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Agenda item

MEMBERS' QUESTIONS TO CABINET MEMBERS AND CHAIRS OF COMMITTEES

 

To put questions, if any, to Cabinet Members and Chairs of Committees (or their representatives) under Council Procedure Rules 11(1) and 11(3).

Minutes:

(1)  Councillor R. Elliott confirmed it was good to see the Leader’s comments regarding the HS2 review, and asked if he were able to say if the Sheffield City Region and Dan Jarvis held the same views and would they be submitting evidence to the review? If so, would it be fair and representational including Rotherham and Doncaster Councils’ views?

 

The Leader shared the frustration that there had not been consensus across the City Region amongst the Councils about the best route.  Rotherham and Doncaster together have taken a particularly strong line about the M18 route saying that this was not the right route.  Sheffield have a slightly different view again. Douglas Oakervee who was chairing the Government's review had approached Dan Jarvis about a week ago and said could he come and meet representatives of the City Region for exactly the reason suggested.  Mayor Jarvis suggested that separate meetings with the different local authorities would be the better way of allowing the authorities to express their views either way. 

 

This was why last night, alongside Mayor Ros Jones from Doncaster, the Leader met with Doug Oakervee and set out the Council's concerns about the routes and the advantages/disadvantages which came at great cost and impact on communities.  Discussion ensued on where it was thought the high-speed network should run and how the cost savings were incorrect.  This would be followed up in writing and every opportunity would be taken to cast as much doubt as possible on the Government's plan.

 

In a supplementary question Councillor Elliott asked whether local action groups’ concerns would be represented in any current correspondence they may be between Sheffield City Region and the review bearing in mind that there was only Rotherham and Doncaster Councils who had listened to their residents’ concerns, considered the facts and used motions asking for the Leeds leg of HS2 to be scrapped.  Sheffield and Barnsley Councils were still sitting on the fence whilst at the same time all South Yorkshire M.P.s with the exception of Sir Kevin Barron, including Sarah Champion, continued to promote.  He, therefore, asked if the Leader would authorise the sending of a copy of the motion passed by this Council in December, 2018 for inclusion into the review.

 

The Leader confirmed he would send a copy of the motion.  He would argue that the Secretary of State at the time was ignored when the Government made the decision to change the route.  It would be more meaningful to the Government to adjust the impact on communities, as a primary concern, and the case would be made.  The motion would, therefore, be shared and any correspondence would also be shared.  The issue of action groups was also raised yesterday due to the short timeframe for the review, but the Chair of the Review did indicate that if groups wanted to send correspondence for Councils to passport through this would ensure views were available as part of the Review.

 

(2)  Councillor Carter asked would the Council accept applications from Council tenants who owned dogs for flats that were not on the ground floor?

 

Councillor Beck confirmed the Council would only allow tenants to keep a dog in an upper floor flat if the property had its own entrance (i.e. it did not share the entrance with another household).

 

The only exception when permission would be granted was for applications to keep a registered guide dog, a registered hearing dog or an assistance dog.

 

In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked could the Cabinet Member explain the rationale for the restrictions when there was a housing shortage.

 

Councillor Beck explained that the problem was where a tenant had an upper floor flat with a shared entrance that they entered the property.  They must not have had a dog initially as they would not otherwise have been able to bid on an upper floor flat.  Where a tenant then wanted a dog discussion would take place about them potentially moving to say a ground-floor flat with its own dedicated entrance.

 

It was generally not a problem, but the policy was that if you had a shared entrance with another household they may have allergies or children in the house so a dog using the same entrance may cause a problem.

 

(3)  Councillor Cowles, having received a number of complaints concerning the recent late night disturbances along Broom Lane involving the use of fireworks, cars racing along the length of the road, noise, abuse, cars parked on verges and double parked, asked what would the Council do to discourage this behaviour and to ensure it did not happen again?

 

Councillor Hoddinott was aware that parking issues and noise disturbance during a wedding event between 28th July and 3rd August this year were raised in the press;, but pointed out that as far as she was aware, the Council had not received any complaints from residents during this time related to this event.

 

In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles referred to in incident in Bradford and a recent serious injury to a young man who had a firework thrown at him and asked if the Council would make contact with Bradford  to understand what they were doing and if possible adopt similar restrictions to fireworks in Rotherham.

 

Councillor Hoddinott explained there needed to be some information to determine if the fireworks were in gardens or on the street.  She was happy to look at how Bradford could help and learn lessons, but asked Councillor Cowles to provide the details of the individuals that have complained and officers would ensure contact was made with all complainants and their concerns investigated.

 

(4)  Councillor Carter referred to the last meeting where the Cabinet Member agreed to raise the issue of reinstating a regular direct bus from Brinsworth to Meadowhall Interchange with bus companies and asked what progress had been made in securing the reinstatement of this regular bus service, something which Brinsworth residents clearly wanted.

