A row has broken out over claims that a ward in South Ribble was promised a new pedestrian crossing before this year’s local elections - only for the pledge to be jettisoned after control of the council changed hands.
Labour cabinet member for finance, Matthew Tomlinson, accused Conservative councillor for Farington East, Paul Wharton-Hardman, of “lying” in social media posts on the subject.
A meeting of South Ribble Council heard that Cllr Wharton had written on Facebook that money had been “allocated” for the safety upgrade on Stanifield Lane before the Tories lost control of authority - and suggested that it may have been removed by the Labour group when they took over.
Cllr Tomlinson said officers had confirmed that “not a single identifiable penny” had been put aside for the purpose by the last administration - and blasted Cllr Wharton for linking the removal of the “mythical money” to the purchase of a car for the borough’s mayor.
“The overdue replacement of the mayoral car was agreed by the Conservatives in the capital programme [which] Cllr Wharton voted for in this room - and then he says it’s our fault that we’re getting a new car and we’re doing it by spending money [for a crossing] that was never set aside in the first place,” Cllr Tomlinson said.
“So I’m going to be really blunt...Cllr Wharton is lying to his social media followers [and] to the residents of Farington East.”
Cllr Wharton was not in the chamber because of volunteering commitments, but Conservative former cabinet member Caroline Moon said he had acted in “good faith” - because of discussions which he had had with her about the potential to part-fund the crossing with money acquired from developers as part of the planning process.
“Conversations were ongoing in this council [about the use of] £24,230, which is sitting there for highway mitigation - ...we identified that as an amount of money which would be suitable for that purpose,” Cllr Moon said.
She asked Cllr Tomlinson to agree that Cllr Wharton was “not a liar”.
But the Labour cabinet member said that while he accepted various pots of so-called “section 106” money were available, none had been ringfenced for a crossing - and he “applauded” that fact, because highways are the responsibility of Lancashire County Council.
He also accused Cllr Wharton of “a litany of falsehoods” by further claiming that three new bus stops had been ordered for Farington East back in March, but never installed. Cllr Tomlinson said no new bus stops had been ordered for any part of the borough - and that a commitment by Cllr Moon before the election to move a single bus shelter from a disused route and use it to replace a damaged one on Mill Street had been implemented by the new administration.
CLLR WHARTON-HARDMAN’S RESPONSE
In a statement, Cllr Wharton-Hardman said the claims made about him at the meeting reflected the “sad state of politics in South Ribble”.
“It is sad that I am being personally attacked again, as this has been going on for many years. What I do know is that I will continue to fight for the residents of Farington; I’d like to think my record of action as a hard-working local councillor speaks for itself.
“We desperately need and deserve a crossing on Stanifield Lane. The £24,000 which I had been promised by the previous Conservative administration towards delivering it is there in the section 106 monies. Senior officers at the council and the Conservatives were committed to using it for Stanifield Lane and the parish council has also contributed £10,000 towards this.
“My question is - are the Labour-led council equally committed to the residents of Farington? Current examples, including the removal of the [Central Area] neighbourhood forum, would suggest maybe not.”
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Moon added that the money for the crossing had been identified and would have been used had the Conservatives retained control of the council.