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.



There were six questions from members of the public:


1.    Daniel Matthews asked a question in relation to the pavement parking policy and the overt CCTV policy that were both listed on the agenda. He asked how the Council was going to use CCTV as an enforcement tool against illegal parking and vehicle related anti-social behaviour activities. This in particular related to the Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) that covered the Town Centre which came into force on 15 January 2024 as this included vehicular based issues. Mr Matthews noted that this was not mentioned in the proposed text that was to be put on the Council’s website. Mr Matthews also asked how the Council was going to take on board lessons learned from Sheffield and London boroughs that had the exact same issues as Rotherham in terms of pavement parking and wider crime issues. Mr Matthews stated that the context to his question was that residents and non-residents were becoming noticeably more fearful for their personal safety in the Town Centre and Wellgate area. He stated that many felt there was no sense of improvement across a whole raft of areas such as Highways, Streetscene, unapproved building works etc which all linked into a wider pattern of behaviour. He also stated that things like begging and harassment in the Town Centre needed cracking down on.


In response to the question, the Strategic Director of Regeneration and Environment stated that a lot of the issues raised concerned a lot of different duties that the Council had. In relation to pavement parking, the Strategic Director stated that London had different powers compared to the rest of the country, including Sheffield. The policies referenced looked at what could be done within the scope of powers available. Powers for enforcement in relation to pavement parking rested with the police – Council’s in England did not have those powers. There had been some consultation from the Local Government Association on giving Council’s those powers, but the Government had not yet responded. The Council did have powers in relation to cars driving the wrong way up one way streets and blocking junctions. The PSPO powers were very specific.


The Assistant Director of Community Safety and Street Scene stated that the Council would use any opportunity to use CCTV for enforcement action in relation to crime or civil offences. However, there was still a reliance on the public to make reports as to when and where incidents might take place. That would help the Council make the best use of officer time. There were some challenges, particularly relating to vehicle nuisance. There was often limited audio range attached to CCTV which made providing evidence of that nuisance difficult. The Head of Community Safety also reiterated that there were real limitations on Council’s outside of London in terms of how it could use cameras, particularly to enforce parking offences. There were however some cycle lanes that could be enforced.


The Assistant Director of Community Safety and Street Scene confirmed that the Council had continued to invest in CCTV cameras over a number of years to increase that capacity and provide a greater opportunity for the Council to catch offenses.

In his supplementary, Mr Matthews stated that there were a number of matters concerning the community that crossed into so many different departments of the Council. Mr Matthews asked for the Leader and lead Member for Community Safety to coordinate and look to meet with him to discuss cross-department and even a multi-agency approach to restore faith in the Town Centre, both for local residents and those further afield. He stated that people from the wider Rotherham area had concerns about returning to the Town Centre and a resurgence of the Town Centre needed to be encouraged. Lots of work was being done on the Town Centre and was due to be done on Wellgate but that work could be undone by inappropriate and illegal behaviour. Mr Matthews stated that this needed to be handled and he would welcome the opportunity to meet with those that handled those issues. This would protect the Council’s investment as well as the commercial sector. If the Council did not protect itself, there would be a downturn in inward investment. Mr Matthews noted the good things, such as Forge Island.


The Leader stated that he largely agreed with what Mr Matthews had said and clearly, the Council wanted to make sure that it was making people’s time in the Town Centre as pleasant an experience as possible as well as giving confidence to those from further afield. The Council wanted to improve footfall in order to help local businesses and create a thriving town centre.


The Leader also reiterated how difficult it was to work across all of the different regulations and legislation in terms of community safety. However all of the relevant teams worked side by side within the Council.


It was agreed that Councillor Lelliott, as lead Member for the Town Centre, would coordinate the meeting requested.


2.    Jane Patching asked a question in relation to Herringthorpe Playing Fields. She stated that she was curious about the funding for the maintenance of improvement of Herringthorpe Playing Fields. Ms Patching asked for some figures in relation to what money had been spent over the last four or five years and whether it was felt that the Playing Fields had actually been maintained for recreational purposes? Ms Patching stated that this was something the Council was supposed to be doing.

