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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Newcastle council refutes Tory claims on Jesmond LTN consultancy

Council hits out over 'inaccurate' Tory claims over spending on scrapped Jesmond LTN

A North East council has hit out at “inaccurate” Tory claims surrounding its spending on the controversial Jesmond low traffic neighbourhood (LTN).

The Conservative Party attacked Newcastle City Council last week for allegedly pumping “vast sums of money” into hiring external transport consultants and scrapping contentious bollard schemes “just months later”.

However, furious civic centre bosses say that they did not spend a single penny on consultancy services relating to any of the low traffic measures across the city.

While a freedom of information request shows the council did spend more than £1.2 million in 2022/23 on transport consultant fees, almost £1 million more than in the previous 12 months, the Labour-run council told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the increase was at least partly down to the planning of two big projects that required specialist expertise – the introduction of the city’s Clean Air Zone and the restoration of the Tyne Bridge.

A council spokesperson called the Tory claims “inaccurate” and said the use of consultants was “standard practice”.

They added: “Out of the £1.2 million quoted, spend on consultancy services relating to low traffic neighbourhood schemes, such as Jesmond, was zero.

“Consultancy services were primarily used for major transport projects, which required specialist knowledge and expertise, and is standard practice for local authorities. This included the restoration of the Tyne Bridge and the Clean Air Zone which was introduced in 2023.”

Across all of its departments, the council spent £5.6 million on external consultants in 2022/23, an increase from just under £4 million in 2021/22.

The Conservative Party issued a press release last week that there had been a “significant increase over the past three years” in the authority’s use of external consultants in transport services, with the bill jumping from £180,927 in 2020/21, to £269,472 in 2021/22, and then £1.26 million in 2022/23.

It alleged that the council had “spent millions on transport consultants – despite scrapping projects just months later”, referring to the recent removal of the Jesmond LTN and another in Fenham.

The Department for Transport recently cited the divisive Jesmond scheme, which was removed in February following 11 months of heated debate, as an example of a “poorly-implemented or locally unpopular” project as it announced new guidance on LTNs and told councils that they “must gain buy-in from local residents, businesses and emergency services”.

The Conservative Party was contacted for a response.

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