To put questions, if any, to Cabinet Members and Committee Chairpersons (or their representatives) under Council Procedure Rules 11(1) and 11(3).
(1) Councillor Napper referred to the Advertiser reporting that Labour Councillors have dropped Councillor Jones to be Mayor. If this was true, why? When he nominated Councillor John Turner for Deputy Mayor, the Labour Councillors then voted on-block for Councillor Jones, giving their reasons as a champion for his residents and for veterans. He asked why had this changed and could it be his stance on Droppingwell Tip?
The Leader could not comment on the circumstance of the vote, but at the Annual Meeting, the Labour Group would endorse a candidate for Mayor. This would be subject to democratic endorsement by way of a vote of all Members of the Council.
In a supplementary question Councillor Napper asked if the Councillors who proposed and seconded Councillor Jones were they misleading Members at the time by their recommendations.
The Leader did not believe they had misled Members in any way by moving a candidate for Deputy Mayor, which was voted on and agreed at the time.
(2) Councillor John Turner explained Democracy was Government of the people by the people for the people. It seemed that every party purported to be against the reopening of the tip at Droppingwell, so asked would the ruling party take steps to effect this deliberation?
Councillor Hoddinott explained that the Council’s opposition to the re-opening of Droppingwell Tip was a matter of public record and reminded the meeting that councillors unanimously voted to ask the Environment Agency to revoke the permit to tip on the site in January 2017. She reiterated that the Council was, therefore, clear in its opposition to the reopening of the site.
In a supplementary question, Councillor Turner asked if this was correct why was the Secretary of State not intervening to support what the people of Rotherham wanted in the same way China conducted their democracy with Hong Kong.
Councillor Hoddinott was unable to draw the same conclusions as the situation in Hong Kong, but indicated that she was concentrating on what was happening in Rotherham. Responses were awaited to correspondence sent to the Secretary of State in respect of this matter by the Cabinet Member and the Chief Executive.
(3) Councillor Carter asked what had the impact been on the reported instances of fly-tipping since restrictions at the household waste recycling centres have been introduced and could the Cabinet Member please outline the plan and associated timescale for the re-opening of household waste recycling centres back to their normal operation.
Councillor Hoddinott thanked everyone who had been so patient in relation to the restrictions in respect of household waste and recycling centres. Their closure and restrictions on their opening had been and continued to be frustrating at times, but she reiterated that it was absolutely essential that the restrictions were not relaxed and that social distancing continued to be observed for the people that were working to avoid putting people’s health at risk. Furthermore, she preferred to err on the side of caution in relation to the closure of household recycling sites and fly-tipping statistics. However, since the end of January the service had recorded a 12% reduction in fly-tipping across the Borough (1,942 incidents in 2020 compared to 2,213 in 2019). From 23 March 2020 to 24 May 2020 the Council dealt with 1,048 fly-tipping incidents, which represented an 8% reduction on the previous year. It had only been a few weeks since the sites reopened, but during that time there had been a 25% increase in recorded fly-tipping when compared to last year. The Council would continue to examine the latest Government guidance and consult with FCC, who delivered the household waste contract, to see when operations could be increased.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter pointed out it was too early to make decisions as residents would like the certainty that garden waste was being included. With the introduction of the garden waste collection charge there was some disparity between areas so he asked whether rough guidelines could be issued so residents could have some certainty about garden waste and DIY material was being taken into consideration.
Councillor Hoddinott was unable to confirm any specific timeframes. Materials accepted would only be updated once it was safe and could be operated safely. That kerbside collections had continued was a real credit to the Waste Service who had kept going throughout the lockdown period. Rotherham was one of the few Councils that had managed to keep this going and residents were very appreciative and this would continue to be subject to review. Some sites were restricted and not in full operation due to their size and to ensure cars could maintain social distances. However, it was now pointed out that the tetra packs had been added to recyclable materials, which was very welcome.
(4) Councillor John Turner referred to a new waste tip application that would be receiving onerous and poisonous materials, which, if received today, would surely have to properly prepare the site against for example leakage of poisonous liquids or materials into water courses so asked when the application was made years ago, was this consideration attended to?
