Councillor's 400-mile trip for green travel event

AN OVERHAUL of the council mileage expenses system has been called for after it emerged a leading councillor had driven more than 400 miles in his car for a conference on greener travel and climate change.

Laurence Cawley

AN OVERHAUL of the council mileage expenses system has been called for after it emerged a leading councillor had driven more than 400 miles in his car for a conference on greener travel and climate change.

The Local Government Association's conference on climate change earlier this year was held in Manchester and included workshops on greener travel and how councils can “inspire” others to make more environmentally-friendly choices.

But last night it emerged that Peter Stevens, St Edmundsbury Borough Council's cabinet member for the environment, had driven 424 miles to and from Manchester and billed the taxpayer for �169 for mileage and �28 for parking.


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The four or five hour train journey would usually cost about �80 for a return journey - half the mileage claimed by Mr Stevens.

His trip came just a month after Mr Stevens drove 56 miles to another climate change conference in Ipswich. That journey cost �22.40 in mileage and �4.40 on parking.

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Mr Stevens, who lives in Cavendish and drives a large-engined German car, last night defended his claims saying he took the train whenever he visited London and said he shared car journeys with others whenever possible.

He said the journey to Manchester would have been a long cross-country route (including up to three changes) and would have meant leaving his car at a railway station for a number of days during the conference.

“There are no rules on this,” he said, “but we are always very conscious of our expenses. Living in the countryside you have to use a car more than in an urban situation.”

He added attending conferences was very important for “lead councillors” because it meant they had the appropriate knowledge for forming policies and discussing issues with paid council staff.

But his claims have triggered calls for mileage rates at the council to be scrapped unless members can prove there was no public transport alternative.

Green councillor Mark Ereira said: “If I was going to that conference representing the council I would have thought about how I was going to get there. My take is that we should do a review of the whole thing because we as councillors and because we care about climate change and leadership we should be travelling by public transport unless it is impossible.”

Independent councillor David Nettleton said: “He should have got the train and come back by train. If you're going to a climate change conference you shouldn't be going by car.”

John Griffiths, leader of the council, was yesterday travelling back in the same car as the council's chief executive Geoff Rivers from a conference in Harrogate.

He said: “I cannot really comment on Peter Stevens' expenses because I am not aware of the exact circumstances. But I think all councillors make considerable efforts to keep their travelling expenses to a minimum and to take public transport or car share wherever possible.”

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