Plans for rapid transit scheme are still on track in Bristol
A PANEL of councillors has decided against derailing the controversial bus rapid transit scheme, which aims to ease traffic congestion.
The panel had the chance to urge the city council's cabinet to review a decision it took before the mayoral election to spend a further £4.65 million on the scheme.
But they agreed to take no further action after a plea by Tory councillor Geoff Gollop to "call-in" the cabinet decision.
If the panel had recommended a review, it would have put the scheme on hold and raised serious doubts whether it should go ahead at all.
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But the councillors agreed that despite their decision not to intervene, the new mayor George Ferguson still has the power to carry out his own review.
Mr Ferguson said several times in the run-up to the election that he wanted to take another look at the £200 million scheme, which would initially provide two routes to reduce traffic chaos – one between the Long Ashton park and ride site to the city centre and another from the northern fringe of the city to Hengrove.
In his vision for Bristol, Mr Ferguson said: "I will strike a City Deal with Government that includes rail, tram and bus service alternatives to the flawed BRT bendy bus."
At a hustings at Arnos Vale which was organised by The Post, he said he wanted to renegotiate the BRT funding so the money could be used to create the Bristol Metro rail network and improve bus services.
Mr Gollop launched his call-in plea before the election because he believed the new mayor should not be tied to a cabinet decision on such a major project.
He told the panel: "It seems inappropriate for the cabinet and council leader to be making a decision which they would not be responsible for implementing and effectively whipping the mayor to carry through the policy.
"The cabinet should have deferred a decision so the mayor could make a decision and be responsible for it.
"The new mayor now finds himself in office with a commitment to a policy which he does not necessarily agree with."
Lib Dem Councillor Patrick Hassell, a member of the panel, asked Mr Gollop whether he had consulted with the other councils in the Bristol area because they had all committed to the scheme and there would be financial costs incurred if the city council was responsible for any delays.
Mr Gollop replied that he had been assured by council officers that if the scheme was sent back to the cabinet for review, then the cost implications were not significant.
Steve Comer, another Lib Dem councillor on the panel, said if the scheme was held up, the Government would simply transfer the money to other parts of the country where transport projects were ready to go.
He said if the cabinet had rushed through its decision on October 4, then Mr Gollop would have had a valid argument but in fact it was simply continuing with a process that had already begun and which four councils were signed up to.
Labour councillor Derek Pickup, who chaired the panel, said members had been told by officers that the cabinet made its decision because of the tight timescales involved.
"Regardless of the decision this panel makes, the mayor has stated that he intends to review the scheme and I am sure he will be discussing it with ministers," he said.
The panel decided by four votes to one in favour of taking no further action, with two Labour councillors and two Lib Dems in favour and one Tory, James Stevenson, against.