Conservatives slammed over ‘Bonkers’ late-night council debate
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
Councillors in Cardiff will debate a planned congestion charge for the city during a late-night meeting described as “bonkers”.
The debate, scheduled for 10pm on Thursday, March 17, was slammed as “absolutely ridiculous” and “not an inclusive way to do democracy”.
The debate could add pressure on the council’s cabinet to scrap any plans underway to bring in a charge of £2 a day to use the city’s roads.
Councillors will have already been in a council meeting from 3.45pm on Thursday, March 17, prompting questions how accessible the council is for those with children or full-time jobs.
During the late-night meeting, Conservative councillors will call on the cabinet to rule out a congestion charge due to the potentially “damaging impact” on the city’s economy. No formal proposal for a charge has been put forward yet, but the council is working with consultants to explore charging options to fund its ambitious plans to upgrade public transport in Cardiff.
Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors tweeted their criticisms of the late night scheduling.
Labour Cllr Stephen Cunnah said: “It’s bonkers. The Tory motion was declined by the Lord Mayor because it’s the last of three submitted and there’s no time in a heavy agenda. So now the Tories have abused procedures to call an emergency meeting to discuss their motion anyway.”
Fellow Labour Cllr Jennifer Burke-Davies said: “Far be it from me to stifle democracy but I fail to see how a motion, which the Lord Mayor opted to not take forward, can be viewed as an emergency when it could be rolled into the new term. It is absolutely ridiculous to expect the council to meet at 10pm following a six-hour meeting.”
Liberal Democrat Cllr Emma Sandrey said: “I can’t believe I’ve just accepted an invite for a meeting that ends at 11.30pm and starts at 3.45pm. That’s basically a full working day, in addition to a full working day for councillors who also work. This is not an accessible or inclusive way to do democracy.”
Defending the move, Tory Cllr Joel Williams, who put forward the motion, said people have a “right to know” which parties supported a road user charge ahead of the local election on May 5. The election will see all council seats up for grabs, with the potential for the control of the currently Labour-run council to switch to a new party or a coalition of parties.
Cllr Williams said: “Cardiff Conservatives have ruled out introducing a congestion charge in Cardiff. Cardiff Labour aren’t happy with this motion because we know they won’t rule out introducing a congestion charge.
“Instead of hitting hard working residents with congestion charges, Cardiff council should be focused on keeping council tax low, improving public transport and supporting our local businesses as we recover from the pandemic.”
It’s unclear if Labour would bring in a congestion charge after the election. A charge was mooted in January 2020 as part of a long list of huge changes to how people travel around the city. The transport white paper also included major upgrades to bus and train services. But Labour’s cabinet member for transport, Cllr Caro Wild, denied having a firm proposal.
He said: “The obvious flaw in this [motion] being that the council doesn’t have a proposal for a congestion charge.”
Previously council bosses have said the charge would likely cost between £2 or £3 a day, and would only apply to people not living in Cardiff but who travel in and use the city’s roads. The income raised from the charge would be spent solely on upgrading public transport, with the aim to reduce the number of people driving into Cardiff, cutting congestion and pollution.
Each political group in Cardiff council gets to use a certain number of motions in full council meetings, to urge action on specific topics like biodiversity or helping victims of the cladding scandal. Council rules means a maximum of two motions can be put forward each meeting, with a debate on each usually lasting around 45 minutes.
This motion on the congestion charge was the third to be included this week, so the Lord Mayor Cllr Rod McKerlich—who decides which ones get debated—said it couldn’t be discussed during the normal meeting times.
But five Tory councillors called an extraordinary council meeting to discuss the congestion charge. Due to the upcoming election, council meetings will be suspended for the next few weeks, beginning on Friday, March 18—the day after the debate. This means there would be no time left before the election to debate the motion on the congestion charge.
A Cardiff council spokesman said: “The Conservative motion was the third motion to be submitted for this month’s meeting and was rejected as a motion to be dealt with at the ordinary council meeting. Five members of the Conservative group have therefore exercised their right to call an extraordinary council meeting to discuss the motion.
“Under the council procedure rules any five councillors may require the Lord Mayor to call an extraordinary meeting of the council. If the Lord Mayor has not called a meeting within two working days of receipt of such a written request, then they may do so themselves.
“As the council was already meeting this Thursday, March 17, and the pre-election period—during which the council must not give publicity to any election candidates and politically sensitive or controversial matters should not be dealt with—starts on Friday, March 18, it has been decided to call the extraordinary meeting immediately after the end of the ordinary council meeting.”
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