Councillor Sheppard confirmed that in relation to controls attached to the original 1958 permission, this was granted at the time within the existing planning regulations for 1958 and had very few conditions or controls. For this reason, the Council had written to the Secretary of State to ask for action in relation to the current legal position that effectively meant that the operator had been able to leave the site dormant for over twenty-five years and then re-open it without any further recourse to the Council in terms of planning law. Any new applications were scrupulously checked for all compliance and if received today it was likely to be different scenario. Unfortunately, back in 1958 some regulations were not in place.
In a supplementary question Councillor Turner was of the view that today such an application would not be granted. He lived in Wickersley and it was one area with little flooding, which meant there was no real contamination in the watercourses, but this would not be in the case in other places.
Councillor Sheppard responded and confirmed the planning process was much different and more rigorous that it had been previously.
(5) Councillor Carter asked with the selling of the old library building in Brinsworth, how would these funds be reinvested back into the local area?
Councillor Allen explained, as with all capital receipts received by the Council, any surplus generated from the sale of the building would support the Council’s capital budget commitments. In the budget the Council set out plans for more investment in roads, street cleaning and litter bins, in libraries and in other services used by the residents of Brinsworth, pointing out that Councillor Carter voted against all of those investments.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter explained there were many priorities including tackling the climate emergency and vulnerable people and children. He asked to make the borough more active whether the Cabinet Member supported the use of capital receipts being reinvested locally for say a bolder tree planting scheme or more sports facilities for local residents in the areas where the assets were being sold off. He, therefore, asked if the Cabinet Member supported a proposal to support this or whether this could be devolved to ward funding.
Councillor Allen explained the Council had an Asset Management Board which oversaw the disposal of all assets. This site, once the building had been cleared, would be put onto the open market with a view to residential development interest.
(6) Councillor M. Elliott referred to the Throw Line Board adjacent to the bridge at Ulley Country Park, which was taped up to obviously prevent it being used, and asked why this was the case.
Councillor Allen confirmed, unfortunately, the Throw Line at this site was stolen and as such was temporarily taped off. A replacement was installed on the afternoon of Friday, 29th May, 2020. The Cabinet Member urged Councillor Elliott to report any other health and safety issues to her immediately rather than waiting for a formal Council meeting.
In a supplementary question Councillor Elliott explained this project had come from three local Ward Councillors, but asked where responsibility lay for servicing these boards as one had seized up altogether.
Councillor Allen confirmed the lock on the board to the boat house had been noted and the Green Spaces Team had been notified. The replacement throw line would be funded by the Council as part of its servicing responsibilities.
(7) Councillor Carter asked how had the planning process adapted to the realities of the Coronavirus public health measures in place, particularly in relation to informing residents of new planning applications?
Councillor Sheppard explained the Planning Service moved seamlessly in the Covid-19 situation and were able to operate remotely and was able to continue to accept, process and validate planning applications effectively in the current situation.
All relevant publicity including press notices, site notices and neighbour letters have continued to be sent out in order that the public were notified of applications received by the Council. In response to the current situation there had been an increase in the use of letters to nearby residents (rather than site notices) during this period to ensure residents were kept informed of any proposed development in their area. To allow for potential postal delays, and to give people a longer period to respond to notification letters, officers were taking a flexible approach to the period allowed for people to respond. Where residents have raised issues or have had difficulty viewing the plans, officers have agreed extended time for the application to be considered. Neighbour letters have been updated to include officer contact details, to ensure that residents receiving a letter could contact the case officer direct to discuss or raise any concerns they may have in relation to applications.
The first virtual Planning Board was to be held on 4 June 2020 and members of the public who wanted to address the Board have been invited to join the meeting using Microsoft Teams, could join by telephone or submit a written statement to ensure that full involvement in decision making could take place.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter believed residents were frustrated by measures restricting their movements and when planning applications were received notices were placed on lampposts adjacent to relevant land. It had been heard that the Council was compliant with statutory obligations and had implemented a change where a wider number of neighbours were notified by letter to ensure that planning applications were seen in the democratic and planning process without residents feeling applications were rushed through without their knowledge and input.
