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 Whomersley asked why RMBC were not letting Dinnington Town Council see their detailed plans and submitted documents for the successful funding bid for Dinnington main street.
Councillor Lelliott explained that detailed plans and submitted documents included commercially confidential information, for example, on the budget available for land purchase, disclosure of which could prejudice future negotiations. The final documentation would include the bid document with some redactions and describe the elements of the scheme that the government has agreed to fund, would be published and available to Dinnington Town Council and any other interested party once a final version of the funding agreement was received and signed. It was expected that the funding agreement would be signed by the middle of June and therefore the documentation could be generally issued at that time.
Councillor Lelliott invited Councillor Whomersley to meet 1:1 to view the documentation in his capacity as a Councillor. She stressed that he would be bound by the same confidentiality requirements and would not be lawfully able to share those details with the Town Council.
(2) Councillor Tinsley asked whether RMBC were taking part in ‘No Cut May’ this year.
Councillor Beck explained that May is an exceptional growing period for the areas that the Council maintain, and by not cutting in May, would have a knock-on effect for the following visit and would take vastly longer to complete, meaning we would fall behind in maintaining standards across the Borough. By not mowing in May, this would also leave increased waste cuttings on the following cut, which could present safety issues.
He went on to explain that the Council was working across services to look at how we better support nature and biodiversity, in line with the commitments made around climate change and biodiversity. Short term actions like not cutting for a single month was unlikely to promote biodiversity in a sustainable way
In his supplementary question Councillor Tinsley expressed his surprise that the Council were not taking part in the scheme and that certain areas in his ward, the grass was quite long. Councillor Beck advised that this time of year, the weather would impact on the grass and it is more challenging to maintain due to the reduced funding from central government.
(3) Councillor Tinsley raised that there was a Charge of £525 for TTRO's for Road Closures for Community Event and that neighbouring Authority's wave this Charge and asked whether this could be reviewed.
Councillor Beck responded by explaining that the Council had a fee in place of £1106 for events that require road closures, and some community events already benefited from the reduced fee.
The Council has waived the road closure fees for managing recent events such as the street parties for the late Queen’s Platinum Celebration and the Kings Coronation and the management of the temporary traffic regulation orders for the Remembrance Parades which take place each November across the borough.
He advised that there were no current plans to consider any further reduction in fees.
(4) Councillor Jones stated that Kimberworth St Thomas’ cemetery had now been classed as closed and had been transferred into the Council’s grounds maintenance team’s portfolio and asked why it had not been added to the Dignity contract.
Councillor Sheppard responded by explaining that The Local Government Act (s215) made it incumbent on the Council to maintain closed churchyards.
The Church retained ownership of the land but the Council was legally required to maintain it. Dignity managed the Councils operational Cemeteries and Crematorium and not closed churchyards which is why it did not fall under the Dignity contract.
In his supplementary question, Councillor Jones stated that there were other closed cemeteries under the Dignity contract and at present residents were expected to lower standards as a result of it being transferred to the Council. Councillor Sheppard explained that this did not fall under his portfolio but he would ensure that clarification was received and Councillor Jones would be updated.
(5) Councillor Bennett-Sylvester asked about progress of plans to mark the occasion of the 600th birth anniversary of Thomas Rotherham.
Councillor Sheppard responded by updating that Rotherham Council’s Museum, Arts & Heritage service had researched Rotherham Archives and Museum Collections for items related to the Archbishop Thomas Rotherham and that unfortunately there were very few items in the collections related to the Archbishop Thomas Rotherham.
As such the service had been limited in its ability to develop a full exhibition, however it agreed that the Archbishop Thomas Rotherham was an important figure in the Borough’s history and a small exhibition would be created at Clifton Park Museum with items from the achievements of this important historical figure.
In his supplementary question Councillor Bennett-Sylvester asked for reassurance that that Council would give emphasis to this. Councillor Sheppard confirmed that the exhibition would start in July to coincide with the start of the school holidays, hopefully meaning that more children and families would be engaged in the story.
(6) Councillor Tinsley explained that there was once a dog litter bin on a parcel of land between Delta Way and Thicket Drive in Maltby. This had disappeared within the last few years and the Council disputed there ever was one. He asked whether the Council would look into putting a bin back in place.
