Apology from council with “propaganda” removed from its website
Barnsley Council has scrapped ‘myth buster’ information about a fiercely contested decision to build a traffic gyratory on the site of a urban park after a local election candidate complained.
Liberal Democrat candidate Peter Fielding, who has also campaigned against the development said the authority was in breach of the 'purdah' rule on political campaigning by publishing "propaganda" weeks before voting day.
The council has now apologised and removed the question and answers article from its website.
The row is a result of the council's plans to build a ring road on the site of Penny Pie Park, an urban green area between the town centre and M1 at junction 37.
According to the council, it is needed to alleviate congestion which has been growing for two decades and there is no alternative open space available.
But the plans have generated widespread opposition, with anger about the loss of an open area used by surrounding residents, as well as the impact on some homes in the area which are expected to be affected by increased noise and in some cases poorer air quality.
On Monday the council added a questions and answers section to its website and publicised the move via social media.
Mr Fielding, who lives in nearby Pogmoor, complained and the council’s elections manager, Peter Clark, has written to him, saying the information has been removed: “I am sorry that this was posted by the council, the post has now been deleted and I have instructed that there will be no further public communications on this issue by the council during the election period.”
Mr Fielding said he would be taking no further action over the issue, but said: “This was not a factual post but was what can only be described as propaganda about a politically sensitive subject well into the prescribed purdah period.
“This is in my view a clear breach of the purdah guidelines. This information could have been published months ago, so what prompted its publication just three weeks before an election when the issue of Penny Pie Park is a major issue.”
Mr Clark has had an increased profile in the community since becoming heavily involved in a campaign aimed at stopping Barnsley Council’s plans to put a gyratory on the site of the park.
He spoke at a planning meeting, where an application for permission was passed, in December and then approach the Secretary of State for Local Government, James Brokenshire, asking him to call in the application to be reviewed outside the council. That was declined.
Earlier this year he announced his intention to stand as a candidate in the council elections, for the Dodworth ward which includes Penny Pie Park.
Barnsley Council has consistently insisted the Penny Pie Park plan is the only option to deal with growing traffic congestion in an area with virtually no free space.
Officials looked at more than 30 options before recommending the ring road which will take up much of the park and leave an island of green space in the middle of traffic lanes. That suggestion was adopted by councillors and other associated legal processes are being completed before building work begins.
Barnsley Council said in a statement: “Communications surrounding the proposed works at Penny Pie Park have been ongoing for many months, with a series of scheduled social media posts included in the communications plan.
“Now that we are in election period a decision was taken to remove it and stop future social media posts until after the local elections.
“Responses to frequently asked questions can still be found at barnsley.gov.uk/media/9774/a628-dodworth-road-broadway-junction-improvement-faqs.pdf”
Mr Fielding is one of five candidates for the Dodworth ward. The other are sitting Councillor Richard Riggs (Labour), Adam Bromfield (Conservative), Chris Burrows (Yorkshire Party) and Jonathan Hastelow (UKIP).