Green Budget Proposal Calls To End Free Parking For Bath Councillors

On Tuesday, the Green Group had the opportunity to speak at the full council meeting for the first time about the Budget decisions made by the Liberal Democrats. Councillor Joanna Wright, the leader of the Green Group, used her statement to point out that despite the council’s claims of supporting the community, many people in B&NES are still facing issues like unemployment, inadequate housing, and poverty. Councillor Wright criticised the Budget for cutting spending instead of allocating more resources to tackle these urgent problems, which only makes things harder for those already struggling. The Green Group believes there should be a clearer and fairer process for deciding the Budget.

Councillor Wright stressed that simply attributing budget cuts to central government isn’t sufficient. She pointed out a lack of transparency and cooperation within the Liberal Democrat’s decision-making, evidenced through the proposed £802k cut to important third-party organisations. The delays in making these cuts demonstrate that concerns regarding Budget transparency are broad.

Concerns were also raised about subsidies for buses, with Councillor Wright saying, “This Budget overlooks the annual Transport Levy paid by B&NES to WECA for subsidised buses, which remains unchanged at £5.195 million from last year’s £5.195 million.

“There’s a lack of awareness by the council that inflation has increased travel and staffing expenses.

“As a result, this Budget falls short of ensuring subsidised buses on crucial routes, which is essential for those with limited transport access. It’s clearly another budget cut.”

The inconsistency between the council’s promises and actions underscores the need for a review of the Budget. Councillor Wright highlighted this concern again over the consideration on Liveable Neighbourhoods without a Circulation Plan, she noted, “While roadblocks have been put in place, there’s still no Circulation Plan for Bath or North East Somerset, which could quickly make neighbourhoods better places to live for many.”

Transparency issues were further emphasised regarding the allocation of resources, with questions raised about the use of public funds, particularly regarding a council-owned company’s expenditures on property acquisition. Councillor Wright highlights, “The Greens wonder why Aequus, a company owned by the Council, spent £3.02 million to buy 22 family homes, but building 5 two-bedroom and 3 one-bedroom council flats on Lower Bristol Road will cost £3.2 million.

“There’s uncertainty about public money usage, especially with the council spending over a million a year on temporary housing. Additionally, concerns arise because the Leader of this council is the sole shareholder at B&NES for Aequus.”

Green Councillor Saskia Heijltjes also stressed the need to reevaluate Budget priorities to ensure inclusivity for all residents of B&NES. She notes that the Budget disproportionately focuses on Bath City Centre, widely neglecting Bath and North East Somerset.

Green Councillor Sam Ross shares concerns about the Council’s neglect of rural communities. She highlights the implementation of parking charges in rural areas like Midsomer Norton and Radstock has unintended consequences including detrimental effects on businesses and residents. The Green Group contends that the Budget inadequately addresses or accurately assesses the full impact of their proposals.

To address these concerns, the Green Group proposes two amendments to the Budget Council, focusing on implementing school streets and reforming councillor parking permits.

School streets, which restrict traffic during school pick-up and drop-off, are vital for enhancing road safety, air quality, and promoting active travel among children. With a significant percentage of morning trips related to education and many parents concerned about traffic speeds near schools, implementing school streets in B&NES is imperative for ensuring safer and healthier transportation options for children.

The Green Group Leader, Councillor Joanna Wright, notes: “Last year in the 2023/24 Council budget meeting 32 Liberal Democrats voted against the Green Party Amendment for a School Street in B&NES, promising that school streets were going to be delivered in some form in the next budget.

“To date we see no delivery of a school street in B&NES and only the suggestion of ‘soft school street’ options and £40K for school improvements to the smallest school in B&NES, which does not suffer from through traffic.”

Additionally, the Green Group underscores the importance of equity in transportation policies, proposing an end to paper parking permits for councillors and discontinuing free parking in Bath for councillors representing wards within the city of Bath while performing official duties. These changes are necessary to demonstrate that councillors should not receive privileges above residents regarding transportation and to align with the council’s commitments to address the climate emergency and promote sustainable travel options.

Councillor Saskia Heijltjes, adds: “I understand councillors have busy schedules and need to get around efficiently, but as leaders, we should also be willing to change our transportation habits to set a better example.”

During the Budget Council, Councillor Mark Elliot called the Green Group’s amendment “a stunt” without responding to our proposal to cease an outdated practice that is lacking in transparency.

The amendment received 40 votes against, 3 for (the Green Councillors) and 7 abstentions, and therefore was unsuccessful.

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