The Leader stated that he could not provide the exact financial figure but confirmed that the Council did spend a certain amount of money on staffing, grass cutting, maintaining the trees etc, on Herringthorpe Playing Fields on an annual basis. There was also some capital investment that went into the sports facilities (the “stadium.”)


The Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion and Environment confirmed that the Council was always conscious of making sure that all users of Herringthorpe Playing Fields were consulted on everything that it did. The Council also wanted to make sure that playing fields had the facilities that people wanted and used. Herringthorpe Playing Fields was a big area with a lot of different activities available.


Ms Patching stated that trees had been planted by the Council as part of a royal celebration a number of years ago but about 20% of them were now dead due to a lack of maintenance. When the trees were planted, a number of Council lorries and vans were used and driven across the fields. This consolidated the ground. 20-25 years ago, the Council had invested in improved drainage at Herringthorpe Playing Fields, but nothing had been done since. Ms Patching stated that, due to the compacting, a substantial area around the paths flooded and covered in leaves and mud that were never picked up or swept. These matters were never addressed unless residents complained.


Ms Patching also had concerns regarding the brown field site that the Council were thinking of building on at Herringthorpe Playing Fields. She stated that a large proportion of the site, at the Boswell Street end, had never had concrete or any permanent type of building on it. It had had aluminium greenhouses, but these had been removed. Ms Patching asked how it could be considered as a brown field site when it was full of natural trees, shrubs, other plant life and animals. She stated that the Council had not used any of the budget wisely in terms of planting and maintaining things and now they wanted to destroy plants and trees.

In response the Leader confirmed that Councillor Sheppard and Officers would pick that up outside of the meeting. He also confirmed that brown field and green field were planning designations. There were already commitments to meetings and conversations with residents regarding that development specifically so Ms Patching would be invited to join those.


3.    Henry Marston asked a question in relation to the Boswell Street development at Herringthorpe Playing Fields. He thanked Councillor Allen for the plan that he been sent to him following his question at the previous meeting. He asked if there was a similar plan of the land specified for Herringthorpe Playing Fields in the Rotherham Borough Act of 1928? In relation to the site that was marked out for future proposed development, Mr Marston stated that the only part that was formally nurseries and the depot was on the right but on the left, there was a plateau area with trees that had been planted, where the old pavilion used to be. Mr Marston stated that this was the gem of the Playing Fields for recreation and for people walking through. Mr Marston thought it could be developed with picnic tables but definitely should not be barred to people coming through.

Councillor Allen confirmed that she would raise the matter with officers and see if a map could be found.

In his supplementary, Mr Marston stated that there was land behind No. 69. When the rugby ground had been built, there were problems with access from Badsley Moor Lane due to it being waterlogged in winter. Members of the public were discouraged from going along there and as such, there were drug dealing issues. Mr Marston said that the Council needed to make sure that members of the public could use that access at Boswell Street corner.

Councillor Allen confirmed that she would work with Councillor Sheppard and the green spaces team to look into the issues raised.

4.    Farooq Tareen stated that since his last visit to the Cabinet meeting, the 35 year plan for cemeteries across the Borough had been submitted by Dignity. This was submitted on 30 January 2024 and had been compiled by the local manager who had only been in post for the previous seven months. Mr Tareen stated that on page 11 of the report, it said that the area of most concern was within the Muslim sector, specifically the current demand for burial provisions. The report further stated that 20 burials a year were taking place in that section and given the timescales and the time left, the Muslim community were rightfully concerned about running out of space. Mr Tareen stated that more accurate figures should be between 30 and 40 burials given that 10 had already taken place since the start of 2024.

