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Secret Election Diary: Christmas spirit in short supply as Ali and Ward trade blows

Secret Election Diary: Christmas spirit in short supply as Ali and Ward trade blows

🕔13.Nov 2015

A psychoanalyst would have had a treat at today’s Birmingham city council transportation scrutiny committee meeting. For rarely can three people with, let us say, so much emotional baggage have been in such close proximity, with their comments broadcast live on the web.

The committee is chaired by Cllr Victoria Quinn, aka Lady Bore, wife of council leader Sir Albert Bore, who as everyone knows was stabbed in the back by traitorous cabinet and forced to announce his resignation.

Sat opposite Quinn was deputy council leader Ian Ward, who is one of five contenders to become council leader. Ward’s failure to publicly endorse Sir Albert in the days before the leader fell is unlikely to have been forgotten or forgiven by the Boreites.

Sat next to Ward was Cllr Tahir Ali, cabinet member for development, transport and the economy, who is an enthusiastic backer of Cllr John Clancy’s leadership campaign. Clancy, who was not there, probably just as well, has been a longstanding thorn in Sir Albert’s flesh and stands now on the verge of victory after an eight-year campaign of attrition.

It was never going to go very well, was it?

The topic under discussion – the arrangements for pedestrian safety and traffic flows while the Frankfurt Christmas Market is in town.

The closure of Paradise Forum and work on the Paradise Circus redevelopment has conspired to unleash a narrow bottleneck as crowds attempt to walk from Centenary Square through Fletcher’s Walk to the market in Victoria Square and New Street. Matters have been made all the more difficult because stalls belonging to an annual craft market will once again be situated between the ICC and Paradise Forum, as well as the Birmingham Big Wheel.

Cllr Ali has responsibility for transportation, traffic flows and buses. Cllr Ward has responsibility for leisure events, including the German market.  Clearly, the two must have worked closely together to devise appropriate safety arrangements. Not according to Cllr Ali.

Ali launched into a fierce attack on the council’s “silo working” with departments not talking to each other, and seemingly no one talking to him. He raised concerns months ago about the craft market and wanted it to be relocated to Eastside, freeing up pedestrian routes at the bottom of Broad Street.

He was “assured” by council officers that the craft market would be moved to a different location.

Then, five weeks ago, the truth dawned on Ali. The market would remain in place because “contractual” difficulties prevented a move to Eastside. Ali demanded to see the contract. But the council officers have not given him a copy, yet.

To make matters worse, the council’s head of transportation told Ali that Broad Street would have to be closed to all traffic during the Christmas period in order to guarantee pedestrian safety. Ali refused to close Broad Street, claiming that to do so would result in traffic chaos throughout the city centre, or at least more chaos than is usual.

Cllr Ward, speaking calmly and in measured tones, explained he had allowed the craft market to remain in place because he believed two pedestrian routes around Paradise Forum could be put in place. But when development work began on Paradise Circus it was discovered the second route would not be safe. It was too late by then to move the craft market because a contract had been signed.

Ward added, for good measure, that West Midlands Police contacted him about their concerns over pedestrian safety during the Christmas market period only five weeks ago.

A clearly rattled Cllr Quinn spent much time telling Ali and Ward “I won’t have it” and deploring what was clearly a leadership election turf war being played out in front of her. Communications about traffic arrangements and pedestrian flows during the market period were woeful, taxi cab and bus drivers had no idea what they were supposed to be doing, and councillors were only latterly provided with maps, and they turned out to be the wrong maps.

Her parting shot to Ali rang around the room. You are responsible for the £500 million Paradise Circus redevelopment, which is rather more important than the arrangements for a small craft market.

A points win for Ward. But referee Quinn was the real star.

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