Agenda item

Questions from Members of the Public


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.



8 public questions had been received:


1.    Mr. Marston asked a question in relation to the proposed housing developments on Boswell Street. He stated that at the time the Herringthorpe Leisure Centre was demolished, it was in the Council Plan to build houses on the site. However, it was claimed by residents to be in contravention of the conditions of the use of the land of Herringthorpe playing fields from when it was acquired by the Council and in the terms of the Borough of Rotherham Act 1928. That stated that the land was to be used for recreational activities and that housing could not be developed on the land. The Council took notice of that and at the Cabinet meeting on 14th March, 2012, a possible workaround was discussed and recommended. The work around was that the Council would work with Fields in Trust to establish a Deed of Dedication to safeguard the fields. Two areas would be taken out of the land, the leisure centre site and the old nurseries and depot of Boswell Street. These would be released for housing on the understanding that the proceeds of the development would be applied for enhancing the facilities of the playing fields, for example a 1,000 seat stand at the running track with indoor training, all weather pitches and a new play area. Mr. Marston stated that he could find no further mention of the Fields in Trust plan which appeared to have been dropped as was the idea of building housing on the leisure centre site. He asked what the outcome was of the discussions with Fields in Trust? He also asked whether a link could be provided to the documents in the minutes of the next meeting?

The new proposal to develop the old nursery and depot area suggested, in Mr. Marston’s view, that the Council would need to resuscitate the above-mentioned proposals to set up a Deed of Dedication with Fields in Trust to legitimate the position. He asked if those discussions had been started?


The Leader responded by stating that those discussions had not been started and that he did not know what the outcome of the discussion was in March 2012. The decision that was on the agenda today was simply to restart the process in relation to one of the sites Mr. Marston had referred to. Both sites were allocated for housing in the Council’s Local Plan. The Council’s planning position was that, at some stage, there would be housing delivered on both of those sites. However, the current meeting was not going to complete the final sign off of any plans as there were no plans yet for what would go on the site. There was no detail work through of what that would look like or who might live there etc. It was just a decision in principle that the Council would look to put houses on the former nursery site. All the other things mentioned by Mr. Marston would be worked through afterwards as part of the planning process. Planning permission would need to be given, along with engagement with residents.

In his supplementary, Mr. Marston stated that it was a brownfield site in appearance but fundamentally, he asked if the land for the old nurseries or depot was part of the land cited in the Rotherham Borough Act of 1928? Was that land part of the land that was acquired in 1928 and therefore subject to the same things which were: “any lands set apart under this section [of the Rotherham Borough Act 1928] for this, for the purpose of playing fields shall be deemed to be leisure grounds or recreation grounds for the purpose of the local act and under the Public Health Act”? Mr. Marston therefore asked if he could see a map showing what land was acquired in 1928?

The Leader stated that he believed that could be arranged.


Councillor Allen confirmed that the piece of land in question was part of a larger conveyance of land in 1928. With the work that had been done so far, which was not a lot because this was still the start of the journey in terms of development of the area, no restrictive uses of the site had been identified. Councillor Allen did, however, confirm that the information provided by Mr. Marston would be very useful as the Council progressed with those discussions.

2.    Councillor Yasseen stated she had concerns regarding the area Mr. Marston had referenced, particularly from her view as a Ward Councillor. She stated that she had grown up and lived in the Ward she now represented, and she knew that there were certain areas that the community felt passionate about. Councillor Yasseen’s residents contacted her about this, asked for site visits and wanted to be involved which was one of the big mantras of the Council. They wanted to see positive developments that would benefit the whole community. Herringthorpe Playing Fields and any annexes (the community did not see any of it as annexes but rather one site) were very important to the community and the passion for the site pre-dated Councillor Yasseen as a Councillor. She accepted that there was a right within the Local Plan to trigger housing development on that site and she did not know the validity of the issues that Mr Marston had raised. However, the issue Councillor Yasseen had was that nobody knew that it was going to be triggered or even that a survey would be undertaken. Green Spaces, Neighbourhoods Officers and other Housing Officers who regularly attended neighbourhood meetings were also unaware.  Councillor Yasseen asked how the Council could involve local communities and Ward Councillors at the earliest point, even if was just for information? Councillor Yasseen stated that she had raised her concerns with Strategic Housing but they went ahead anyway and as such, she had received multiple complaints. She hoped that by raising these issues with the Leader of the Council the issues would not be repeated.

