Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hoongate part 2 - who said what to Geoff Who?

Since our post last week about the Bypass Cartel's meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport Geoff Hoon, we now have three different sources of info about what was said. It's time to compare and contrast and form some conclusions.

Firstly, the article in the Advertiser, and a classic Oldhamism from Roy:

"Clearly he (Mr Hoon) can’t support it as he is the final arbitrator but I am hopeful that what we heard is that he understands what our problems and our needs are."

Arbiter Roy, that's the word you're after. Anyway, Levitt didn't get a look in on this article and for a change, Oldham is diplomatic, making it clear that Hoon is 'supposed' to be impartial. 

Then we have the article in the Glossop Chronicle, which also quotes Oldham at the Longdendale and Hattersley District Assembly, and Levitt's remarks on what was discussed. Leaving aside some of the more revealing and juicy quotes for future articles, the impression it gives is that the delegation 'made their case' to Hoon, but hinting that some kind of reassurance was given, Levitt is quoted thus:

"We left the meeting feeling far happier than when we went in"

Now set aside visions of a meeting along the lines of the ones Roy Oldham used to hold with his friends Tom Pendry and Owen Oyston and a bevvy of young women for one moment! This suggests Hoon gave them some kind of hope that the road will be built, come what may.

But the clincher is another source. Quoted by Virtual Glossop, it's from a newsletter sent by Levitt to Party supporters. We'll quote it in full:

Bypass Talks Win New Momentum

The new Transport Secretary, Geoff Hoon, met local MPs Tom Levitt and James Purnell with Tameside Council Leader Roy Oldham last week. The meeting was called to try to get the road plans for the A628 / A57 back on track after the public enquiry ran into technical problems.

“A number of ways forward were discussed,” said Tom, “and some were ruled out. For example, local politicians and the Highways Agency agreed that there was no credible alternative route for the road.” Tom said that Glossop’s economic development relied heavily on the bypass and the associated Glossop Spur being built together. Geoff Hoon, who was our Euro-MEP until 1994, knows the area. He said that officials would explore options to bring the plans back on course quickly.

Levitt likes to portray himself as having all kinds of access at all kinds of levels of government and no doubt this news is more than a little bit of self-aggrandisement. But then we have the mixed messages about 'ways forward' being 'ruled out'. Who is ruling what out? Is it Hoon (previously known as 'Geoff Who' by the press during the attack on Iraq)? If so, it's none of his business, as Roy Oldham was keen to make clear at the Longdendale DA. 

So is Levitt going out on a limb, out of desperation for his more than likely battering at the next General Election? Or did this very cosy meeting really agree a way forward? It should be clear that if objectors request to met him and are rebuffed, then he clearly showing favouritism and bias.

To try to get to the bottom of the matter, leading Objector John Hall sent a Freedom of Information request to Hoon on 26th November:

The press releases today 26th November 2008 indicate your meeting with a delegation of TMBC Councillors who seek your approval for the strongly contested ByPass scheme through the Peak District National Park.

To accept this lobbying by those concerned indicates your complicity in showing contempt for the Public Inquiry process and the protocols required under an appointed Public Inquiry Inspector.

Those objecting to this road scheme have had to abide by the PI proceedings in presenting their evidence under the requirements of the Inquiry, and then being subjected to any cross examinations required by any Supporters of this ByPass.

The gates have been opened through your acceptance of this "organised delegation" who have been allowed to submit their support of the scheme directly to yourself, thereby showing contempt for the present Public Inquiry, the Inspector administrating the proceedings, and all the many objectors.

Because of these lobbying methods adopted through the stated meeting, those involved have avoided being cross examined in a Public Inquiry where their rhetoric and manipulated comments were directly made to yourself, with no recourse whatsoever to the substantial and error free evidence submitted by objectors.

To discriminate in such a flagrant manner Secretary of State, indicates and confirms an existing bias against those objecting through your acceptance of this recent lobbying meeting in London.

The PI Inspector concerned has now lost all credibility in his administrations because of these recent methods adopted by TMBC Councillors and MPs, which indicates a desperation in not being capable of substantiating their rhetoric in an Public Inquiry Open Forum.

I therefore now wish for the implementation of my FOI legislated request to yourself seeking the minutes, agenda, or any matters whatsoever discussed at your recent meeting because I believe extremely serious existing Public Inquiry protocols and procedures have been breached by the DfT whose impartiality has now been totally destroyed through its substantiated complicity with those supporting the ByPass.

We'll keep you informed of any responses as soon as we hear. 

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