TWO political leaders on Cumbria County Council have clashed over a multi-million scheme to relieve Kendal of heavy traffic.
Urswick’s Coun James Airey heads the opposition Conservatives on CCC, while Windermere’s Coun Jo Stephenson, leads the Liberal Democrats who power share with Labour.
The pair crossed swords at a budget-setting meeting in Kendal yesterday.
Just last week, Coun Airey called for the mothballed Kendal Northern Relief Road to be reinstated by CCC.
But Coun Stephenson, who holds the authority’s purse strings, moved quickly to say he does not believe Government money exists for it.
Unofficial estimates put the cost of the 3.1 mile route at around £40 million.
South Lakeland District Council has included the project in its newly-updated five year plan and also agreed to refer to it as the Kendal Northern Development Route to help influence its funding chances.
At a meeting of the full council at County Hall in Kendal, Coun Airey questioned Coun Stephenson about the project and Westmorland MP Tim Farron’s public backing of the scheme.
Coun Airey asked: “What is the situation regarding the Northern Relief Road? We have Tim Farron saying it’s still a top priority and that Lib Dem county councillors are pushing for it, and you saying there isn’t the money so you’re not?
“Then, we have the Lib Dem run-SLDC putting it into its five year plan? It’s bizarre. Do you not talk to each other?”
Coun Stephenson pointed out that Coun Airey was previously on the Conservative-led county council cabinet for years prior to the May 2013 elections until Labour shared power with the Liberal Democrats.
“There was a time for lobbying when you were in Cabinet,” said Coun Stephenson. “Please tell us how much money you extricated from the Government?”
He continued: “You’re right, it was high on the list of priorities for schemes to go ahead the last time you were in the administration. The position on the Northern Relief Road is that you have dragged it from its lair by yourself and your reasons for doing that are clearly your own."
“I am not happy throwing money and resources of this council at a project which is unforeseeable in the near future. I don’t claim to talk for Tim Farron and he doesn’t talk for me. If money was available to build this Northern Development Route, then it’s something we should look at.”
Coun Airey replied: “If we don’t push for Government funding, we don’t get projects delivered,” adding that he felt it was a ‘disgrace’ that the finance portfolio holder had effectively ruled it out.
“This scheme will benefit the town (Kendal) immensely and you’ve put in the Gazette that you’re not going to push for it but your own boss says you are doing," said Coun Airey.
Coun Stephenson said previous administrations had found it ‘impossible’ to pin down a route.
“I don't know whether it's going to happen or not; I'm not a clairvoyant,” said Coun Stephenson.
“I am only being realistic and I stand by what I said."