To receive questions from members of the public who may wish to ask a general question of the Mayor, Cabinet Member or the Chairman of a Committee.
(1) The question from Mr. Coughlan fell as he was unable to be present.
(2) Mrs. Davies asked why was a housing estate allowed to be built on the tip’s doorstep when the tip is known to contain dangerous substances?
Councillor Hoddinott in responding to this question thanked all the members of the public and Ward Members for raising their concerns and for submitting the motion to highlight the Council’s position. There were serious concerns about the lack of regard by the Environment Agency for not consulting with the Council on the reward of the permit and how the Environment Agency was being called upon to revoke.
The housing estate referred to was built within planning rules in force at the time. The concerns were shared about what the tip contained and assurances were being sought from the Environment Agency that the samples being provided were both reliable and accurate. In particular there were concerns about some of the history of this company and to this end third party involvement was being requested to provide the assurances that the sample testing was correct.
(3) Mr. Currie asked did the Council have the power to determine the routes used by Grange Landfill, when the environmental agency give the green light for tipping to go ahead?
Councillor Hoddinott confirmed the Council had no powers to determine which of these routes of access were used, unless, there were other safety hazards which presented a risk of injury. It was known that a junior football club used the area, but the Council was currently working very hard to ensure the legal position in relation to access to the site, was clarified with a common understanding of the issue.
In a supplementary question Mr. Currie asked would the Cabinet Member agree with him that it seemed unsurprisingly coincidental that a tip wanted to open when imminent proposed development at Bassingthorpe Farm was on the cards and whether a public consultation should be held. He was happy to receive this answer in writing.
Councillor Hoddinott would respond to this question in writing.
(4) Mr. Mckenna asked what guarantees could the Council give that Walkworth Wood (which is ancient woodland) would be protected should this tipping go ahead?
Councillor Hoddinott confirmed the Council was looking to the Environment Agency, who were the regulator for the proposed landfill site, to tackle any impact on local woodlands by the site. This was why the Council was requesting trusted analysis results so the returns to the Environment Agency were true and accurate. This would ensure all was being done to protect that area to avoid any run off or gas escapes and that appropriate measures were put in this area.
In a supplementary question Mr. Mckenna understood the Planning Department had it’s hands tied due to a 1958 permit, but was considering, on behalf of the Droppingwell Action Group, writing to the Secretary of State for the Environment and asked for the Council’s support.
Councillor Hoddinott referred to the motion submitted by Ward Members on this subject later on this agenda and confirmed that, should this motion be agreed by Council, she would gladly write to the Secretary of State to highlight the strength of feeling around this permit. One of the issues the Council was dealing was with legislation that was dated back to the 1950’s. This was incredibly difficult to deal with and exposed some national loopholes that did need to be addressed by the Secretary of State and which the Environment Agency needed to take on board.
(5) Mr. Webster referred to the 11th March, 2016, and a conference organised by Safeguarding Children Training and Consultancy Limited 'Coming out of the Darkness'.
Apart from Commissioner Newsam, he asked why was there no other representative from RMBC including the Council Leader, Councillor Chris Read, The Strategic Director of Children’s Services, Ian Thomas, or any other Labour elected member?
Councillor Read, Leader of the Council, thanked Mr. Webster for his question. In addition to Commissioner Newsam, the Council was represented by two officers, Jo Smith, Post CSE Abuse Co-ordinator, and Clare Burton, Head of Commissioning. Mr. Thomas was involved in a prior engagement with young people and the Leader himself was also otherwise engaged chairing the Tata Task Force meeting that morning.
In supplementary comments Mr. Webster, having written an email with this question back in May, 2016, felt the answer was inadequate. The conference was run with speakers who were victims of CSE, Adele Gladman, Professor Jay, Louise Casey, Andrew Norfolk and leading children professionals. Mr. Webster had heard many times that the Council had learned from the mistakes of the past, however, still reading Ofsted reports Children’s Services were still failing due to inadequate management. Absence from this important conference demonstrated this Council’s lack of commitment to moving forward. Today this Council remained in denial and was still seeing the failure to get looked after children’s numbers correct up to hundreds. No-one could say that they did not know from this chamber about CSE,
An Elected Member had spoken at the event, Councillor Senior, and Mr. Webster asked had she reported back to the Leader and Elected Members from this event, what conclusions did she report and did the Leader still stand by his responses regarding re-elected members.
Councillor Read, the Leader, apologised for the period of time taken for this email to be responded to and asked that this be forwarded on for his attention. He confirmed the Council did take improving Children’s Services seriously and tacking CSE remained a top priority. He referred to other Local Authorities who had serious failings in their Children’s Services, there was no quick fix to this. Mr. Webster’s reference to Ofsted was correct that there was some criticism, but this was part of the improvement journey and remained the top priority.
