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 answer received.
Councillors may also ask questions under this agenda item.
1. Ms. Britton raised a number of issues relation to Peregrine Way Community Centre:
· Confusion around the arrangement of tables and mopping.
· The removal of keys so community centre volunteers were not allowed to lock the building.
· No longer being able to keep chairs in the boiler cupboard and therefore not being able to store as many chairs which had a knock on impact on the number of people who could attend events.
· The changing of the lock code for the boiler cupboard so volunteers could no longer access it. This prevented a light from being turned off for a number of days.
· Disagreements on where cleaning equipment could be stored and whether it was appropriate for the volunteers to use funds to buy more storage space.
Ms. Britton stated that the volunteers felt they were being unfairly treated and had questioned whether to continue. She asked whether something could be done.
Councillor Allen agreed to speak to Ms. Britton following the conclusion of the meeting regarding the matters raised.
2. Mr. Azam stated that at the Cabinet meeting on 7th August, 2023, the 5 year plan and the strategic plan for Dignity were discussed which had been outstanding since March. He stated that the Leader had made a personal commitment in the communications sent out that it would be discussed at Scrutiny in December 2023. The strategic plan had been provided to RMBC from Dignity on 1st October, but it was not presented to Scrutiny. Mr. Azam asked why this was the case?
Councillor Read stated that this was his understanding, but he referred the question to the Assistant Director of Legal who stated that the 5 year plan had been presented at Scrutiny in December 2023. He confirmed that he would go back and check the details of the commitments made by the Leader and make sure their understandings were aligned. A written response would be provided.
Mr. Azam stated that the commitment was for both the 5 year plan and the strategic plan. In his supplementary he asked that the schedule for the meetings with the Muslim Liaison Bereavement Group be circulated as soon as possible.
The Leader confirmed that this would happen as soon as possible.
3. Councillor Tinsley stated that on 23rd November, 2023, the Planning Board met to discuss proposals for 185 houses to be built on Highfield Park with part of the land being Green Belt and including ancient woodland. Councillor Tinsley stated that concerns around those were dismissed at the hearing. It was his belief that officials had not understood the ecology report for the development and the impact or how it sat within national policy. The policy stated that applications that would require the felling of ancient woodlands should only be granted if there were wholly exceptional reasons. Justification to say that actual presence of trees is limited was not an excuse and the officials still needed to engage with the policy. There were no exceptional circumstances to the building of an access road through Green Belt, yet this was railroaded as not a problem.
Councillor Tinsley stated that there were many other issues with how the application had been dealt with:
· Insufficient time allowed for the site visit – around 15 minutes.
· Some Members had inappropriate footwear so could not participate in the site visit.
· An objection from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust was omitted until the day before the Planning hearing. Councillor Tinsley was unsure if Planning Board Members had had enough time to read the report.
· Two of the Members of the Board who voted in favour had not attended the site visit.
· Residents stated they had not received the Right To Speak notifications.
· Concerns around the lease and no consultation with Ward Members.
· Donations to the Rother Valley Labour Party from the CEO of Hargreaves which was discussed at the planning hearing.
Councillor Tinsley stated that another Council had deferred consideration of an application to allow an investigation to take place into donations. He explained that this was a declared donation and no investigation had yet taken place in relation to this application. He asked whether the Council would revoke the planning application approval (as the decision notice had not yet been served) and send it back to the Planning Board for reconsideration following a full investigation?
The Leader explained that planning decisions were separate from the executive decisions of the Council. This meant the Cabinet meeting had no role in the decisions that were taken by the Planning Board. Those decisions were taken in accordance with national and local rules. The Leader confirmed that he was not involved in any planning decisions at all and as such, could not comment on things that had happened at the Planning Board. He did, however, state that Members not going on site visits was quite common and not in breach of any rules.
The Leader also responded to the comments regarding the donations to the Labour Party. He stated that the money was given to the Rother Valley Labour Party a number of years ago to support a Parliamentary candidate. It was all properly declared and there were no conflicts of interest. It was the responsibility of individual Members to declare interests. The money donated had not been given to any Councillors. The Leader stated that it would be very complicated to have every Councillor declare an interest for every decision involving a company that had made donations to a political party. He noted that officers were present at the meeting who would take away the concerns raised but as Leader, he could not ask for a review as he was not involved in those processes in anyway.
In his supplementary, Councillor Tinsley stated that he understood that Cabinet could not interfere with the planning functions but asked that they still call for an investigation. He also questioned the relationship the Labour Party had had with Hargreaves for many years.
The Leader stated that all political parties received donations from private companies or individuals, and it was dangerous to speculate beyond that. The Leader was assured that everyone had done what they were supposed to have done and followed the rules appropriately. He encouraged Councillor Tinsley to stop throwing mud around and trying to get political gains from this matter.
The Monitoring Officer responded by stating that the Cabinet could not instruct an investigation into Standards issues. That was a matter for the Standards process. As the Monitoring Officer, he had already been made aware of some concerns and would proceed with the correct process.
4. Parish Councillor Andrew Laird (Maltby Town Council) also asked a question in relation to the development at Highfield Park. He stated that the documents provided to the Planning Board claimed that 185 dwellings would not make a big difference to the infrastructure (roads, dentists, doctors, hospitals etc) of Maltby. The report did not mention that the 185 houses were being built alongside another 570 houses which in total was 775 houses. In reality that would mean 1,500 additional cars using Maltby’s road system. This was all in addition to the new development at Hellaby which would have a huge impact on the roads. Parish Councillor Laird questioned why the report only looked at the impact of 185 dwellings and not the cumulative impact of all the developments? There were already pressures on doctors surgeries following the closure of one practice.
The Leader explained that Cabinet did not hear planning applications so he could not comment on individual developments. It would be inappropriate for him to comment. However, as a rule, each application was treated individually, not cumulatively. Issues around the availability of doctors had been raised in a number of forums. The Leader stated this was due to the health service not receiving the amount of funding that it required. However, the appropriate response was not to say no more houses should be built as people needed somewhere to live.
The Strategic Director of Regeneration and Environment explained that planning was governed by the National Planning Policy Framework and the Rotherham Local Plan which included the sites document. This was predicated on growth and development and sites were allocated for development through that process. There were applications that came through that route, but applications could be made for land that was not allocated. All applications were assessed against those policies. There were two mechanisms that could fund infrastructure improvements either through Section 106 agreements or through the Community Infrastructure Levy.
In his supplementary, Parish Councillor Laird stated that there was another parcel of land adjacent to the Highfield Park site that was not part of the current development. He asked if this was going to be developed in the future?
Councillor Lelliott agreed to look into the matter with officers and provide a written response.