Mayor and councillors clash over funding of MK canal project

Conservative mayoral candidate, Tom Wootton, speaking at a hustings
Conservative mayoral candidate, Tom Wootton, speaking at a hustings. Image: LDRS

A borough councillor has accused Bedford’s mayor of making a U-turn on his plans for the Bedford to Milton Keynes Canal Project.

During yesterday’s Executive Meeting (November 13) councillor Michael Headley (Lib Dem, Putnoe) questioned the mayor’s commitment to delivering the canal, emphasising the contrast between making a start and ensuring its full delivery.

However, the Conservative mayor, Tom Wootton, said the previous administration had  “faffed about for best part 14 years” and didn’t deliver “a yard of it”.

Councillor Headley said: “There’s always been cross-party support for the Bedford to Milton Keynes Canal Project.

“So I was interested to see Mr Mayor in a recent article you’ve said that you’re going to invest to see the canal finally delivered.

“And I see that there’s just over £4 million in the capital programme for the canal link.

“How much more are you going to add to that to finish the project and are you committed to do that as you’ve said in the article,” he asked.

Mayor Tom replied: “We’re committed to make a start and I think that’s as far as we can say the present time given the financial delicacies of our council.

“And I welcome the day that we can actually make a start on the blooming canal, because we have been waiting an awful long time to actually make a start,” he said.

Councillor Headley said: “That isn’t actually what you said in the article is it, you didn’t actually say you’re committed to make a start, you said ‘we’ll invest to see the Bedford Milton Keynes Waterway Canal finally delivered.

“I think it’s a big difference between making a start and seeing it delivered a huge difference in fact.

“You are U-turning on that already, and it’s not like something you said years ago, it was 11 days ago.

“This is setting a really bad precedent, saying one thing but having no intention about actually carrying out what you’ve said you’re going to do,” he said.

Read: Mayor’s “bold” investment plan for Borough criticised as “reckless” borrowing and Mayor Tom’s monthly column: Putting a spring back into Bedford’s step with £9m for GPs

Mayor Tom said: “Should we just say I strongly disagree with that, because no one knows the fickle nature of local government.

“So who’s to say I won’t be about when the canal is delivered, and I look forward to the time when we deliver the blooming canal.

“Because we’ve been waiting an awful long time for it, to make a start, and seeing as your administration faffed about for best part 14 years and didn’t deliver a blooming single yard.

“I think we’re going to do something, and actually deliver the canal and start work on it,” he said.

Councillor Headley asked: “Is it not the case that the funding that you got to start the project is actually funding that was allocated through section 106 some time ago?

“Therefore, it’s not funding that you’ve identified and put forward, it is funding under the previous administration.

“And is it not the fact that actually there’s been other provisions been made for the canal in terms of leaving the space and making bridges and things so that it could go in by the previous administration?”

Mayor Tom replied: “Do you know what councillor Headley, you’re probably dead right.

“And we all thank the previous administration for their efforts in delivering the canal.”

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter

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