(6) Mr. Vines referred to the last Council meeting where he asked the Leader a question regarding people who knew of CSE and kept quiet. His reply was somewhat at odds with two written versions already published and asked could the Leader please tell him the source of this apparent conflicting information in the answer he gave.
Councillor Read, the Leader, did not recognise any conflict in the previous answers he had given to the previous questions raised.
In a supplementary question Mr. Vines confirmed there was a conflict as the Leader said people only had an hour’s session so had not learnt much in that time. If he read the Alexis Jay report it indicated that any Member that attended the conference could not say they did not know what was going on. This was also echoed in Councillor Senior’s book, who was the administrator of the Conference, who could possibly answer on the Leader’s behalf about the untruths in one report or the other.
Councillor Read, the Leader, was familiar with the criticism in the Jay report and understood the seriousness of it and again reiterated that if a Member had attended a seminar and fully understood the scale of the abuse, then it was actually inaccurate.
The Council took seriously the concerns and would continue to work and tackle CSE as its top priority. He welcomed Councillor Senior and confirmed the ultimate test for Councillors was if they could persuade the electorate that they were the right people to lead their communities, which was reflected by the people sat in the chamber.
(7) Mr. Marshall asked would RMBC instigate measures to maintain a duty of care to its leaseholders regarding:-
(a) Environmental monitoring:- e.g. noise, air pollution and testing for contamination of land between Millmoor Juniors F.C. and the existing tip.
(b) Safety of Grange Park visitors e.g. safe interface between heavy goods vehicles and pedestrian traffic.
Councillor Hoddinott responded by highlighting the impact this would have on Millmoor Juniors and Grange Park Golf Club and the need to work with them to ensure the Environment Agency did put measures in to maintain a duty of care. The Environment Agency needed to monitor what was happening on that site and at the moment the permit only required a report back annually.
The Council was asking for this to be more often, again with third party involvement and assurances that the monitoring was accurate and sound. In the past what happened on paper did not always happen in practice.
If the Council still remained concerned there was the possibility of monitoring itself, but this would need to be looked at in due course. The site looked a mess from the initial sampling activity and this, health and safety and access all needed to be worked through with Legal.
In a supplementary question Mr. Marshall asked if the Council was going to consider monitoring the contamination it needed to start doing baseline testing now before any testing commenced.
Councillor Hoddinott explained that in the first instance the Environment Agency needed to be pressured into ensuring correct sampling was undertaken with the option to intervene if this was not progressing.
(8) Mr. Smith asked who would be collecting the community infrastructure levy and how would it be distributed.
Councillor Lelliott confirmed the Council was the charging authority for CIL and so would collect the levy. The Council intended to implement the levy by bringing into force a CIL Charging Schedule in spring 2017.
The CIL Charging Schedule was passed by an independent Government examiner in July, 2016. The schedule was subsequently approved by the Council’s Cabinet on 14th November, 2016 and adopted at the Council meeting on 7th December, 2016.
The Council had prepared a “Regulation 123 List”, which indicated the infrastructure that the Council would fund or part fund using income from the levy. This list set out the Council’s strategic priorities for CIL spend to support growth proposed by the Local Plan. A proportion of CIL income would also be distributed to parish and town councils in the Borough.
In a supplementary question Mr. Smith referred to the List 123 and expressed his concern at how out of touch it was. It listed sites that were either closed or were earmarked for allocated house and roads. He, therefore, asked why was it that the Council was allocated 85% of CIL or in Dinnington’s case where it had a neighbourhood plan 75% with 25% allocated to the Town Council when really it should be the other way around.
Councillor Lelliott reiterated that the regulations were passed by an independent examiner, were within national policy and the money was then used to fund important infrastructure like hospitals, roads and schools. Dinnington would, therefore, receive 25% of CIL and could choose what it wished to use the funds for.
(9) Mr. Thirlwall prior to asking his question raised a couple of points – (1) relating to a complaint about sound quality in the public gallery where he wrote to the Leader after the HS2 debate where no-one could hear what was happening and suggested something needed to be done; (2) suggested that details of the motion later on this agenda be provided in addition to being included on the Council summons to assist members of the public; and (3) expressed his surprise that a candidate standing in the local election was asking a question since the Council meeting in April, 2016 was cancelled due to being in the purdah period.
The Monitoring Officer confirmed Mr. Thirlwall was correct the Council meeting in April, 2016 was cancelled during the purdah period for the reason of the local and Police and Crime Panel elections. This by-election on the 2nd February, 2017 had not led to the cancellation of this meeting as there was an item on the agenda seeking approval for the Council tax base so this could feed into the budget before Members in March, 2017.
