Oh what a night!

It was just before the end of the annual council meeting – held last night via Zoom – that one councillor stole the show and brought the whole ponderous two hours and fifteen minutes of local-government-in-action to life.

Cllr Joanna Wright via YouTube Zoom recording

Half way through the current administration’s term of office, Bath and North Somerset District Council now has a new leader – and a reshuffled cabinet – but Cllr Joanna Wright was one of those dropped from that inner circle and an impassioned speech during the last dying minutes of this cyber get-together was her amazing parting shot.

Along with Councillor Neil Butters she had been in charge of a transport portfolio looking at everything from resident’s parking zones to liveable neighbourhoods and active travel plans.

She told the assembled Zoom gathering:

‘We’ve delivered on: the JLTP4, the Clean Air Zone, Residents Parking Zones, Emissions Parking, City Centre Security, Modeshift Stars and the school run, 20mph zones, EV Charging, E-Scooters, the River Line, a Delivery Transport Action Plan for Bath, the Wiltshire Whippet, the A367, Mass Transit and Liveable Neighbourhoods.

Recent picture of Cllr Wright at start of CAZ

All these will have a legacy in the years to come.  Officers have told me, that Neil and I have positively reframed their workplace and delivered on Climate Emergency action.

We are the last generation to be able to save the Earth from irreversible destruction’, she said, ‘the climate emergency requires cultural change and system change. The climate emergency needs action today.’

The European Commission she said ‘stated that older people will have to make sacrifices in the fight against the climate emergency or todays children will face a future of fighting wars over water and food. This is not just an urgent mater it is a difficult matter.

This “difficult matter” is one that I have repeatedly faced in Office. 

The Active Travel Schemes are a clear case in point, these simple yet transformative schemes enable safe travel routes for many, significantly reducing carbon emissions and tackling car dependency, yet I have been told recently that despite massive public support I “need to dump the current plans”. 

In relation to the Transport portfolio many councillors only see as far as their ward boundaries and the election clock countdown. I have come up against parochial politics and predatory delay.  The need to act now, to deliver significant change has been met with slow motion sabotage. I have been told repeatedly that winning the war, means some battles have to be lost.

What we have is rhetoric versus action. Window dressing versus real change.

Political power is about doing things, not just for the present, or to be re-elected, but more importantly for those in the future who will benefit from the really tough decisions that we made for them now.

Many people sitting outside of this theatrical talking shop, will be frustrated and sceptical about the actions and decision of those inside it.  They have good reason to be.

Action today is required.”

Then Councillor Robin Moss – Leader of the Labour Group – asked her who had advised her to ‘dump the plans on active travel zones?’

Cllr Robin Moss via YouTube Zoom recording

She replied: ‘Our new leader Cllr Kevin Guy sent an email on that and that is probably one of the reasons why l am no longer in Cabinet.’

See her speech in full here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLec1p4yEa4

Cllr Kevin Guy, the new Leader of B&NES.

I approached Cllr Guy for comment and this morning he told me:

“I strongly believe that active travel is an extremely important part of meeting our 2030 climate emergency goals.

Accordingly, as the new leader, I have asked the incoming cabinet members to support active travel wherever possible. But to reflect and modify, if necessary, specific aspects of active travel schemes, especially if the recent consultation found certain aspects to be unpopular with the majority of the immediate residents. 

That is exactly what a consultation is for and exactly what a listening council does.”

Googling for more information on Active Travel Schemes l found the following from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps from May 2020 when the government released £250 million for local authority schemes.

‘We recognise this moment for what it is: a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a lasting transformative change in how we make short journeys in our towns and cities. According to the National Travel Survey, in 2017-18 over 40% of urban journeys were under two miles – perfectly suited to walking and cycling.

‘The Government therefore expects local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians. Such changes will help embed altered behaviours and demonstrate the positive effects of active travel.’

Meanwhile, back here in Bath, the new Council leader, Cllr Kevin Guy, wasn’t elected unanimously with total cross-party support.

