County council leader Steve Count heads to Whittlesey to face residents over Kings Dyke debacle - 'don't blame us, blame Kier' is his message
PUBLISHED: 14:09 28 July 2019 | UPDATED: 14:09 28 July 2019
Stunned by the attack from Mayor James Palmer ('I will not accept further delay and bungling on Kings Dyke') county council leader Steve Count will press the flesh in Whittlesey to meet critics head-on.
Cllr Count will head up a delegation of county council officials in a 'meet and greet' public exhibition on King's Dyke on August 12 from 3pm to 8pm.
The exhibition will be held at the Whittlesey Christian Church on Broad Street, three days ahead of a special meeting of the county council's economy and environment committee to consider recommendations on a way forward for the project.
And that meeting, too, could break with tradition and be held in Whittlesey rather than at Shire Hall, Cambridge.
In an open letter to Conservative councillors, Cllr Count said that when he proposed going to Whittlesey he recognised he was "exposing myself and any associated Conservatives to a barrage of negative comments in an uncontrollable atmosphere."
Instead he opted for an "engagement event" over several hours where people can quiz both him and officials and to talk with "however many residents come through the door.
"I believe this would help diffuse the problem of failing to get out our message and being surrounded by a room that controlled the atmosphere."
Cllr Count recognised it would be a while before the town heard more positive news and diggers were on the ground.
But he felt that with the committee looking to go back out to tender for a contractor for the King's Dyke crossing and with a new time line it would stop the void "being filled with negative news".
Cllr Count told colleagues that "by having me as leader and officers come and speak to people it will help diffuse the situation and diminish those stories, as will running the economic and environment committee in Whittlesey.
"As part of any engagement we need to re-divert people from the concept that the county council and its officers are at fault.
"This is simply not true, Kier is the issue and we need to get that message across. We can do this simply by concentrating on Kier and explaining to people their actions and role in this."
He said: "We can also demonstrate some of the risks we have taken to accelerate the programme, which people are probably unaware of.
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"Lastly, the people most affected would naturally expect and do deserve some meaningful engagement that isn't manipulated through the media."
Fenland Council leader Chris Boden, who is also a Whittlesey town and county councillor, said: "Local people want confirmation that the much-needed and long-overdue bridge at King's Dyke will indeed be built, and they want a definite timeline for that to happen.
"Hopefully this event will provide them with the official, factual information they deserve, and end the ill-informed speculation currently swirling around social media."
Cllr Boden and Cllr David Connor had written an open letter to Cllr Count inviting him to visit the town.
"We, and the residents of Whittlesey, deserve definitive and official answers as quickly as possible," they told him.
They wanted him in person to "look local residents straight in the eyes when you give us those answers".
Not all local councillors thought a public meeting at this stage was a good idea.
Cllr Ray Whitwell said: "We need to wait until there is something positive that can be reported. With all the adverse comments there has been I think it would just make matters worse."
Cllr Count and Mayor Palmer are understood to been at loggerheads over responsibility since Kier pulled out of the contract.
Mayor Palmer said: "A fresh approach is needed to the way in which transport infrastructure is delivered in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and I will not accept further delay and bungling on Kings Dyke," he said: "What's happened to date with this project since the Combined Authority was asked to make a financial contribution has been extremely disappointing and regrettable.
"Clearly the decision to re-procure the work will lead to the delivery of the project being delayed and this will be a blow to all those who are impacted by this bottleneck on a daily basis and who live along the Peterborough-Whittlesey corridor.
"However it's vital that local authorities are prudent with taxpayers' money and the escalations in the costs of the project are unacceptable."
Earlier it was revealed that a quote by Kier to build the King's Dyke crossing project at Whittlesey, which they had designed, has been rejected by Cambridgeshire County Council.