 

Councillor Lelliott explained the operation of any Brinsworth - Meadowhall Interchange route was a commercial decision made by the bus operator. The Council had raised this as an issue, both in email communication with SYPTE and as a formal request through the Rotherham Bus Partnership Operations Group.  First and SYPTE were currently looking into the services in the area, but without any financial subsidy the Council could only negotiate and lobby for the reinstatement of the route and urged Ward Members to do the same.

 

SYPTE have reported that in the short-term there were currently no plans for bus operators to re-introduce this service.  Any further updates would be shared with interested parties.

 

In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked if he could have a copy of any correspondence advocated to SYPTE.

 

Councillor Lelliott confirmed this could be provided.

 

(5)  Councillor Cowles referred to the Advertiser of the 23rd August, 2019 regarding  Maltby Cemetery and the wall and fence at £25,000 and believed Dignity were having a laugh. This was a red brick wall with metal railings on top. The bulk of the bricks could be reclaimed and cleaned up and asked was there any wonder that, as a result of the contract, Dignity could charge this sum, while residents were being fleeced?

 

Councillor Hoddinott explained Dignity would be meeting the full cost of the repairs and there would be no extra cost to the Council or residents and actually the Council did not pay Dignity for this contract they paid the Council.

 

Dignity were re-erecting the wall and it was heartbreaking for the families that have been involved and whilst it was taking time to source the bricks to recreate the cemetery from the original stone work was going on.   The Council’s thoughts were with those families who had seen their gravestones knocked down following the crash through the wall by a driver.

 

Councillor Cowles acknowledged the concerns over the gravestones, but the wall was a small red brick wall with a metal fence on top which seemed unlikely to cost anywhere near £25,000.  He was more than happy to look at how this could be done at a lower cost.

 

Councillor Hoddinott had no reply to his comment.

 

(6)  Councillor Carter referred to the wildflowers in the central reservations of roads in the borough which have brightened up the area and asked could the Cabinet Member please clarify whether the flowers used were all indigenous to the United Kingdom, and if not what evidence was there to show that these provided suitable habits for wildlife species that have been in significant decline over recent years?

 

Councillor Allen confirmed the wildflower scheme had been a great success for a number of years now and attracted a significant amount of positive attention.  The Council worked with a social enterprise operated by Green Estates Limited and Sheffield University who researched the types of seeds to use and selected flowering species that provided nectar and seed which were a food source for many insects, and birds.

 

The seed was a combination of native varieties which made up the highest percentage of the mix and non-native which were all from the northern hemisphere.

 

(7)  Councillor Napper what was RMBC’s views on the recent debates in Parliament on Christianophobia?

 

The Leader confirmed he had not seen the recent debates in Parliament on Christianophobia.  However, the Council’s position on such matters was very clear in that it did not discriminate on the basis of faith.  This prejudice had no place in our society and it would not be tolerated.

 

In a supplementary question Councillor Napper referred to the Christian beliefs, the views of the Vicar in Wickersley, and how some people were being pilloried for their views and being killed and persecuted in different countries and asked how the Government was going to legislate to fight this prejudice.

 

The Leader explained there was a world a world of difference between defending people's right to have beliefs and so practice those debates.  The views expressed by others like the Vicar of Wickersley were occasionally completely unacceptable and drifted into the kind of anti-Semitic language which had been criticised earlier.

 

It remained uncertain whether the Vicar realised that his views were in this context, but this Council would not promote tolerance within borough.  The Vicar had the right to practice religion and to work with his congregation as he saw fit and this may continue to be the case.

 

(8)  Councillor Cowlespointed out he had received complaints from Council residents who had reported the need for repairs. They were being told that the repair did not warrant action and that there was insufficient budget to pay for it. He asked did the Cabinet Member consider this to be an acceptable response from what was suggested to be a responsible landlord?

 

Councillor Beck reiterated that in general terms, Rotherham Council were responsible for all repairs to its housing stock that qualified under The Secure Tenants of Local Housing Authorities (Right to Repair) Regulations 1994. These eligible repairs included repairs to items both inside and outside of the property.

 

He confirmed that there were no budget pressures preventing eligible repairs being completed.

 

On occasions some repairs may not be undertaken immediately and were batched together with repairs of a similar nature and completed at a later date on a planned programme. Tenants should be made aware of this shortly after reporting the repair.

 

As part of the tenancy agreement tenants were responsible for some minor repairs such as changing a light bulb, replacing plugs, door handles, latches, lost keys etc.

 

The Cabinet Member asked that Councillor Cowles forward any specific cases and he would be willing to speak with officers regarding these. 