Thirty five of his fellow Liberal Democrat colleagues voted for him but elsewhere came 9 votes against and 12 abstentions – including one from Cllr Joanna Wright – the only Lib-Dem to do so – who – as l have already stated – has lost her Cabinet seat.

The Conservative Group said they couldn’t support any of the aims and ambitions of the ruling group so would abstain but the Labour group voted against the appointment.

Their leader Cllr Robin Moss talked about the administration ‘parachuting in a new leader’ rather than a leader with a deeper understanding of B&NES.

He hoped Cllr Guy would visit wards and talk to long-standing councillors to gain more knowledge of the area.

Cllr Guy has been a councillor for Bathavon North for two years but he has an additional eight years of experience serving as a local borough and parish councillor in his home town of Telford in Shropshire.

Cllr Kevin Guy via YouTube Zoom recording

Cllr Guy made it clear in his acceptance speech that he intended to re-focus the administration’s resolve to tackle the environmental concerns his council must address.

The climate emergency was the most critical issue we face he said and he was implementing a gear change in that drive. He said his would be a listening authority which would consult and gather evidence before taking decisions.

He remains committed to building on the success of the Clean Air Zone.

With the closure of Cleveland Bridge now underway he said they would aim to find ways of keeping HGV’s out of Bath once the bridge was repaired.

More good news about the tufa field at Odd Down where he said plans to build 37 homes would be dropped and the field would remain in council care. Thousands signed a petition against the proposals which they say would destroy a site of special ecological interest.

Bob Goodman via YouTube Zoom recording

One very vocal and consistent campaigner was former Tory councillor Bob Goodman who told the Zoom meeting

“I am immensely proud of stopping the tufa field development. The residents have been immense in their efforts which has come to a successful conclusion. What is important here is that the Environment has won to fight another day.I don’t mind being regarded as a cracked record if l can get a result like this.”

Cllr Guy put this video on Twitter https://twitter.com/CllrKevinGuy/status/1389654176410607618?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Etweet

Cllr Guy said he recognised the amount of feeling regarding keeping golf on the Approach Golf Course – if a viable operator can be found.

The administration would start building the first council houses in years, would look to reassess its stand regarding Airbnb’s and would be putting more resources into tackling litter and graffiti.

Here’s the new cabinet in full:

Leader of Council, Cllr Kevin Guy. Deputy Leader, Economic Development and Resources – Cllr Richard Samuel. Deputy Leader, Climate and Sustainable Travel, Cllr Sarah Warren. Adults and Council House Building, Cllrs Alison Born and Tom Davies. Children and Young People, Communities and Culture, Dine Romero. Neighbourhood Services, Cllr Dave Wood. Transport, Cllr Manda Rigby. Planning, Cllr Tim Ball.

Photo – L-R: Cllr Dine Romero, Cllr Tom Davies, Cllr Sarah Warren, Cllr Tim Ball, Cllr Kevin Guy, Cllr Alison Born, Cllr Richard Samuel, Cllr David Wood, Cllr Manda Rigby

Two cabinet assistants were also appointed. Councillor Matt McCabe will support the Deputy Leader for Climate and Sustainable Travel and the cabinet member for Planning. Councillor Jess David will support the cabinet member for Neighbourhood Services.

In addition to the cabinet roles the AGM appointed a new Chair of the Council, Councillor Lisa O’Brien. The new Vice-Chair is Councillor Shaun Stephenson-McGall.

I have to say l was disappointed not to hear the new leader talk more about the massive job of supporting local businesses and re-building our tourist industry which – as a World Heritage city – we still depend upon for a large part of our income.

His only reference was to acknowledge Cllr Samuel’s role as being in charge of economic development – whatever that means.

We need to hear more from him. I wanted to see a Cabinet member for Heritage and Tourism and not spread things like the Roman Baths, art galleries and public open spaces between several councillors.

It’s a watered-down approach to a major economic task.

NB. My views are my own!

PS. This is doing the rounds this morning?