Agenda item

Public Questions

To receive questions from members of the public who may wish to ask a general question of the Mayor, Cabinet Member or the Chair of a Committee in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 12.


The following public questions had been received:


1.    From Mr Richard Green:


How many contracts does RMBC have with YPO for the purchase of gas supplies and if it is only a single contract, how is the supply split between business and domestic usage in terms of cost?


Mr Green was unable to attend the meeting and a written response would be provided.


2.    From Ms Nida Khan:


As we are all aware time is running out we have no clarity on what is happening with the planning Permission.


What does RMBC started putting in place if the planning application is not successful? Where will be the new site for the burials for the Muslim community?


Ms Khan was unable to attend the meeting and a written response would be provided.


3.    From Ms Shazia Yousaf:


What is the Council doing about the issues raised by Dignity recently that the extension at Herringthorpe Cemetery cannot go through due to being unable to satisfy the EA following borehole testing?


Ms Yousaf was unable to attend the meeting and a written response would be provided.


4.    From Mr Adeel Hussain:


Why is the Council intentionally causing the closure of thriving local businesses on Westgate by unnecessarily extending disruptive cycling and hazardous roadworks that received no support from businesses or residents and will impact business detrimentally?


Councillor Taylor thanked Mr Hussain for his question and for sharing his concern about the new cycle route on Westgate and Sheffield Road. Councillor Taylor stated that he understood that changes to local infrastructure could be challenging, and that feedback was appreciated. It was explained that similar schemes were causing the same sort of disruption across the country because of the built up environment.


It was worth starting with why infrastructure schemes like this were built. First and foremost, it was not simply about the cycle lanes. The scheme had introduced safer places to cross the road, wider pavements and traffic calming to slow down vehicles which were increasingly required as Sheffield Road became a more residential area, and ahead of potentially hundreds more new homes along the route in the coming years.  The scheme also included a significant amount of road resurfacing and filling potholes, from the Town Centre, all the way to Magna. Cycling of course promoted healthier lifestyles and was more environmentally friendly. But more broadly, it was about providing people with choices about how to travel into the town centre – both for current users and future generations.


In his supplementary question, Mr Hussain stated that on Westgate, most evening trade businesses were owned by members of the BAME community. He asked how the Council expected restaurants and food businesses who had been majorly disrupted for three weeks in the peak business hours to survive? He also asked why the businesses were not consulted? Mr Hussain stated that it was clear that Royal Mail had been accommodated throughout the roadworks and their staff operate between the hours of 5am and 6pm. The intended road closures were to be between 7pm and 5am. Throughout the duration of the roadworks, the businesses on Westgate had not had any support from the Council.


In response, Councillor Taylor stated that there had been a substantial consultation before the project and during the project and that feedback from that process had been considered. For example, there had been a retention of parking spaces, proposed changes to the roadway system were not implemented and the pavement material had been improved and extended. Benches and planters had also been included. These changes were all as a direct result of the feedback that had been received.


It was recognised that the construction phase had caused disruption, but Councillor Taylor was pleased to inform Mr Hussain that the construction-related activities were now very nearly complete.  Final surfacing was planned for the end of June, which will be the final task before completion. Businesses were being updated on progress on a rolling basis


5.    From Mr M. Y. Ashraf:


This Council has been repeatedly asked to repeal the contentious IHRA definition of antisemitism, which has been contested by 104 civil society organisations due to the danger it poses to freedoms of speech. Will this Council pass a motion to repeal this controversial definition?


The Leader thanked Mr Ashraf for his question and confirmed that the Council were not considering passing a motion at the moment. It had been one of the asks that had been put to the Council as part of the petition submitted in February 2024 and that was now being considered by the Council’s scrutiny members. There was no intention at the minute to withdraw support for that particular definition. The Leader also stated that Mr Ashraf had commented that people had asked for the definition to be withdrawn. The Leader explained that the people had also asked for it to be introduced. It was the mainstream definition that was used by the British Government and by mainstream political parties. It was accepted that this was not without its critics but, at a time when the Jewish community in Rotherham and across the rest of the country were feeling under fire, it made sense to remain consistent, remain in the mainstream with a definition that worked. The Leader was not aware of any instances where that had prevented people from expressing legitimate views.


In his supplementary, Mr Ashraf stated that there had been persecution at Sitwell School. In the meetings with OSMB regarding the petition, Mr Ashraf stated that it became apparent that there was a difference between the legal advice being given to the Council and the true capacity of the Council to take certain steps within the boundaries of the law. The campaign group had been repeatedly given the blanket statement of “it is illegal” in regard to taking certain actions, even though there was case law and a precedent which would suggest that Councils were able to take certain steps, even if they are purely symbolic. Mr Ashraf stated that as a resident of Rotherham, it was important that the Council was transparent with local communities about what actions it would and would not take with legitimate reasons to explain why. Mr Ashraf asked the Leader and Cabinet to investigate the concerning discrepancy so that residents were not simply given a blanket statement of “it is illegal” when asking the Council to take certain steps?


The Leader stated that he was happy to receive any representations regarding the concerns raised by Mr Ashraf. In relation to the petition, there would be a report from the working group to the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board and that would be considered in public with the opportunity for further scrutiny and questions. It would then proceed to Cabinet. This would all be a very public process before a final decision was reached.