Councillor Beck confirmed that the service had been out on site and assessed that a bin would be beneficial at the location and that a bin was installed on Monday 22 May and that it had been added to the relevant cleansing team’s schedule.
(7) Councillor Bennett-Sylvester asked that, given the considerable Irish population in Rotherham had any discussions been held with the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust to chronicle its former owner’s role in the colonial rule of Ireland.
Councillor Sheppard explained that although the Culture, Sport & Tourism service had a strong working relationship with the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust, as an independent organisation, the Trust set its own strategic priorities with regards to the interpretation of the history of the house and its owners, and also its work to engage local communities.
The service was not currently aware of any plans that the Trust had to chronicle its former owner’s role in the colonial rule of Ireland.
In his supplementary question, Councillor Bennett-Sylvester asked for assurance that this story would be told. Councillor Sheppard offered to connect Councillor Bennett-Sylvester with the Chief Executive of the Wentworth Woodhouse Trust.
(8) Councillor Tinsley stated that he had recently attended rural and off road crime meeting along with four other Councillors and asked what partnership working the Council was doing along with the police to tackle both off road vehicles and rural crimes.
Councillor Alam explained that the Council worked closely with South Yorkshire Police and as part of wider partnerships to address Community Safety concerns, including off-roading and other rural crimes.
He went on to explain that the Council had taken a range of actions to prevent use of off-road vehicles in rural areas which included target hardening sites, introducing access controls, patrolling hot spot areas and installation of signage. The Council also worked with landowners or farmers for example to assist them in identifying ways to target harden their own land. He advised that the police had the responsibility to address the criminal behaviour itself however the Council aimed to try and prevent the activities to support local communities.
(9) Councillor Bennett-Sylvester asked for initial observations on the impact of voter suppression legislation in recent location elections.
The Leader responded by explaining that officers of Rotherham supported other local Councils on polling day including Barnsley, Kirklees and Sheffield.
The Electoral Commission were evaluating the full impact of the voter ID requirements by collecting and analysing data collected at polling stations, hearing from electoral administrators and candidates about their experiences of polling day, as well as conducting a national public opinion research about voters’ experiences.
There was some analysis by the BBC based on information from 160 of 230 councils where elections were held this year. It showed that 26,165 voters were initially denied ballot papers at polling stations. Of these, 16,588 people came back with valid ID, whilst 9,577 did not return.
It is expected the electoral commission would publish their initial analysis of the implementation of voter ID in June, followed by their full report in September.
To help successfully implement the new voter ID requirements for Rotherham’s May 2024 elections, Rotherham would be looking to learn from those councils that had elections this year, as well as having regard for the Electoral Commission’s report.
In his supplementary question Councillor Bennett-Sylvester stated that he was concerned about the potential number of people who did not turn out to vote and not just those who were turned away. The Leader confirmed a plan would come forward to support that work.
(10) Councillor Bennett-Sylvester asked how many days had passed since repaving work had commenced on Frederick Street.
Councillor Lelliott responded by stating that works commenced on the 17th January 2022 and were completed at the end of April 2023 – total time on site was 67 weeks (316 working days). Work was continuing on Howard Street and the paving needed to link to Frederick Street which is why the area where Frederick Street joined Howard Street still required further work.
In his supplementary questions, Councillor Bennett-Sylvester highlighted the length of time taken and Councillor Lelliott responded by advising that there had been a number of outside influences that had impacted on the delay such as different legislation around town centre bollards. She confirmed that she would look at how delays to works are better communicated with residents.
(11) Councillor Jones raised that at the last Council meeting the Leader agreed to release all the outstanding documentation that the Council holds around the access issue at Grange Park and requested an updated.
The Leader responded that he had hoped to have released the information already however both Solicitors for the Action Group and MHH had objected to the release of the information on the grounds that they are legally privileged and it was not in the public interest to release the information.
The Council was considering those objections. He stated that Action Group could help hurry this process along if it would waive its objections to the release of information that they had provided.
The Council was the only party that was trying to make sure that as much information as possible was available to the Public.
In his supplementary question, Councillor Jones said that the withdrawal to the objection was on its way and the Leader confirmed that the Council would continue to adhere to the legal process.