Councillor Allen stated that in a response to an email from Councillor Yaseen in the past week, she had confirmed that Housing Officers did go to the Ward Councillor briefing on 12th October, 2023, to indicate that the Council was starting to look at the site along with two others in the Borough. Councillor Allen confirmed that a meeting would be taking place on Friday, 26th January at which she would see the plans. She confirmed that this was very much the earliest point in the development. She had stressed the importance of consultation to officers. The site mentioned in the report at Grayson Road had gone out to Ward Councillors and the local community. Consultation with the community was a statutory requirement of the planning application process. Councillor Allen stated that once she had had the detailed discussions with officers on Friday, she would be very happy to go to the Ward Councillors first to share the plans as they were at that point. Discussions could also be held regarding the consultation process with the community.


In her supplementary, Councillor Yasseen accepted Councillor Allen’s offer and stated that it was greatly appreciated. There had been issues previously in relation to Boston Castle and the expansion of the reservoir. Councillor Yasseen stated that the meeting held on 12th October was attended by Housing Officers at her request. They had not planned to attend of their own accord. Councillor Yasseen had asked that no surveys be conducted until after consultation with the local community, especially Friends of Herringthorpe Playing Fields.

Councillor Yasseen was thanked for her question.


3.    Ms. Khan asked a question in relation to the 35 year plan for East Herringthorpe Cemetery. Dignity was supposed to have submitted the Plan to the Council in March 2023; this was then pushed back to December 2023. Ms. Khan stated that there had been emails saying the report would now be shared at the end of January 2024. However, there had already been a Scrutiny meeting in January and the report was not provided. Nobody had the relevant information to bring to Scrutiny and it was missing parts of the equalities information. Ms. Khan stated that this was not good enough; it was 15 years too late. Every time a deadline was provided it was moved further away. The group concerned with East Herringthorpe Cemetery had not been to Cabinet for some time as they thought everything was in hand and being dealt with as it had been brought to the Leader’s attention. However, Ms. Khan felt like they were taking one step forward and 10 steps backwards and it was not right.

The Leader stated that his understanding was that the document was imminent and should be available within the next couple of weeks. There would be some more work to do after that.

The Assistant Director of Legal, Elections and Registration Services confirmed that that was correct and that there had been issues with delays. The issues regarding delays had been picked up directly with Dignity through the management of the contract.

In her supplementary, Ms. Khan asked for confirmation that the delay was from Dignity, not the Council.

The Leader confirmed that this was correct.


4.    Mr. Sohial stated that January’s meeting of the liaison group was cancelled by the Council and had not been re-arranged. He asked when they could expect a date for January’s meeting.

Councillor Alam explained that it would be in March 2024.


5.    Mr. Hussain explained that he spent most of the day at East Herringthorpe Cemetery and was therefore able to explain what was going on. There were around 50 grave spaces left in the Muslim section which was a major concern for the Muslim community as there was nowhere else to go. Sheffield had over 1,500 grave spaces left and this was creating havoc yet Rotherham only had 50 and nothing was being done about it. Mr. Hussain stated that he did not care about the 35 year plan; he cared about getting grave spaces sorted for Muslims so burials could take place as cremation was not an option. He asked what was happening about it.