6.    From Ms Wendy Bader:


At one of the previous Council meetings, the leader and members of this Cabinet - such as Councillor Alam - expressed deep sympathies for the Palestinian people and the work that the residents of Rotherham have been doing to express solidarity with the Palestinian people. To support local efforts, will this council pass a motion to raise the Palestinian flag?”


In response to the question, the Leader explained that there was no motion to that effect for the Council to consider at the moment, but that particular ask was part of the petition. OSMB members would be expressing views about whether that would be an appropriate thing for the Council to do as part of their work on the petition.


In her supplementary, Ms Bader explained that the Palestinian petition, that had received over 4000 signatures from Rotherham residents had been discussed with community member and the OSMB. OSMB had created a list of recommendations based on the petition. Ms Bader stated that at the previous full Council meeting, the Leader promised to take action to ensure that the demand of the community petition were dealt with as expediently as possible. The question was therefore, would the Leader and the Cabinet commit to addressing the OSMB recommendation from 5 June meeting at the next full Council meeting?


The Leader explained that, as a matter of process, it would not be for full Council to receive those recommendations at the next meeting. It was for Cabinet Members to receive those and act within the agreed timetable. That would be done as quickly as possible. The Scrutiny meeting had not yet taken place, so the Leader did not know for certain what the recommendations were.


7.    From Ms Aiysha Rahim:


Residents have written to the Council and Cllr Yasseen about safeguarding risks and increased crime in the Moorgate due to Carlton Park Hotel and we have received no response. Residents asked Cllr Yasseen to organise a community meeting and we have been told that no Council Officer is going to be in attendance to provide information. Please tell us why?


In response to the question, the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion & Neighbourhood Working explained that the Council took these matters very seriously and encouraged residents to report any incidents to the Police or the Council’s community protection team. He reassured ward members and residents that officers were working hard collectively to try and resolve the concerns raised.


With regards to Monday night’s meeting, the Council had processes in place to support ward councillors who organise public meetings. Unfortunately in this instance no council staff were available to attend at short notice and the Councillor preferred to proceed with the advertised date and time rather than reschedule. Officers were looking to discuss the ongoing response with all locally elected members prior to engaging more widely with the community.


In her supplementary, Ms Rahim explained that she was a mother of four children and lived in very close proximity to the Carlton Park Hotel. She attended the meeting on Monday evening. For the first time in all the years that she had lived in her house, Ms Rahim was terrified for the safety of her family due to the incidents she had witnessed and what other people had witnessed. She stated that it was shameful that nobody in the Council Chamber, apart from Councillor Yasseen and another Councillor from a different ward, had attended the meeting. Ms Rahim stated that there was enough notice for that meeting for 130 residents to give up three hours on a Monday evening to attend. A number of those residents were present at the Council meeting. There had been violent crime, burglaries, trespassing on private property, prostitution, sex in public, urinating in public, begging, open drug use. These were just some of the things that were raised at the meeting. Ms Rahim stated that she was present at the Council Meeting because no one had had the courage to come to the Monday meeting and listen to the residents. Residents had raised issues and concerns with the MP and Leader going back 12 months. An email had been sent in April 2024 to Council Officers, Members, the Leader etc and no response had been received.


Ms Rahim stated that the borough was supposed to be a child-friendly borough and the Council had said that the safeguarding of children in Rotherham was one of its highest priorities. Ms Rahim wanted to know, as a resident who was very concerned about what was happening in the area and as somebody who had seen the changes since, for whatever reason, the Council chose to house these people in Carlton Park Hotel, as somebody who had children that were terrified, why neither residents nor the local schools, the nursery, the college, the hospital, local Members, were consulted before the decision was taken to house people in Carlton Park Hotel?


Councillor Sheppard thanked Ms Rahim for her question and referred her to his earlier response regarding the short notice of the meeting. He did give assurances that in future, with the right notice, he as Cabinet Member and officers would attend public meetings with the residents to address any ongoing problems. The homelessness team were very much aware of the issues that were ongoing and were working proactively, both with the management of the hotel and the individuals concerned. 


8.    From Mr John Strawinski:


Council Homelessness Prevention and Rough Sleeper Strategy says they will end use of hotels. What plans and timescales can we expect?


Mr Strawinski was unable to attend the meeting and a written response would be provided.


9.    From Mrs Elizabeth Strawinski:


Why has it taken this action to raise the profile of this matter - what steps were in place to monitor the effect of the current situation on the local community and what actions were identified and in progress? 


Mrs Strawinski was unable to attend the meeting and a written response would be provided.


10.From Mrs Michele Whyley Skellum:


What assurance will we have that this issue will be prioritised and a multi -agency plan of action implemented?


Mrs Skellum was unable to attend the meeting and a written response would be provided.


11.From Mr Martin Skellum:


Have Rotherham Council failed its duty of care to individuals they have placed in The Carlton Park Hotel with no apparent social support or supervision. Not just these individuals but the community in general. With no consultation whatsoever they placed people with severe social problems between a School and a College endangering the children and young people that attend there.


Mr Skellum was unable to attend the meeting and a written response would be provided.