YORK’S city leaders have been accused of manipulating a key report on the Lendal Bridge trial, after a leaked earlier draft emerged.
Ruth Stephenson, City of York Council’s major transport projects manager, was in the process of writing her report for the May 6 cabinet meeting when council leader James Alexander announced on April 8 that the controversial daytime ban on private traffic on the bridge would end.
Much of the content of Ms Stephenson’s draft report was missing from the final version, sparking angry claims by opposition councillors that the report was edited to suit the Labour cabinet’s decision.
The trial was scrapped after 48,500 fines had been issued, costing motorists more than £1.3 million. Ms Stephenson’s final report said the trial achieved many of its aims and had been a success in many ways, but said intense public opposition was considered to outweigh the benefits.
The leaked earlier draft appears to lean towards keeping the bridge, pictured, closed, but was then substantially rewritten.
Other excerpts removed from the final report include: l A warning that the council may have to pay £5 per cheque if refunding fines by cheque, potentially meaning a bill of £242,500 on top of the fines lA memo line at the foot of that same section asking: “Should this paragraph go in?”
lA paragraph considering an additional six-month trial with revised time restrictions, but a warning that this would add in a risk of the issue continuing until “close to local elections”.
Conservative opposition leader Chris Steward said: “It is clear from the draft that the officers’ recommendation was to be to keep the Lendal Bridge closed and this was then changed in the eventual report after the Labour Group decided to reopen it after they began panicking about saving their own necks in next year’s election.
“The overall thrust of the report changes radically from the importance of the changes to taking cars out of the Lendal area to a much more general approach.
“Lines like ‘what should be disclosed?’ and ‘should this paragraph go in?’ are particularly damning.
“It is also interesting what the draft says about the potential damage of repaying fines and yet the final report essentially ignores this.”
Liberal Democrat leader Keith Aspden said: “What we have got is evidence and officer reports being changed to fit the whims of Labour councillors and their fears over the next election.”
Cllr David Levene, cabinet member for transport, said: “We recognised that dealing with congestion requires bold ideas – we trialled something, and listened and responded to concerns from residents and businesses in the decision to end that trial.
“Ultimately, however, the issue is not going away, which is why we are establishing a cross-party, independently-led Congestion Commission to build the consensus that is needed.
“It is disappointing that the other parties have responded to that call to work together by dropping their initial in-principle support for this scheme in pursuit of political gain.”
He said the trial was included in the Lib Dems’ transport plans while in charge of the council and said former Conservative leader Ian Gillies had previously supported closing Lendal and Ouse Bridges.
Darren Richardson, the council’s director of city and environmental services, said: “This is a very early draft of the report which outlines a possible structure for consideration by officers, and at a time when only a small percentage of the final data was available.
“Naturally this means it won’t have the same content as the final report”.