Councillor Alam stated that he shared the concerns raised by Mr. Hussain. In the last couple of years there had been a lot of Muslim deaths because of demographic changes so he was concerned that they were fast running out of spaces. The 35 year plan from Dignity should provide the reassurance that Rotherham was not going to run out of spaces. Councillor Alam reassured Mr. Hussain that senior officers were engaging with Dignity. He also stated that the Council needed to look at the expansion because if the rate of deaths from the previous 2 years carried on, there would be a very serious shortage. Councillor Alam did state that the Muslim section needed expanding but consideration also had to be given to the Catholic section, the children’s section etc. to ensure that nobody was excluded. Councillor Alam confirmed that the concerns would be taken to Dignity and reassurance provided as soon as possible.


The Leader again confirmed that the 35 year plan would be shared imminently. The Leader also stressed that the Council would not let East Herringthorpe Cemetery run out of Muslim burial sites. The Council would ensure there were spaces there by doing whatever was required to ensure that the Muslin community could be buried in a dignified way.


Mr. Hussain explained that he saw what was happening in the graveyard every day and it would take time to make it fit for purpose. However, the Muslim community did not have time. The 50 graves would last around 9 months. Mr. Hussain stated that he had seen the 35 year plan and so was confused that the Council had not seen it.

The Leader referred to comments that he had made previously in which he had stated that the Council would ensure there were enough burial sites for the Muslim community and the Plan would be shared over the next few weeks.

6.    Mr. Azam asked a question in relation to transparency which he knew the Council valued. However, he stated that answers provided to questions at the current meeting had caused confusion. This related to the Muslim Liaison Bereavement Group. Mr. Azam asked why the full minutes of the meeting that was held in 2023 had not been circulated. He asked if the Council had changed its policy to only issue actions that came out of meetings. This would mean that other discussions were not formally recorded and available for public view.

The Assistant Director of Legal, Elections and Registration Services explained that the point of the meeting was to carry forward actions. Minutes were only usually taken in formal meetings (such as Cabinet) so it was normal procedure for action notes to be taken at the liaison group meeting. He stated that there was a lot of detail in the email exchanges where the Council was on record with almost all of the matters raised. The Assistant Director confirmed that he was happy to pick up any issues that Mr. Azam did not feel reassured on.

In his supplementary question, Mr. Azam stated that the 35 year plan had been submitted and the minutes from the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board stated that it had been received. However, during the Cabinet meeting it had been stated that it had not been received. Both could not be right. Mr. Azam stated that this was a situation of the Council’s own making. He and others had asked multiple times to work with the Council to try and solve these issues, but they were losing patience due to the lack of progress on such a serious matter. At a previous meeting, Mr. Azam had asked a question regarding changes to the medical examiner process but had not been provided with any information, despite a commitment being made in the meeting to do so. The Plan had been promised multiple times but not shared. The liaison group meetings had been arranged but cancelled. The next meeting was scheduled for April so would the January meeting really be re-arranged for March? He asked why the Council was so difficult to work with.

Councillor Alam explained that the Council was still waiting for information from Government regarding the medical examiner process. A draft schedule had been issued but the guidance had not been received. Councillor Alam had raised concerns with the medical examiner process following the passing of his grandfather and he was adamant that he would make sure it was running smoothly. However, this would require work with partners as the medical examiner role was a statutory role run by the NHS and it would also require input from GPs. Councillor Alam assured Mr. Azam that the Council was trying its best to make sure that the process, from end of life to burial, was correct and inclusive. Officers were working very hard to ensure this would happen.


In relation to the documents, Councillor Alam stated that sometimes Dignity provided documents that were not fit for purpose. For example, the equalities document was sent back 8 times because it was not correct. He also confirmed that the 35 year plan was not just about East Herringthorpe Cemetery but covered all cemeteries in the Borough. As commissioners, it was the job of the Council to push back at Dignity to make sure that the appropriate governance was in place. Operational issues were dealt with by Dignity directly.

The Leader stated that if meetings were being missed and conversations needed to take place, the meetings needed to be re-arranged quickly.

