Agenda item


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 in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 12.


1)    Mr. Eric Shaw – Other areas have had safety and speeding issues implemented but nothing yet in the Broom area. Could the Council address safety and speeding concerns on our roads?


Councillor Beck thanked Mr. Shaw for attending the meeting to raise this question on the important issue of road safety. When the Council review collision hotspots every year, the Broom area had not, in the last couple of years, come up. However, the Council have, very recently, set aside some funding for local Neighbourhood Road Safety Schemes. The Broom area fell within the Boston Castle Ward which was an area for potential investment over the coming year or two. Councillor Beck asked Mr. Shaw to use this opportunity to liaise with his Ward Councillors (Councillors Alam, McNeely and Yasseen) who would have an integral role in deciding where that investment would fall. Broom could, therefore, benefit from that investment moving forward. There was a chance in the coming months and year that there would be the opportunity for some improvements to help with road safety in Broom.


2)    Mrs. Jane Patching – Environmentally friendly options are available for a path providing a safer alternative for cyclists without causing disruption to other traffic and locals. The effect of increased traffic on residential roads, like Boswell Street, as drivers avoid delays caused by the proposed route, has been ignored.  Why haven’t the views of residents and alternative pathways across Herringthorpe Playing fields been considered?


Councillor Beck thanked Mrs. Patching for her question. He explained that he understood the proposed cycle route to be on Broom Road. As with most other roads in the Borough, under the Cycling Strategy and indeed the expectation of Government, cyclists had a right to safety on and enjoyment of the highway, just as much as motorists and pedestrians. That had been the centrepiece of the public consultation that was delivered towards the end of 2021 where the Council engaged with residents in that area. There was over 100 responses received and the predominant view was in favour of the Scheme.


However, Councillor Beck did take on board the thrust of the question about the use of parks and Herringthorpe Valley park specifically for use of cyclists. The main problem with that in this case was that the whole driver for the Scheme was connectivity with the Town Centre along Wellgate and then onto Broom Road for cyclists. With the use of Herringthorpe Valley playing fields and the location of the roundabout, it was felt that there would be a problem with that.


In summary, the Council has been keen over the last few years, where Government funding has come along, to create safe spaces for cyclists, particularly in and around the town centre. This Council has wanted to embrace those opportunities, and this was the case for Broom Road. The Council did understand residents viewpoints and they have purposefully sought to take onboard the views of all residents as the work has been undertaken.


In her supplementary, Mrs. Patching stated that she understood totally what was being said about needing to provide safe spaces for cyclists. However, she disagreed that the route proposed was the safest way of getting people down Broom Road and into the Town Centre. Mrs. Patching asked how many and who was expected to benefit from the proposed route, because in her opinion, it was not the residents?


Councillor Beck explained that he believed there were cyclists in and around Broom Road that would benefit but, as well, there were cyclists all around the Borough who potentially work in the Town Centre. There were thousands of people that work in the Town Centre, and they would benefit from cycleways. However, Councillor Beck did take on board the points raised. 


3)    Ms. Shazia Yousaf - Why are Council Officers refusing to meet with Rotherham Muslim Burial Council about the Herringthorpe Cemetery managed by Dignity on behalf of Rotherham Council?

Councillor Alam explained that where issues raised by the Rotherham Muslim Burial Council relate to operational matters, it is appropriate that Dignity meet with them to address these issues directly. It is not appropriate for the Council to be involved in the day-to-day operation of Dignity’s business, but to retain an overview of the problems encountered and Dignity’s responses via monthly performance meetings and quarterly contractual meetings. Dignity was challenged at these quarterly meetings.

In her supplementary, Ms. Yousaf stated that Council had a responsibility to the community and to address them directly. The Council’s contract was with Dignity but the communities contract was not with Dignity. She asked Councillor Alam to clarify.


Councillor Alam explained that in the past there had been a grey area between monitoring the contract and engagement. Dignity are the service providers and as such they need to engage with the community across the Borough. The Council’s role was to monitor the contract and performance which it had been doing since responsibility had transferred to the Legal Service.

4)    Mr. Saghir Hussain - When was RMBC made aware of the issue of flooding at East Herringthorpe Cemetery -  which date month and year will suffice?

Councillor Alam stated that the issue at the Cemetery with the groundwater levels was  raised publicly in April 2022. They were raised at the public meeting held at the Town Hall on 13th June. Dignity and the Council engaged with the community in relation to groundwater levels. As part of focused investigations Dignity commissioned Clancy Consulting Limited to carry out a full site investigation into these matters in October 2022, with the Council being informed of progress at each stage.


In his supplementary, Mr. Hussain stated that he had evidence to contradict  the claim that the Council had only been made aware of the issue this year. Councillor Alam was asked to respond.


