MP Andrew Stephenson has hit back at claims his behaviour was “petulant and infantile” in refusing to attend a Pendle Council meeting.
Pendle’s Liberal Democrat leader Tony Greaves made the accusation and said he was “astonished” Mr Stephenson refused to attend the meeting with Pendle Council’s Strategic Director Dean Langton and all three party leaders on the council which was scheduled for Tuesday this week.
Lord Greaves said the purpose of the meeting was to discuss “a number of very serious issues” facing Pendle Council, including its perilous financial position as a result of Government policy, Government pressure on Pendle to give planning permission for thousands of new houses on greenfield sites, proposals for a “combined authority” made up of local councils in Lancashire and progress with the economic regeneration scheme at Brierfield Mills.
According to Lord Greaves, it took 10 weeks for Mr Stephenson to reply to a written invitation from Pendle Council’s Labour leader Coun. Mohammed Iqbal only for an employee of the MP to write at the last minute to say that while Mr Stephenson would be “more than happy” for Dean Langton to be present, he had “no interest” in meeting with Lord Greaves because he did not feel him being there “would add anything”.
Coun. Iqbal has replied, stating that “in view of his disappointing response and clear political motives ahead of the needs of Pendle” he would not meet Mr Stephenson “unless all parties on the council are present”, which is in accordance with the usual practice of the council when meeting with MPs in the past.
Lord Greaves said: “I am flabbergasted. Mr Stephenson has just been re-elected as the local MP for Pendle, yet he appears to have no manners in his dealings with his local authority, and to be playing politics in a way that would be inappropriate in a nursery playground.
“Pendle Council is faced with a desperate financial position and we are struggling to maintain local services – and at the same time the council is being bullied into covering green fields with a ridiculous amount of new housing.
“Mr Stephenson appears to be playing silly games when what we should all be doing is getting round a table and working out how to work together for all the residents of Pendle.
“It’s time for Mr Stephenson to roll up his sleeves and start to work with us to put the case for Pendle direct to the new Conservative government.
“To do that he really must work with the council as a whole and stop playing his games.
“If he will not do this and continues to snub the council leadership he is letting down the very people who elected him.”
Responding, Mr Stephenson said: “I find it regrettable that Lord Greaves always has to turn everything into an argument – it was Pendle Council who cancelled this meeting not me.
“Over the last five years, I have brought several Ministers to Pendle, and with their support secured millions of pounds of extra funding for Pendle.
“Far from thanking me for this, Lord Greaves has described such visits as political stunts and attacked the Government, which his party were part of for the past five years.
“In May, following one of the worst election results for the Liberal Democrats in Pendle’s history, Lord Greaves decided to move a motion of no confidence in the Conservative leader of the council and install a Labour leader instead.
“I am more than happy to meet with the new Labour leader of the council and council officers, as I met with the previous two leaders of Pendle Council several times.
“I do, however, see little point in involving Lord Greaves in any such meeting, as I feel there is little constructive he can add.
“If Pendle Council Labour Leader, Coun. Mohammed Iqbal, feels he can’t meet with me without Lord Greaves holding his hand then it is Coun. Iqbal who is letting down Pendle, not I.”