Lib Dems defeat 'Referendum' Bid!

April 24, 2008 4:20 AM

Another effort to derail significant investment in Rochdale Borough's Public Transport was defeated by the Lib Dems at a meeting of the Borough Council. The Conservatives were trying to force a referendum just 35 days after any announcement of the Transport Innovation Bid. The debate was marred as the Deputy Leader of the GMPTE and Labour Group Leader Allen Brett abandoned his principles and left to avoid a backlash from his Greater Manchester Labour Colleagues and avoided the vote that the Lib Dems won easily.

Lib Dem Council Leader Alan Taylor criticised the Motion and also controversially claimed that Peel Holdings were behind this attempt to derail the bid. Taylor told the meeting, "I can't understand how badly this Motion has been written. It is suggesting that a poll be held within 35 days after the Government response has been received, and also that groups such as Peel Holdings should be given a free hand to discredit any proposals. This is preventing the Rochdale electorate being given a balanced view of the issues. It is also getting ahead of itself. I can't understand how opponents of a possible congestion charge claim to have so many facts at their finger tips, because I haven't got those facts, because the first thing that needs to happen is that we need to know how much the Government are offering, if anything, in their response to our bid, and if that is acceptable, it is written into our bid that there would be wide-scale public consultation of at least three months before any further decisions were taken, and as Liberal Democrats, we are not opposed to a referendum if that were to be necessary.

"Both this Motion and its amendment would deny the public that opportunity to be consulted. When we do get the Government response, we could say 'sorry, this just isn't good enough' and that would be the end of that. I remind you that our Council agreed to support the submission of the Transport Innovation Bid. Up to now, that's all. We are not committed to accept the Government's response, we are not committed to congestion charging, because we've still not agreed any policy for congestion charging, it's just a suggestion that if there is to be congestion charging, it might be from 7.30 am to 9.30 am into Manchester, and 4.30 to 6 pm coming out of Manchester.

"It's a suggestion that the outer boundary could be the M60. It's suggested that it might be a camera operated system. It's suggested that it could be sophisticated enough to allow you to enter the charging area, but not be charged because you haven't gone past enough cameras. For example, going to Crumpsall Hospital. We've all had letters from people who know all the detailed facts about what will happen in five or ten years when public transport has been improved to provide a real alternative to car travel. People just seem to pick the worst thing they can think of and present it as truth."

Councillor Taylor also revealed that Council Members had received 'visits' from anti-congestion lobbyists. He claimed that they had been 'dishonest' in their campaigning. He told the meeting, "One of the things my wife was told, because I was out doing other things, was that disabled people wouldn't be able to afford this charge. I can tell you that in what outline discussions have been held, this was one of things that would be rejected. Disabled people would never be considered for any charging.

We haven't the information about whether the TIF bid has been successful to even start detailed discussions about how we move forward to improve public transport across the City Region. Any suggestion of congestion charging would be at least 5 years in the future, if not longer. Finally, we haven't got the Government response, we would not be allowing the public of Rochdale to vote on the facts. The Council must reject this Notice of Motion. It is much too premature, and it is denying the public of Rochdale their right to information."

The Labour Party again worked with the Conservatives and both agreed an amendment to the Motion that any referendum should be 12 weeks after the announcement of the bid. This was again defeated by the Liberal Democrat ruling group.