(12) Councillor Jones stated that two years ago he was told that he had been given all the documentation he could be given by Legal Services around the Droppingwell access, yet more pages have now been released, why was he told they were legally privileged.
The Leader responded that the Council was of the view that the information was legally privileged and the public interest was not in favour of releasing the information as it could have prejudiced the Council’s legal position.
The application of the legal privilege exemption under the Freedom of Information Act required that it is balanced against the public interest. The advice from legal services following correspondence with the Action Group’s solicitors and further detailed consideration was that there was not the reasonable prospect of litigation on this issue and therefore the balance was considered to have moved in favour of release.
In his supplementary question, Councillor Jones stated that the information that has now been released should not have been legally privileged. The Leader advised Councillor Jones that should he have any issues with professional conduct he should raise that through the correct process and not at this meeting.
(13) Councillor Bennett-Sylvester asked whether this year the totals claimed by members under the members allowance scheme be published on the RMBC website ideally next to each member’s profile as well as being in the public notice section of the Rotherham Advertiser.
Councillor Allen confirmed that the Members’ Allowances and Expenses for the Financial Year ended 31 March 2023 had been added to the Modgov Library and were available on the Council’s Website.
Individual Member Allowance and Expenses information would be added to Modgov and displayed on the Member’s home page and updated annually.
(14) Councillor Jones stated that the Council had served a second PCN on Grange Landfill Ltd, around the more than 5 acres out of cultivation in any period and asked why a “stop order” could not be at the same time if we believed planning permission has been broken.
Councillor Lelliott explained that the planning department had served an enforcement notice on Grange Landfill Ltd regarding the potential breach of the 5 acre limitation condition which required the operator to restore the land that is over 5 acres back so that it is not out of cultivation. An appeal had been received against the serving of the enforcement notice which would be determined by the Planning Inspectorate.
A breach of condition of the planning permission does not render the permission void and subject to the breach being remedied, tipping operations could be undertaken. As a stop notice should only be served where it is essential to safeguard amenity or public safety in the neighbourhood; or to prevent serious or irreversible harm to the environment in the surrounding area. It was not deemed expedient to do so here as the breach in itself did not result in any of these matters over and above the consequences of the planning permission if it was to be carried out lawfully.
In his supplementary question, Councillor Jones stated that the operator was frantically trying to cover up their violations. Councillor Lelliott said she was happy to meet with Councillor Jones and the planning team to explain what action could be taken within planning law and conditions.
(15) Councillor Bennett-Sylvester raised that he often visited council homes in his ward with no carpets. He asked whether the Council had looked at leaving serviceable carpets of former tenants in place for new tenants as called for by the campaign group End Furniture Poverty?
Councillor Brookes responded that the Council recognised that the costs of furnishing a new home could quickly add up, and that many of our residents were already struggling with increased cost of living. When former tenants left carpets in a good condition, they are left in place for the new tenants. However, unfortunately, in the majority of cases carpets had to be removed due to their age or condition. In those cases, our Furnished Homes service offered affordable furniture and carpet packages to new tenants.
In his supplementary question Councillor Bennett-Sylvester asked how often the tenant was given a choice on whether they would like to retain the carpets. Councillor Brookes confirmed she would have to check that level of detail and confirm it to Councillor Bennett-Sylvester.
(16) Councillor Jones stated that Dan Jarvis the ex-SCR Mayor set up a veteran’s homeless fund and at the last covenant group meeting they were told the funding would be in place until the end of the year it’s now been returned. He asked why and who at RMBC had authorised its return.
Councillor Brookes stated that it was a South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) fund, administered by local authorities. Rotherham received £16,250. The scheme provided financial support to assist veterans with securing accommodation in the form of rent in advance and bonds, deposits, furnishing and carpeting new homes and other household items. The fund could be personalised to help financially in other ways. Any person who was classed as a veteran and who required financial assistance was eligible.
The rules for the funding were determined by SYMCA. SYMCA agreed to roll over the fund from April 2022 to March 2023 but not from April 2023 to March 2024. This was outside of the Council’s control. If a veteran was homeless or at risk of homelessness, the Council could assist using the homelessness prevention fund.
In his supplementary question, Councillor Jones stated that veterans should not have to turn to charities for support and Councillor Brookes advised that she could not answer for the SYMCA but the Council does provide a number of areas in which they support veterans and serving forces.