Green councillors have challenged the Mayor over comments made during Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, when he implied that responsibility for the project’s cost increases lay with Councillor Charlie Bolton, who sat on and chaired the Scrutiny Commission for some of the period since the start of the project.
Councillor Bolton (pictured campaigning against MetroBus in 2014) said:
“The funny thing is, the questions I asked are out of a genuine desire to understand what’s going on with MetroBus, and how major project spend is controlled generally. I wasn’t looking to ‘score points’ – so I was surprised that Marvin went on the offensive and seemed to try to flip responsibility for MetroBus onto me.
“I have consistently opposed MetroBus – in 2010 I was the only councillor to vote against the project in Full Council. I wasn’t a councillor when the project was approved; I spoke against the destruction of ‘blue finger’ land when it went through planning. I raised the issue of the MetroBus at two scrutiny meetings as well as at cabinet – without ever getting a response. I might add that three members of Marvin’s cabinet were also on scrutiny with me during the time he mentioned.”
Councillor Bolton challenged the project in a public forum statement in August 2014, arguing that “it seems to me that it is highly probable that we – the taxpayer – will end up footing the bill when the project becomes significantly overspent”. (see statement here)
The Cabinet papers discussed at the meeting showed that the increased spend on MetroBus would cause other planned transport projects to be stopped, including train station upgrades, minor traffic schemes and bus priority measures. Green councillor Carla Denyer raised this in the meeting and asked which projects would be stopped. She also queried whether any assessment had been made of the equalities impact of the cancellations, given that transport projects to improve disabled accessibility may be among the scrapped projects. However, she was told that this information was not yet available as no decisions had been made on which projects to scrap.
Leader of the Green Group, Councillor Eleanor Combley said:
“When the Mayor was asked questions about MetroBus, I was astonished that instead of answering them he chose to attack Councillor Bolton for supposedly not having challenged the project enough in previous years, despite the fact that Charlie has long been one of the project’s most vocal critics. The Mayor may feel we “have the tiger by the tail” and personally I agree that at this stage it makes sense for us to try to make the best possible success of MetroBus, but being committed to finish the project doesn’t mean we stop questioning, debating, trying to learn lessons for the future, or looking at alternatives like whether the Mayor could approach the West of England Combined Authority to at least partially cover this new overspend.
“But there’s a wider issue here which is that when asked tough questions – in this case about what processes he would implement in the future – the Mayor often seeks to blame the previous administration or the person asking the question. It’s time he accepted that having been Mayor for well over a year now he has to step up and take responsibility.