 

In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles referred specifically to one resident who shared outbuildings with a Council tenant.  She paid a considerable sum for the repair of the roof to prevent further ingress of water, but the building still floods as water was coming in from the other side from the Council property.  The Council were so far refusing to pay to repair that side of the roof as it was too expensive and the service did not have the budget.  He asked if the Cabinet Member if he would look into this if he passed through the details.

 

Councillor Beck confirmed that if Councillor Cowles could provide more details outside of the meeting he would investigate further.

 

(9)  Councillor Carter asked with the summer coming to an end would the trial of extended opening hours at the crematoria run by Dignity be extended to ensure that residents could make use of extended burial times until sunset during the winter months?

 

Councillor Hoddinott confirmed the agreement with Dignity was that the trial on extended hours would take place between 1st April and 30th September.  This was agreed by all parties to be a reasonable period for the trial, allowing the time during the winter months to evaluate the position and make any necessary changes to services and contractual arrangements from April, 2020.  There were no plans to extend this into the winter months.

 

(10)  Councillor Napper asked how many staff did RMBC employ in the tourist office to promote Rotherham?

 

Councillor Allen confirmed the Visitor Centre had staff working six days a week from Monday to Saturday which was equivalent to 1.2 Full Time Employees (FTE).

 

The Council’s Visitor Centre was based in Rotherham Town Centre on High Street, where it shared a shop space with the Emporium.

 

In a supplementary question Councillor Napper referred to promotion of the borough and where he had only seen a couple of places in the Rotherham Advertiser and the free delivered magazine.

 

He would like to have seen a few billboards advertising something extra and not just in Rotherham town centre, but also in the outer areas as Rotherham had some lovely places to visit.

 

Councillor Allen pointed out it was Rotherham Show at the weekend and she expected to see as many people there as possible.

 

Councillor Napper was absolutely right Rotherham did have some beautiful places and activities and after every Rotherham Show there would be a debrief to see if there was any learning and these comments about billboards would be fed into that discussion.

 

(11)  Councillor Cowles referred to the Advertiser of the 2nd August, 2019  and the public admission of silence on the CSE issue where Councillor Atkin said if he had not kept a secret, he and the Council would be a different place, but that’s a long story. He asked given this matter was of considerable public interest and the public had been patient long enough, when could the unabridged version be shared?

 

The Leader explained the unabridged version had already been told. He was sure that everyone who was involved with the Council in 2005 wished in retrospect that they had done more to prevent the calamitous failings in the Council’s Children’s Services. He was sure this applied as much to Councillor Turner as it did to Councillor Atkin, who he knew felt personally very strongly about the importance of keeping Rotherham’s children safe, and who had been a strong advocate for making the investments and improvements that have made over the last few years to achieve that.

 

(12)  Councillor Carter last year asked about air pollution problems in Brinsworth which led to an offensive smell which residents felt was from nearby factories. This issue was still causing problems for Brinsworth residents. He, therefore, asked if the Council would commit to finding the source of this air pollution and taking measures to ensure that this blight on residents did not continue to occur?

 

Councillor Hoddinott explained following a report last year action was taken by colleagues in Sheffield Council relating to a company in Sheffield.

 

There were a number of current complaints from residents in Brinsworth relating to odours in particular tar/bitumen smells which were being investigated.  

 

Although the odour was intermittent during the day, Officers have on one occasion witnessed the odours, but have so far been unable to identify the source. There were a number of industrial sites in the area and the Council, together with colleagues in Sheffield would work to identify the origins of the smells. If evidence was found that could be linked to a site then action would be taken to ensure that the problem was mitigated.  Councillor Buckley had been actively involved with the service to resolve some of the issues.

 

(13)  Councillor Napper referred to Woodlaithes Balancing Pond and asked what was RMBC’s obligation to the maintenance of the pond?

 

Councillor Allen explained the Council was not responsible for the maintenance of Woodlaithes Balancing Pond. Persimmon (the housing developer for the site) was obligated to carry out the maintenance necessary for the management of the estates surface water drainage system.  

In a supplementary question Councillor Napper explained that when he made enquiries he was advised that when Beezer Homes signed over to Persimmons they signed an agreement, along with Rotherham Council, that either one would look after the balancing pond.  Having arranged a site visit, which Persimmon did not attend, the reeds had been removed, but the pond needed dredging.  He asked if the Cabinet Member could look at the historic agreement.

 

Councillor Allen pointed out the maintenance agreement dated 14th December, 2014 confirmed the developer was responsible for the maintenance of the balancing pond.  Following discussion with Persimmons the Council was satisfied that Persimmons’ contractors were carrying out their maintenance responsibilities. 

 

Should the maintenance not be carried out then Yorkshire Water would take any necessary action to ensure that surface water drainage system was operational.