Councillor Sheppard explained the service was looking to increase the number of letters, but only so many could be sent out within a realistic radius of a development having an impact on local residents. He asked Councillor Carter to refer details of any particular sites or concerns to himself or Planning Officers.
(8) Councillor Cowles asked the Leader if it was his understanding, as it was his own, that if a question was to be answered in writing then the full question should be answered and confirmed. A simple Yes or No would suffice.
The Leader explained this would depend on the question and its nature, the subject and whether all information was available to answer a question fully. Context was everything and he would like to understand the issue which would present itself in your supplementary question.
In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles referred to it being a Member’s individual choice not to give a response, and in some circumstances a full response was provided to the question asked. If a full response was not provided could it be made clear why there was no response to avoid this question being asked again and not receive an acknowledgement. He added that surely if there was a reason this could be taken up with the Leader of the Council.
The Leader enquired whether Councillor Cowles if he had a particular situation in mind, but if a question had not been answered he could bring it to the Leader for further discussion. Without further information he was unable to comment.
(9) Councillor Carter referred recently to the three councillors who were disqualified or resigned from their posts after a prolonged period of non-attendance and asked could the Cabinet Member please explain how the money saved over the next twelve months would be spent?
Councillor Alam explained as the Council was due to reduce in size from 63 Members to 59 Members at the election that had been planned to take place on 7th May, 2020, and which had now been postponed until 2021, there was one more Member than the budget set for the year so there would not be any savings to spend.
(10) Councillor Cowles pointed out that during the motion, in February, relating to Watson’s Tip the Cabinet Member said “ If the Council had the power to stop it, we would have” and asked was this still the Cabinet Member’s position on this matter?
Councillor Hoddinott confirmed it was still her position on this matter.
In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles indicated that he wanted to be certain about this situation. Previously when questioned by Councillor Hague, the Cabinet Member had not wanted to discuss the situation as it could jeopardise any investigation or legal action. If the Council could not stop this then it would be the same situation for Whiston Book, so he wanted to be clear what the position was. He asked whether the Cabinet Member was saying the Council itself could take action against another organisation, and if it could take action, it should do so as this was the least that residents should expect from its local authority.
Councillor Hoddinott reiterated her previous sentence and stressed the importance of opposing the opening of the tip. Unfortunately, the Council did not have the power to close and the power with the permit lay with the Environment Agency and the Government – reiterating that only they had the power to remove it. The Cabinet Member welcomed support in putting pressure on the Government to look at this case and use its powers to intervene.
(11) Councillor Carter asked how many beds have the Council provided for people who have been registered homeless prior to the Coronavirus public health measures being introduced?
Councillor Beck placed on record the Council’s thoughts with people that become homeless and had been sleeping rough. In recent weeks there had been more people approaching the service and Members should be reassured that the service was working hard to support these people. There was a clear distinction between those registered homeless and rough sleepers, but to answer the question before lockdown this was 70.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked that since lockdown what capacity had been increased to provide for homeless and rough sleepers and what was the plan for managing accommodation for people moving forward.
Councillor Beck confirmed the service had been very busy and, as general lettings were suspended during lockdown, the focus had been on the homeless. More temporary housing accommodation had been provided with 80 places available in the Council’s own stock and through using accommodation like private hotels and housing association properties. Members were issued briefings to provide confidence and reassurance that everything was being done to ensure no-one was left behind and accommodation was available to whoever asked for it and came into contact with the Council.
(12) Councillor Cowles asked if the Cabinet Member could confirm that she was aware that CCTV cameras were now being removed/stolen from the tops of lamp posts in Eastwood to inhibit the Council’s surveillance activity?
Councillor Hoddinott confirmed this occasionally did happen in all areas across the borough and had happened twice in Eastwood.
In a supplementary question, Councillor Cowles pointed out Members were told things were improving with the street cleansing and selective licensing, but even with the first roll out this had not been completed. He asked if the Cabinet Member could confirm when this would be resolved to relieve the taxpayers of the financial burden.
