To receive questions from members of the public who wish to ask a general question in respect of matters within the Council’s area of responsibility or influence.
Subject to the Chair’s discretion, members of the public may ask one question and one supplementary question, which should relate to the original question and answered received.
Councillors may also ask questions under this agenda item.
The first question was received from Farooq Tareen who explained he was a member of the Muslim Burial Council. He was astonished to read an article in the Star of 31 July 2023 in which Councillor Alam was quoted as saying “Last year in April there was a concern of water in one of the graves, so I came, had a look and told Dignity they needed to resolve this and put the drainage in”. The grave discussed belonged to his wife. He felt the words used in the article showed a lack of empathy and compassion and asked that this be passed on to Councillor Alam.
He also wanted to know, following the Clancy Report in 2020, why there had not been any move to employ a hydrogeologist to find out the source of water in the graveyard?
He also understood that the Environment Agency had objected to the planning application for the proposed area, which was adjacent to the cramped Muslim area on issues relating to water and had declared the site unsuitable for burial and Mr Tarren asked what the alternative was going to be.
The Leader gave his condolences on the passing of his late wife. He explained that Councillor Alam was working at an employment tribunal, which was the reason for him not being in attendance. He believed that if Councillor Alam had made a poor choice of language, then he would regret that.
The Monitoring Officer explained regarding the appointment of a hydrogeologist that it was understood from the Clancy Report that the water was being held in patches was due to the clay soil and so a hydrologist was not requires.
The Leader addressed Mr Tareen’s concerns regarding the Environment Agency and the planning application explaining that he understood it was being considered by the Council’s planning officers and by the Planning Committee. He felt it was not unusual for the Environment Agency to express concerns about burial grounds however the planning process would decide if it was a suitable place for burials to take place.
In his supplementary Mr Tareen asked what the alternatives were if the planning permission was not granted?
In response the Leader indicated he would not speculate on alternative locations as consideration would need to be given a location where burials could take place that would be suitable for both the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.
The second question was from Mr Saghir Hussain who sought clarity on who was responsible for the cemetery at Herringthorpe. Was it the Council or Dignity? He felt there was a lot of confusion and felt the Council was speaking on behalf of dignity. He also queried who commissioned the Clancy report?
The Monitoring Officer explained that Dignity had commissioned the report and that he was answering based solely on the information contained within the report.
The Leader explained that Dignity was responsible for the operation of the crematorium and graveyards that fell within that contract, along with anything about the day to day running of those, the management of those and the commissioning of the long-term plans. Dignity had responsibility for delivering those things that were within the contract. The Council had responsibility to ensuring that the service was provided but on a day-to-day basis it was Dignity’s responsibility.
In his supplementary Mr Hussain said he understood that the day-to-day operational side belonged to Dignity however this matter was not day-to-day, it was an actual subterranean issue and he sought clarification as to who was responsible?
The Leader explained that Dignity was responsible for that because it was around ensuring that the services provided were appropriate in a safe and sustainable way.
Mr Hussain went on to say that the issue was not one that had arisen in the last five years, it had been present for over two decades and was clearly evident in the graveyard. The matter had been there long before dignity arrived. RMBC had fitted systems to rectify the issue, but they were not fitted properly and there were still graves that were full of water. What was going to be done to address this?
The Leader reiterated that ensuring the graveyard functioned properly, that the graves were safe and appropriate and to a standard was the responsibility of Dignity through the contract. He was not aware of what had happened prior to the contract but it was now Dignity’s responsibility as per the contract. He had hoped that drainage had improved over the past year but if things still needed to be addressed then they needed to be raised with Dignity.
The next question was from Mr Arshed Azam who began by registering his disappointment as at the last meeting it was unanimously agreed to hold a joint meeting with all parties at the table. The responses he had received from officers to his questions were an adequate and he had been contacted a month ago regarding arranging a meeting that had still not taken place. He sought a commitment that a meeting would be arranged within a month.
The Leader understood a plan was in place for the meeting to take place, but asked the Monitoring Officer to ensure that within the next month there was an opportunity for a small group of people to come together to speak with officers and raise concerns.
The next question was from Nida Khan said that a lot of what they were saying at these meetings was based on information gained from professional reports. The Council had installed a drainage system and she believed there were no records of where it was installed. She felt that each time they attended a meeting nothing was resolved. She asked why the Council did not have records of the drainage system?
The Leader said he would refer this to the relevant service to understand what records were held on this matter.
Nida Khan also indicated that the community was concerns as there was only space for only 90 graves remaining and the community needed to know what would happen when they had been used?
The Leader explained that everyone wanted to ensure there was adequate burial spaces however he could not speculate where they would be provided. It was a priority that this was progressed however the planning process could not be rushed.
Councillor Bennett-Sylvester expressed his disappointment that the plans for Thrybergh County Park had been scaled back. He had been informed this was due to inflationary pressures and queried how much of the delay in completion was down to those pressures and what could be done to speed up the delivery of the project to avoid additional costs?
The Leader said there had not been any slow time in the development of the scheme and noted that the Council was delivering a capital programme on a scale not seen in Rotherham previously. The Council had been successful in securing government grants however the economic headwinds were against the Council. He gave his assurance that the Council would deliver as much of the scheme as possible to a high quality but within the available resources.
The Strategic Director of Regeneration and Environment explained that the principle of the scheme was around the new café facility with increased seating provision. The main aspects of the scheme still remained however the Council was seeing challenges due to inflation and market challenges in terms of materials, tendering processes etc.
In his supplementary Councillor Bennett-Sylvester noted that part of the long-term aim was a new play area and he queried what the knock-on effects would be if this was not delivered?
The Strategic Director of Regeneration and Environment noted that lots of proposals come forward when consulting with the community. Other funding bids may become available to enable this to be considered as a project in the future.
Another member of the public raised concerns regarding the new section of the graveyard and asked if there could be a clear consensus due to religious factors that a full 5-year plan be provided so the Muslim community were aware of future plans.
The Leader agreed there was a need to ensure there was adequate burial spaces. He would check and provide a response regarding the commissioning of a long plan from Dignity.