7.    Mr. Thorp had attended the previous week’s Council meeting and asked a question regarding the cycling lane from Sheffield Road to Wellgate. He had brought 2 documents to the Cabinet meeting, the Do Dutch document and the Cycling Gear Change document and stated that the Council used both. They laid out all the plans for how cycling lanes should be built. The documents stated that they should be built by somebody who cycles and knows the way cyclists cycle and should not include 90 degree turns but have direct routes instead. At the Council meeting, the Leader had said that cycling lanes needed to have kerbs but, in Mr. Thorp’s opinion, the most successful cycling/walking scheme that had been done at the cost of £12m was Blackfriars Bridge. He stated that there were no kerbs, just a line and paint that segregated walkers on the pavement and cyclists on the road, then a bus lane and cars. There were no big kerbs because they would take up more space on the road and cause more problems. Mr. Thorp asked why this and the list was not followed in relation to the Sheffield Road cycle lane.

The Leader explained that there were a number of practical issues that faced the Council’s Transport Team as they designed the schemes. Decisions had to be taken based on the guidance as mentioned in the Council meeting, the Department for Transport best practice and available funding, resources and land. The Leader confirmed that if there were particular elements of the design that Mr. Thorp wanted raising with the Transport Team, he was happy to do so but he was not able to talk through each of those points in the meeting.

The Assistant Director of Planning, Regeneration and Transport confirmed that it was important that the Council was constructing cycling infrastructure in accordance with the guidance. There was a range of guidance available, such as from the Department for Transport but there was also guidance related to the funding which was from the Transforming Cities Fund. This funding flowed through the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority and it was important to achieve a level of consistency in the approach on a regional basis.

In his supplementary, Mr. Thorp stated that one of the biggest things he was bothered by was that at the end of the process, the finished schemes were going to be checked and if they were not found to be compliant, the Council would be asked to pay back the money. Mr. Thorp asked what would happen if that was the case. Where would Rotherham get the money?

The Leader explained that the reason processes such as the ones in place for the cycle lanes were followed was to avoid that happening. It was a standard clawback clause that was in a lot of schemes that were grant funded. In the worst case scenario, the Council would become liable for that, but the Council went through a long assurance process to make sure that that would not happen. At every stage the scheme was checked to make sure it was compliant with the fund’s rules. The Leader again stated that he would provide a written response regarding the specifics of the scheme.


8.       Councillor Reynolds asked what soft and hard launch was planned for the Forge Island development. Were plans in place? How well advanced were the plans? What were the immediate short and long term marketing plans for the whole project and when would these be available?

The Leader stated that the plans had not been announced yet, but Forge Island was a commercial site run by commercial operators. Those operators had set aside funding for promotional activities, early launch, advertising etc. This would lie largely in their responsibility as commercial businesses.

The Strategic Director of Regeneration and Environment explained that, when doing developments of this nature, often marketing and promotion were done in order to get the end users there. In this case, they were already signed up. When it opened, the site would be full. There would be the cinema, the hotel and food and drink premises. It was now the job of the Council to work alongside the operators in terms of fit-out plans and the launch of the individual businesses on a collective basis. The Council was already on with that. For example, the Topping Out was reported in the press. Topping Out was a construction term for when a building was completed in terms of its structure. A photograph was taken on top of the hotel and included representative from Arc Cinema. The ultimate aim was for the public to use the site and for it to be a success.

In his supplementary, Councillor Reynolds stated that he was glad to hear that marketing was on the agenda. However, he stated that the point of marketing was to create a buzz and excitement around the opening, and, in his opinion, there was currently very little. He asked where the overarching picture was that this was the big package for Rotherham’s renaissance. He said it was all well involving experts and letting the premises but what about the public who had to come and access the services and pay for them to make them a success? Councillor Reynold’s stated that surely that was who the Council should be preaching to in order to build the tension. He asked why this was not started a year ago and stated that it seemed like it had been forgotten.

The Leader stated that it had not been forgotten. The focus had been on making sure the development was in place, the commercial partners were in place and the building was on track and on budget. Over the coming months, led by those commercial organisations, the marketing would be taking place and the Council would be supporting that. The Leader stated his belief that people would be excited by the time the development was open.