Councillor Hoddinott pointed out that despite Councillor Cowles saying he would never ask a question again about Eastwood, he had submitted a number now. She reiterated that everything was being done to improve areas, regardless of where this was in the borough and if this involved street cleansing, this would continue, with good things and improvements being reported. She reported that in the previous week an offender had been caught and prosecuted for fly-tipping by CCTV and a £400 fine had been issued.
(13) Councillor Carter asked what monitoring of air pollution had taken place since the Coronavirus public health measures were introduced in March, and what measures would the Council be putting in place to maintain these levels as much as possible with the lifting of travel restrictions?
Councillor Hoddinott explained the monitoring of air pollution had continued to take place across Rotherham throughout this period. Information was available online and the Cabinet Member would be happy to provide the links to those sites to Members outside of this meeting. Last week, the South Yorkshire Combined Authority agreed its new active travel strategy, led by the most successful female British Paralympian of all time, Dame Sarah Storey, which set out a long term commitment to invest in more pedestrian and cycle friendly routes and infrastructure, and it was this kind of long term investment that would maintain air quality in the future. Councillor Lelliott, as Cabinet Member for Jobs and the Local Economy, was also working on this opportunity during the Covid-19 situation to get more people walking and cycling.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked if the Cabinet Member would agree this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to establish new behaviours in the uses of travel and put forward proposals for incentives to residents to promote working from home and use other forms of transport other than the car.
Councillor Hoddinott confirmed there had been many opportunities which had been aired earlier in the meeting in the discussion on responding to the climate change emergency, including investment in electric vehicle charging and air monitoring.
(14) Councillor Jepson asked whether the Leader agreed with him that the two councillors removed from office at the end of April 2020 for non-attendance at Council meetings for six months and another councillor who resigned immediately prior to be removed not only failed to properly represent the residents that elected them, but they should also be asked to repay to the Council the allowances they received over this period.
The Leader agreed it was deeply regrettable and quite right of those former Members to have resigned or ceased to be councillors. Their individual circumstances were different and the Leader did not believe it was appropriate to get involved in the situations in people’s lives. The Members referred to had continued to receive allowances for this six-month period and would not be challenged at this stage.
(15) Councillor Carter asked what percentage of vulnerable and at-risk children had been attending school since the Coronavirus lockdown closed schools to most pupils, and how had that figure changed during each week?
Councillor Watson explained that over the previous nine weeks the percentage of vulnerable and at-risk children attending school had risen from 5.1% in the first week of partial closure. The Deputy Leader agreed to send by email the details for each week. It was known that in England an average of 14% of vulnerable children and young people were attending schools across the country.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter referred to figures being slightly above average in terms of vulnerable children. He asked what were the measures for vulnerable and safeguarded children who were eligible to go to school to make sure they were followed up without regular checking at schools, which would ordinarily take place, for children subjected to difficult or abusive situations.
Councillor Watson pointed out that every child had different vulnerabilities and for those with health conditions it was right for them to stay at home. Schools were doing home visits to check on children and when comparing the percentage attending on any given day it varied. The Council was confident that those children that needed to be seen were checked up on either by their schools, early help and social care or the virtual school.
(16) Councillor Carter asked with the easing of the Coronavirus public health measures, what was the Council’s policy towards Council owned sports and recreation facilities, particularly local park car parking and children’s play areas?
Councillor Allen explained the Council had followed the guidance issued by Government and had closed facilities where guidance had been specific. Some guidance had been open to interpretation, e.g. parks should remain open, but car parking facilities and toilets were not mentioned. In these instances, the Council had risk assessed options based on its interpretation of the regulations, in conjunction with the Council’s Legal and Health and Safety departments and the team’s knowledge of its own parks, the residents and visitors who used them, doing everything reasonably possible to ensure public safety across parks and green spaces.
Given anticipated demand for access to parks, the ability of the Council’s spaces and teams to safely manage high volume and Government guidance to remain as local as possible, it was decided to maintain car parking charges as a deterrent to large volumes of visitors. Throughout lockdown the Council saw dramatically reduced numbers at its main destination parks before a sharp increase following the easing of measures two weeks ago. Car parking numbers remained restricted at parks to limit numbers.
Guidance on sports and recreation facilities and play areas had been much clearer. Initially play areas, tennis courts, sport pitches and athletics tracks were specified and closed. Some activities such as angling, tennis and golf have recently been permitted to re-open. In each case, a risk assessment had considered whether facilities would meet requirements in other areas of the regulation. For example, could the Council ensure that social distancing could be maintained, what PPE might be required, were there sufficient staff available due to redeployment and could the Council introduce additional cleaning rotas. Restrictions on play areas remained in place in line with the current Government regulation prohibiting access to play areas and outdoor gym equipment.
As lockdown measures were eased further, the Council would continue to risk assess facilities across parks and would only re-open when it was safe to do so. The Council would continue to communicate any changes to access via the Council’s website, social media and on-site signage.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked as the Council followed Government guidelines in terms of outdoor sports, what sanitisation was being provided in Council owned parks and playground sand angling and golf centres to ensure residents could wash and keep hands clean and as safe as possible.
Councillor Allen referred to the high levels of usage at Rother Valley Country Park and how hand sanitation facilities for users were being provided. In addition, the toilets were being closed for ten minutes in every hour so a thorough clean could be performed. This gave access to hand washing. Not all of the Council parks had this facility, so hand sanitation was being provided for people using the parking fee machines and where there were toilets increased cleaning rotas had been introduced. Risk assessments were picking up additional issues such as cleaning rotas, social distancing and PPE to ensure users were as safe as possible. As guidance changed relatively quickly people were advised to check the Council’s website, social media and onsite notices when facilities were re-opening.
(17) Councillor Carter asked what percentage of Council staff have been supported to work from home since the Government’s policy to work from home where possible, and how much vacant office space had that created throughout the Council?
Councillor Alam confirmed that as at 22 May 2020, 46% of the Council’s workforce were recorded as working from home on the HR Portal System. With regards to vacant office space created, which was, of course, temporary only Riverside House, Bailey House and Hellaby Depot Offices have remained operational though with a much reduced occupation. Riverside House was currently occupied at around 5% of capacity (including occupation by partners from the NHS and South Yorkshire Police), whilst Bailey House was circa 20% occupied and Hellaby Depot Offices was at circa 20% occupied. The remaining offices were either closed to Council staff or were occupied in part by partners.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter referred to the measures as temporary, but asked what work had taken place over the last twelve weeks to ensure Council staff could work from home and had done so, and what was the percentage forecast of Council officers returning back to the office as opposed to working from home when the Government indication was for this to be possible.
Councillor Alam explained the first priority was for the welfare of officers and the need to carry out risk assessments for when officers returned to the workplace to ensure it was safe. The Council was still waiting Government guidance and any risks would not be tolerated.
(18) Councillor Carter asked since the beginning of March, how many Public Health Funerals, colloquially known as ‘Pauper’s funerals’ have been undertaken by the Council, how did this compare to the past five years and what had been the financial impact?
Councillor Roche explained the number of Public Health Funerals that have taken place between the periods of 1 March to 29 May 2020 was seven. This compared with three from 1March to 29 May in 2019, five from 1 March to 29 May in 2018, ten from 1 March to 29 May in 2017 and eight from 1 March to 29 May 2016. As such, the figure was broadly similar to recent years. Financial details were available, however, these were collated based on financial year April-March, as this gave the opportunity to account for monies recovered from the estates of individuals which the Council always sought to do. The approximate cost per funeral service for a standard cremation funeral was £1,800.00 with the current total cost being £12,600.
In a supplementary question Councillor Carter asked what measures the Council would undertake to identify a next of kin or make relations aware that family members have died. Councillor Roche gave his assurance that steps were taken by officers to trace relatives and clarify estates where necessary. In many cases the tracing facilities cost more than the funeral.