The Council would only take back responsibility for the pond’s maintenance in the event that Persimmons became insolvent and Yorkshire Water made this request to the Council. 

 

(14)  Councillor Cowles asked the Leader, when he was quick to point out and demand that others took action against their Members for inappropriate historical mistakes, when would he expect to take action against Member/s who failed in their safeguarding responsibilities of vulnerable children given the recent public admission that they knew of the CSE abuse?

 

The Leader explained the Labour Party did indeed take action before the last elections. A process independent of the borough was undertaken and the Members who were here today not only came through that process, but also won the support of the electors. The exact same information that Labour Councillors had then was given to a Member of the former UKIP Party here today which what an indication of what you thought.

 

CouncillorCowles  talked about “historical mistakes”. Unfortunately, when a Member of his group was highlighted in a national newspaper associating online with highly racist and islamophobic Facebook Group, that was not a “historical mistake”.  Nor was when his party chose to remove all its social media activity in response, presumably because it was not known what it said – that was not a “historical mistake”.

 

In a supplementary comment Councillor Cowles confirmed he endorsed and supported the early action taken so there was no issue.  The issue was that over the longer term, following some comments from Labour supporters, there was a demand that action be taken.

 

(15)  Councillor Carter asked how much money had been secured from the Department for Transport’s Road to Zero strategy fund for providing on-street electric vehicle charging points?

 

Councillor Lelliott confirmed the Council did not submit a funding application to the DfT for residential on street charge points, as part of the Road to Zero Strategy.  On-street charge points were relatively new technology and advice from other Local Authorities in the region was that more information was required before they were rolled out.

 

In fact, the Government attracted widespread criticism for the scheme which did not generally provide Councils with the level of funding that they needed, or for the infrastructure that most places have prioritised.

 

The Council had, however, secured a total of £705,000 by the DfT and DEFRA as a grant towards the ‘Implementation of Early Measures’ linked to the Clean Air Zone mandate, which had funded off-street charging points.

 

The Council was committed to growing the market in plug-in vehicles because of the contribution that they, and other low and ultra-low emission technologies, could make across the economic and environmental priorities; including climate change and air quality.

 

Therefore, to date, the Council had utilised the funding to service public car parks rather than on-street charging, and had provided EV charging at the following car parks:

 

·                Wellgate Multi-Storey.

·                Wath Library.

·                Rawmarsh Service Centre.

·                Drummond Street Car Park.

·                Swinton Bridge Street Car Park.

·                Scala Car Park.

·                Aston Service Centre.

·                Rother Valley Country Park.

·                Thrybergh Country Park.

 

(16)  Councillor Napper asked would the Cabinet Member for Waste, Roads and Community Safety look again at returning the top 50 metres of Sandhill Road back to a two way system?

 

Councillor Hoddinott was aware this question had been asked about a year ago and Councillor Napper had been out to do site visits with officers.  If it was believed something had changed at the site then the Cabinet Member asked that she be advised, but the technical advice still from the officers was that it would not be safe to change that system.

 

In a supplementary question Councillor Napper confirmed he had met with two officers and it was reported that it did not confirm to Government standard, but the exit was far worse with people not being able to see when they came out on North Road.  Just by opening up the last 50 metres this would alleviate some of the problems.

 

Councillor Hoddinott explained that by opening up that section it went against the advice.  If it was proved otherwise she would be happy to take a look.

 

In terms of modern standards the road was a little different to when it was originally put in about forty years ago. This appeared to be more about parking and being able to see which might be a slightly different issue.  However, officers were able to guide around safety, but there was probably more than could be done and this would be looked into.

 

 

(17)  Councillor M. Elliott asked, since the opening in April of Waleswood Caravan and Camping Park, had the number of bookings met expectations?

 

Councillor Allen confirmed that since the site had now been open for five months, it was receiving excellent reviews.  Councillor Elliott himself had visited and was duly impressed by the facilities that he found on site.

 

In the period so far from April to August the site had taken more than 4,000 bookings and it was commendable.  However, there were a number of challenges for the site in that Gullivers were not opening until next spring combined with the blue/green algae at Rother Valley.  It was, therefore, expected that more bookings would be received in a similar period next year.

 

The fact that perhaps there had not been as many bookings as expected meant there were plenty of opportunities for caravan owners like Councillor Elliott to book in for an Autumn break.

 

 In a supplementary question Councillor Elliott confirmed he was, indeed, a longstanding member of the caravan and motor home club and he really wanted the site to be a success.  He asked, given that several caravan owners had expressed concern saying the nightly pitch fees were too expensive, would the Cabinet Member  give consideration to re-examining the charges currently levied.

 

Councillor Allen confirmed she would engage in a dialogue and very happy to have a benchmarking exercise around where the prices were.  It was her understanding the site prices were very competitive.