In his response, Councillor Alam stated that [issues with ground water] in the new section had been brought to his attention on Good Friday and he had met with Mr. Hussain after Friday prayers. Since then there had been a lot of action regarding how to address the issue of ground water flooding.


5)    Ms. Nida Khan – What are the Council’s responsibilities in managing the Dignity (CMG) contract for Rotherham Cemeteries?

Councillor Alam explained that the Council, as the commissioning body, are responsible for the performance management of the contract between the Council and Dignity. Performance is monitored across 54 key performance targets at monthly performance meetings between Dignity and Council Officers.


In her supplementary, Ms. Khan stated that she had lost her mum to Covid over 8 months ago, after which she spoke at a RMBC meeting. She thanked Councillor Read for letting her speak and explain the situation. However, since then it had been a nightmare. The experience within the graveyard had been indescribable for Ms Khan, her family and her community. The family were learning to come to terms with the passing of their family member, but they could not move on because of the state of the graveyard. The Council was fully aware, and Ms. Khan stated that she had informed Councillor Read that he was being misled and being given incorrect information. Councillor Read had stated that the people with responsibility for doing those jobs would be doing those jobs. The Council was refusing to talk to the community, they were not supporting them and every time they went to Dignity with a question about the day-to-day running or about arranging funerals; they are told that they cannot respond because they need approval from the Council. Every question taken to Dignity is then brought back to the Council for the Council to make a simple decision on what time they are going to bury someone. The Council won’t meet with the community, but they should meet with the people of Rotherham. The Council say it is Dignity’s responsibility but Dignity hide behind the Council.


Ms. Khan stated that it was not good enough to just read off a piece of paper and say the Council was managing the contract. Unfortunately there had been no presence from Rotherham Borough Council at the graveyard. The Police had been called on the Muslim community for just standing at the graveyard and it had been an uphill struggle to bury the dead.


Ms. Khan’s question was who can people talk to? Will the Council meet with the community or not?


Councillor Alam explained that he did share the concerns as a number of his family members were buried at the graveyard in question. In the past it has been admitted that the contract had not been managed properly. Dignity acknowledged this in the public meeting. However, now officers were meeting Dignity on a monthly basis and the project liaison group were meeting on a quarterly basis to ensure that Dignity delivered. The Council had the option of imposing financial penalties, and it was said in April and being repeated now that the Council would operate a zero tolerance approach to the contract. It was a very important service across the Borough and vital that residents had a first class service.


Councillor Alam agreed to speak with Ms. Khan outside of the meeting.


6)    Mr. Arshad Mahmood – Could the Council please inform the members of the public as to how long ago they became aware of the below and above ground water issues that have severely impacted East Herringthorpe Cemetery, especially the Muslim burial section?


Councillor Alam stated that the issue at the Cemetery with the Ground water levels was first raised publicly in April 2022. This was at the public meeting held at the Town Hall on 13th June. Dignity and the Council engaged with the community in relation to groundwater levels.


In his supplementary, Mr. Mahmood stated that the work that had been done since April was the result of significant pressure from the community and no thanks to the Council or Dignity. The Council and the Muslim community in 2012 commissioned the EH group to access the water problem at East Herringthorpe. However, when Mr. Mahmood had tried to locate this, he had been told that it did not exist. The Council are now fully aware of the fact that many of those graves are completely waterlogged. There was evidence and the community had been knocking on Dignity’s door and the Council’s door for years, if not decades, but no action has ever been taken. It was irresponsible of the Council.


Mr. Mahmood asked the Council not to take credit for the work that had been carried out. He again asked when the Council became aware of the issue because, in his opinion, it certainly was not in 2022?


Councillor Alam explained that he had not been a Councillor in 2012 but confirmed that the Council had put a lot of pressure on Dignity. They had challenged them over the Summer of 2022 to sort the drainage system for September 2022. Officers had gone out of their way to challenge Dignity. Because of the commercially sensitive nature of the contract, Councillor Alam could not discuss certain issues publicly but he wanted to assure Mr. Mahmood that the Council was actively managing the contract with a zero tolerance approach. Every avenue and possible sanction would be explored to continue that challenge. 


7)    Mr. Arshad Azam – Given the cemeteries across the Borough are reaching their capacity, what is the long term strategic solution that the Council has in providing adequate and suitable land to bury the deceased?


Councillor Alam explained that as part of the contract signed 2008, a long term year burial plan for 35 years has to be produced by Dignity.


In his supplementary, Mr. Azam stated that there was a planning application currently going through the process for land adjacent to the public section at East Herringthorpe cemetery. Previously, Labour Councillors had indicated that the land was solely for the use of the Muslim community. He asked if the Council could confirm whether that land would be used solely for Muslim burials or had the Muslim community been deceived again?


Councillor Alam stated that the expansion was for the whole community but there would be a section within the expansion exclusively for Muslim burials.