Mr. Thirlwall was invited to put his question and he asked was the Chair of Planning, Councillor Atkin, prepared to apologise to both himself and Members of the Council for the misleading answer he gave, regarding the wind turbine appeal, at the Council Meeting, held on the 7th December, 2016.
Councillor Atkin responded by confirming he was willing to apologise, but would offer his apologies to the Planning Inspector who he referred to as a “he” instead of “she”.
In a supplementary question Mr. Thirlwall expressed his amazement at the response as he was accused by the Leader of being mischievous when Councillor Atkin was able to respond in way he had.
He read out what Councillor Atkin had said about information in the last paragraph, which he believed was further from the truth when in the first paragraph it referred to the “appeal being dismissed”. He believed what had happened was Councillor Atkin repeated what the officer had said at a previous meeting and asked Councillor Atkin again, now he had heard what he had again said, would he apologise for misleading both him and Members of this Council for the misinterpretation he put forward acting as a puppet of the officers.
Councillor Atkin responded by agreeing to disagree with Mr. Thirlwall on this matter.
(10) Mr. Eyre, prior to asking his question, confirmed the motion referred to on this agenda was in the Council summons, but asked, given the size of the agenda, if consideration could be given to including the details of motions in the Mayor’s letter. He referred back to his question where in May 2016, the proposed travellers’ site, on green-belt land in Swallownest was rejected, amongst many reasons, one being it was an “inappropriate development in the green-belt”. The plan has since re-surfaced, albeit scaled down and asked did this Council still agree with its decision, and would it uphold that previous judgement?
Councillor Lelliott confirmed the current application for the proposed Gypsy and Traveller site was still in its public consultation period so it would be premature to comment on the determination of the application at this stage, but it would be considered against the same criteria as the previous application – which included it being sited within the Green Belt.
A decision on the application was expected later in February.
In a supplementary question Mr. Eyre explained that anyone who campaigned on the last proposal or was involved like he and Councillor M. Elliott was or the Parish Council, would know of the fierce opposition. The three Rother Vale Councillors seemed silent on this issue. The site was unwanted and 500 objections indicated this and wherever a travellers’ site was proposed in Rotherham residents were opposed to it. He asked if the Council would make it clear that they too were opposed to it and stop entertaining the prospect of one in the future.
Councillor Lelliott made a couple of points explaining that under the Local Plan the Council had a duty to provide a local site for the traveller community. The Local Plan was subject to examination at the moment. Secondly, residents could object which would be heard at the Planning Board for consideration. It would be unlawful of the Council to make any pre-determination of a decision prior to consideration by the Planning Board.
(11) Mr. Sylvester asked what was the Council’s opinion of the impact of the landlords selective licensing scheme and of expanding it to:-
(a) cover all RMBC Council estates and
(b) all rented properties across the borough?
Councillor Beck thanked Mr. Sylvester for his question and wished to make a couple of points. The scheme had been in operation just over eighteen months and good progress was beginning to show where selective licensing was in operation. Members of the public were working closely to assist with the rolling out of the scheme.
Nevertheless, seven landlords had been prosecuted and convicted of offences for failing to licence houses with further prosecutions due in court in the next few months where there had been non-compliance.
Council properties were subject to their own standards of decency which the Council was obliged to fulfil. The Council had a good exemplary track record and the Decent Homes Programme saw high investment into Council properties.
Some boroughs across the country had opted for borough-wide schemes, however, in Rotherham there were specific issues in specific areas as identified where the scheme was currently in operation. Discussions were currently taking place with Ward Members and members of the public about problems in other areas. The Council would, however, learn how the scheme was operating so far and take lessons forward where it was identified that an expansion to the scheme may be possible.
In a supplementary question Mr. Sylvester referred to a recent street surgery at East Herringthorpe where 10% of the estate were private tenancies where properties had been sold under right to buy scheme and rented out. Residents reported problems with anti-social behaviour and declared they were often paying far more rent than equivalent Council properties.
Mr. Sylvester asked the Cabinet Member if he would consider charging the Improving Places Select Commission with undertaking a full review of the selective licensing scheme and give consideration to the practicalities of rolling out the scheme to East Herringthorpe to ensure all were subject to the same high standards.
Councillor Beck pointed out that any issues relating to anti-social behaviour would be investigated and this was indeed a criteria for selective licensing roll out. Other criteria included low housing demand and high turnover. East Herringthorpe was an area where right to buy had led to properties being rented out. Councillor Mallinder was not present today, but Councillor Beck gave his assurance that he would discuss with her the possibility of undertaking a piece of work for East Herringthorpe and other areas. He thanked Mr. Sylvester for raising the concerns.