Bath’s ousted transport boss claims the new council leader asked her to “dump” walking and cycling plans despite “massive” public support.
Councillor Joanna Wright said her refusal was probably why she was not offered a place in Kevin Guy’s new cabinet.
She led on the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto promises to deliver low traffic neighbourhoods and active travel schemes but she said she fell victim to “slow motion sabotage” by colleagues more intent on getting re-elected than tackling the climate crisis.
Cllr Guy refuted her claims and said his administration was “collegiate” rather than “hell-bent on ideology”.
Cllr Wright told the full council meeting on 4th May that walking and cycling projects were “simple yet transformative schemes [that] 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”.”
When asked who wanted her to dump the active travel plans, Cllr Wright said: “Our new leader Cllr Kevin Guy sent me an email on that, which is probably one of the reasons why I’m no longer in the cabinet.”
The new leader told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that was “absolutely not” the case and he had asked colleagues to look at the data from recent consultations and adapt the schemes accordingly.
Cllr Wright, a former Green Party member who was elected as a Lib Dem in 2019, added: “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.”
She said taking cars off the roads was far more effective than planting trees at tackling the climate emergency, adding that it needs “cultural change and system change”.
One scheme she faced opposition from fellow Lib Dems on was restricting traffic on North Road to promote walking and cycling.
Cllr Manda Rigby – who now has the transport portfolio and leads on communications for Cllr Guy – said the proposal was flawed and risked future funding.
Sustainable travel has been added to the portfolio of Cllr Sarah Warren, who is now a deputy leader.
Cllr Wright refuted Cllr Guy’s claim that she did not apply for a post in his cabinet and only put herself forward for positions in the old structure.
She told the LDRS the new structure was brought in when she was on annual leave and she was given no flexibility when she missed the deadline. She has filed official complaints with the council and the Lib Dems about the way she feels she has been treated.
“People argue it’s just part of the rough and tumble of politics. The reason an awful lot of politics is old white men is it’s expensive, and it’s very aggressive and unpleasant,” said the Lambridge ward member, the only Lib Dem not to support Cllr Guy’s appointment as leader.
“The last month has been one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life.”
She said she worked up to 80 hours a week in what was meant to be a part-time cabinet brief and only ever tried to deliver on the Lib Dems’ manifesto promises, adding: “I’m not confident they [the active travel schemes] will be delivered. That will have massive ramifications.
“The Lib Dems seem to have given up on their own manifesto in the face of minority opposition.”
Cllr Guy, who was appointed as the new council leader after successfully challenging Cllr Dine Romero as leader of the Lib Dems, said he did not accept Cllr Wright’s complaints.
“We have a collegiate team that listens and talks to each other and doesn’t go hell for leather on ideology,” he said.
“Sarah Warren is probably the greenest person in Bath and North East Somerset. If I didn’t believe in active travel I wouldn’t have put someone in charge who’s committed to delivering it.
“Each active travel scheme needs to be assessed on its own merits and public consultations need to be taken into account.”
Also leaving the cabinet were fellow transport lead Neil Butters, Rob Appleyard, the member for adult services, and Paul Crossley, who had the community services portfolio.
After losing the top job, Cllr Romero was given the children and young people, communities and culture portfolio.
Also remaining in the cabinet are Richard Samuel as deputy leader, who adds economic development to his resources brief, David Wood leads on neighbourhood services and Tim Ball retains planning.
New cabinet members Alison Born and Tom Davies share the adults and council house building portfolio.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter