By Andrew Bounds
The government has risked a fresh fight with Derby after Theresa Villiers, rail minister, pulled out of a rail conference in the city at short notice to attend to constituency matters.
Business and civic leaders in the city, including the Conservative leader of the council, Philip Hickson, are already seething after Bombardier, the UK train maker, lost out to Siemens in a train contract.
It has shed 1,400 jobs as a result and is reviewing the future of the plant.
Ms Villiers told the Derby and Derbyshire Rail Forum on Tuesday that she would not deliver a promised keynote speech on Thursday because she had a more pressing issue.
A spokesperson for Theresa Villiers’ Constituency Office said:
“The Hemington Avenue planning case is very controversial locally and Theresa has been contacted by a large number of constituents about this issue. Having campaigned against so called ‘garden grabbing’ for many years, Theresa feels it is vitally important that she is present at the appeal hearing to support her constituents.”
A Forum spokesman said:
We are enormously disappointed that Ms Villiers is unable to attend our conference. But the minister of state has said she still intends to come to the city in the future to talk to Bombardier and its supply chain and has indicated that she will make time for this in her busy diary.
Despite holding a cabinet meeting in Derby last year and praising it as a model city David Cameron has yet to visit since the Bombardier announcement and Vince Cable steered clear of the plant on a recent trip.
However, other ministers had been going out of their way to win back favour there. Philip Hammond, former transport secretary, had been dropping hints about future contracts that could persuade the Canadian trainmaker to stay in the city.
And on Monday the government’s regional growth fund dished out £40m for property and manufacturing projects in the city, a bonanza not seen since the 1980s. That good work may have been slightly undone by a spot of bother in Ms Villiers’ back garden in Barnet.