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.
Question 1: Saghir Hussain asked since when has RMBC been aware of flooding of the graves at the Muslim section of herringthope cemetery and what intervention have been undertaken by RMBC before Dignity takeover.
Councillor Alam responded indicating the Dignity became contractually responsible for the Council’s cemetries in 2008. The records prior to the Dignity contract were incomplete as it was 15 years ago and well before he was first elected, therefore he could not comment on what might have happened at the time.
He went on to explain that in October 2020 Dignity commissioned Clancy Consulting Limited to carry out a full investigation into these matter in October 2020. The report said “The ground water measured was not thought to be representative of a consistent shallow groundwater body and was more likely to represent discontinuous perched groundwater”. Since then additional drainage had been installed to ensure the ground water was able to flow away from these areas.
In his supplementary Mr Hussain noted that before Dignity took over their contract RMBC was responsible for the cemetary. Drainage was installed in 1999 so RMBC was aware of the flooding issue at that time. He felt he was not receiving a clear answer. The graves were flooded and that needed to be rectified. It was the responsibility of RMBC not Dignity, who had inidcated it was prior to their engagement, to fix the issue and apologise to the muslim community for their failings. He asked if RMBC was going to fix the drainage system at the cemetary?
In response Councillor Alam clarified that he also had many relatives buried at the cemetary including his late wife. He was aware that there was an issue with ground water but not with flooding. When he became aware of the issues last year immediate action was taken and the Council forced Dignity to take action. Dignity were operationally responsible for the drainage and the Council would continue to ask them to address this.
Question 2: Shazia Yousaf noted that Councillor Saghir Alam, at the last cabinet meeting, alleged that Mohammed Omar decided to pull out of the review due to being "hounded by the community", which "created a toxic environment". Is this hearsay, or is there evidence to back this up?
Councillor Alam explained that before he went on leave, which was the week before Mr Omar was due to attend, Mr Omar was fine with the schedule of meetings. He was due to be here for almost 3 days, holding 5-6 meetings a day. Councillor Alam was not certain what happened during his leave however Mr Omar had cancelled the days he was due to attend. When he raised this Councillor Alam was told that Mr Omar had been contacted by 6-7 members of the public pressuring him about the review. Mr Omar then decided to withdraw.
Councillor Alam sought clarification that no one from their organisation was contacting Mr Omar during the 5 days before his intended visit.
In her supplementary Shazia Yousaf said it was her understanding that Mr Omar had withdrawn because all the mosques had not been invited to meet with him as most were not invited by the Mosque Council of Rotherham. Could he confirm which mosques were members of the Mosque Council that he was the Chair of?
Councillor Alam explained there were eleven mosques who were part of Rotherham Mosque Council. The stakeholder group consists of over 50 organisations invited to come and meet Mr Omar. It was unfair to say they weren’t invited as every single mosque on the list was invited to the meeting and your organisation was invited to have two hours discussion with him. The whole review was completely independent. Officers had facilitated the meetings but were not involved with operational issues.
Question 3: Nida Khan noted that Councillor Read mentioned at the last cabinet meeting that he was concerned for the safety of his officers and staff during meetings with the public. Can I ask what has led to such concerns? This was a serious allegation.
Councillor Read thanked her for her question and explained that there was no allegation. He what he had explained at Cabinet was that he had a responsibility for the safety of staff, and he did not want to be putting staff into difficult positions. He had been made aware of at least one instance of a member of staff being left in tears. He understood that people felt strongly about the issues and understood that people would emote strongly about those issues, which was understandable however the Council could not put its staff in a position where they felt threatened or concerned for their safety. What he had tried to do at Cabinet, and hoped that it came across in the recording, was to offer a way, for the gentleman who attended Cabinet, that the Council could facilitate the kind of dialogue that was needed, whilst also ensuring that everybody, both sides, felt safe and secure having those conversations.
In her supplementary Nida Khan said she understood what was being said and she had been present for most of the conversations referred to, but again it was hearsay. The police were present, and no such things happened that he was alleging and there were no police records of such things. She felt that comments such as those were very derogatory. It was understood that people got very emotional when speaking about death. She indicated that they appreciated what was being offered and were waiting to know when conversations could begin.
In response Councillor Read clarified that he was not simply referring to one particular meeting but was referring to all issues which he had been informed had happened over a period of time in different locations. He appreciated the sentiment that she expressed around the need to things to move forward constructively and a meeting would be organised in a way that worked for everyone involved.
Question 4: Mr Adeel Hussain asked his question regarding Disastrous Cycling Route Development: Why does Rotherham Council bother with consultation plans if they're not interested in hearing the answers?
Council Beck thanked Mr Hussain for his question but indicated he did not recognise his description. The Council currently had two schemes underway in the town centre.
In relation to the Wellgate / Broom Road scheme, In October and November 105 people gave their views, with the majority expressing support rather than opposition.
In relation to the Sheffield Road / Westgate scheme, it was true that when the Council consulted on the first set of proposals it received a degree of opposition. The Council rethought and re-wrote the proposal: removing banned turns, keeping the junction at the top of Main Street as it was, and crucially, for businesses, creating more car parking spaces. The Council had listened, which was why revisions had been made to the scheme.
In his supplementary Mr Hussain mentioned that over 8 years people and businesses had responded to consultations with 95% indicating they did not want the cycle scheme however the Council was still proceeding. It was felt the scheme would have a negative impact on the people and businesses in the area.
In his response Councillor Beck refuted some of the views expressed. The scheme was possible because the Government had made funding available to deliver active travel schemes to make it safer for people to cycle to work or to use the town centre and those who lived in the area. He acknowledged there was short term pain associated with delivery of the schemes, however local residents and business would benefit from the scheme.
The Council did listen which was why the scheme had been radically altered receiving a more positive response. Officer spoke to local businesses, held drop-in sessions and when it was completed people would be able to see the improvements.
Question 5: Mr Eric Shaw asked for an update on Traffic Calming and 20mph Zones in the Boston Castle Ward?
In response Councillor Beck said he had been advised that as part of the Council’s Local Neighbourhood and Road Safety Scheme programme a scheme had been identified for the area bounded by Moorgate Road, Alma Road, Wellgate, Broom Road, Broom Avenue and Beaconsfield Road. The Council would be consulting on the proposal over the coming months, and he would be able to respond to that accordingly and consultation would be carried out before any plans were taken forward.
The Mayor advised that questions 5 and 6 would receive a written response.