The Conservative leader has been accused of spreading “fake news” with claims council chiefs “deceived the electorate” over plans for Bath’s ring of steel.
Transport boss Manda Rigby has called on Vic Pritchard to retract his “confused” public statement and stop using security as a “political football”.
Refusing to back down, he said the Liberal Democrat administration had been unnecessarily hostile, dismissed public concerns and failed to answer direct questions on the proposals.
Councillor Pritchard brandished a February 2020 letter from then chief constable Andy Marsh at the cabinet meeting on 10th November he said proved Bath and North East Somerset Council was not implementing the ring of steel on the direct advice of the police.
He asked members: “Could the administration please explain why they have twisted this advice beyond all recognition, and in doing so have chosen to deceive the electorate?”
In the letter, CC Marsh recommended introducing an anti-terrorism traffic order (ATTRO) across the city centre – powers that can be used on a temporary basis to urgently shut roads to protect people from a suspected, ongoing or recent terrorist incident; or to secure a crowded temporary outdoor event.
Permanent ATTROs can be used to protect people in specific streets when the police judge these areas to be sufficiently crowded on a daily basis.
In a response to councillor Pritchard sent out by the council’s press office, councillor Rigby said she needed to set the record straight because he had confused two different ATTROs.
“One ATTRO covers a wider city centre area and was recommended by the police as a mechanism for the protection of the city from a terrorist incident and for pre-planned events,” she said. “This ATTRO would be in the control of the police.
“The other covers a smaller city area to be in place at all times to protect areas of high footfall administered by the council.
“So it is important to be clear the ATTRO referred to by councillor Pritchard was not the ATTRO we are currently progressing and which we have consulted on.”
Councillor Rigby was less constrained in an email to all councillors, when she said councillor Pritchard had used “fake news” to make “political capital from this project”.
“Protecting our residents, visitors and businesses is one of the most important tasks of any council,” she said.
“I’m sure councillor Pritchard did not intend to demonstrate a careless disregard for the facts when he misspoke at cabinet.
“The events over the weekend show that ensuring we consider proportionate measures against a hostile vehicle attack, alongside our other security measures, is necessary.
“To that end I am calling on him to issue a formal retraction.”
The comments were echoed by council leader Kevin Guy, who said: “The residents of Bath and North East Somerset want a pedestrian-friendly and crucially safe city centre, with access for disabled residents and trade in a safe way.
“The days of being choked to death by heavy traffic on our high streets are thankfully coming to an end.
“Residents are rightly demanding safe, secure pedestrian-friendly city centres and I will not allow the Tories to drag our city back into the dark ages.”
Councillor Pritchard said the Conservatives had only tried to highlight the damaging effects the ring of steel could have on residents and businesses, adding that initial plans to stop blue badge holders entering had caused “unimaginable stress” and showed “how little members of this cabinet care about some of our most vulnerable residents”.
“It is disappointing to see the administration use the terrible events in Liverpool, which are still coming to light, to make a party political attack. It does a disservice to residents to indulge in this kind of behaviour,” he said.
“We urge the administration to listen more carefully to the very real concerns of residents, and we would be happy to work in a cross-party manner to find solutions which strike a better balance between security and equality for all residents.”
Councillor Pritchard said there had been no indication in any council documents that there were two separate ATTROs.
That information can only be gleaned from correspondence released by Avon and Somerset Police following a Freedom of Information request.
Documents show CC Marsh shows he wrote to council chief executive Will Godfrey on March 4 asking if he would consider an ATTRO on high footfall streets in Bath’s inner core, in addition to the wider ATTRO he recommended on 20th February.
The council has consulted on the traffic regulation orders and ATTRO for the inner core and a final decision is expected next month.
Once approved, the measures would be implemented as soon as possible.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter