Coun Brown said: “I had no hesitation in worrying about a delay in a policy which amounts to an insult to parishes that know their area and want this very badly.”