Mr Tareen stated that the report had failed to mention that some graves were still filled with water. The report also failed to mention that, despite the outcry from the Muslim community, both Dignity and the Council had failed to commission a hydrogeologist. The source of water had to be established. Additionally, the report did not mention that, through fines, the Council had received a substantial amount of money to improve the Muslim section of the cemetery but had failed to invest that money wisely on the drainage system and improvements to the landscape. Nothing had been done about the landscape at all except from a path and a rail. A wall had been built to stop the land from sliding away.

Mr Tareen’s question was what had the Council done effectively so far apart from hold various meetings without any results?


The Leader stated that he was sorry to hear that there were ongoing issues but confirmed that action had been taken and improvements had been made. Councillor Alam confirmed that the Council were still holding Dignity to account for flooding in the cemetery and were making sure the graves were not waterlogged. The Council were also trying to ensure that services users were engaged in the consultation process. Councillor Alam confirmed that there were issues at Dignity in terms of retaining managers. New managers only tended to stay a matter of months before moving on. As commissioners of the contract, the Council were enforcing that Dignity had to engage with the community and make sure that all of the reports produced were accurate. The 35 year plan had been delayed as it did not contain all of the relevant figures and the Council went back to Dignity to get it updated.

Councillor Alam stated that Dignity would need to look at the drainage system to ensure graves were not being flooded as it was very concerning for the families of those buried in the cemetery and for future burials. As such, the Council would continue holding Dignity to account. The Plan included space for seven years and the expansion that had been agreed was now just for the Muslim section. This was due to a change in the demographics of the area. Councillor Alam stated that it was his understanding that the figures referenced 28 burials a year for adults with children separate.


The Assistant Director of Legal, Elections and Registration Services explained that, in addition to the approval at Council of developments across the cemeteries, the fines that were received from Dignity were invested into the whole range of Council cemeteries. The investment totalled around £250,000. The work done with Dignity and the community in applying pressure, had resulted in further investment of more than £1m throughout the last 18 months to two years. The Assistant Director did believe that the investment was visible on the ground having visited himself. He recognised and valued the communities involvement in working to get those improvements and wanted to continue working together to make sure the improvements continued.

In his supplementary, Mr Tareen stated that Councillor Alam had confirmed that the report had said there was space for seven years. Mr Tareen challenged that and asked what would happen if the space ran out in the next six or seven months? What provisions were there to bury loved ones?

The Leader explained that it was his understanding that there was already over 100 spaces set out in the plan for Muslim burials. The Council therefore believed there was adequate space based on the trajectories to meet the need in the medium term. There was also then the planning application to expand that further which the Leader hoped would be expedited to give some certainty to the community. There was an on-going issue with the Environment Agency, but the Council were working through that.

The Leader reassured Mr Tareen that the Council certainly did not want to run out of spaces and wanted to ensure that all Muslim burials, along with other burials, took place within decency and dignity in the expected way.

5.    Arshad Azam stated that he had attended the scrutiny meeting in December 2023 and was interested by the lack of financial information put forward in the report. It was Mr Azam’s understanding that in 2021/22, Dignity were fined £232,935 and in 2022/23, they were fined £328,290. The fact that the fines were going up showed that the service was getting worse, not better. Over two years, that totalled £561,225. It was also Mr Azam’s understanding that in 2022, there were seven items that the Council wanted to reinvest in and that totalled £148k. Of those items, four related to improvements around the cemetery walls and accounted for £108k. However the cost had now increased to £193,286 which was an 80% increase on what Cabinet had approved. Mr Azam asked what due diligence was done on the original submission for that money and how it would be progressed forward?

Mr Azam also refenced the end-to-end review and Mohammed Omar. He stated that the latest response from the Council was that there was no one suitably qualified to undertake the review. That was then coupled with the changes to the medical examiner process that was to be introduced in April 2024. Mr Azam stated that Doncaster had sorted out there processes and Sheffield were piloting their system. Mr Azam stated that he was not getting a clear answer from Rotherham Council on what they were actually doing.

Mr Azam also referenced the 48 graves that were remaining and the proposed expansion options. One was to expand by four rows which would impeach onto the land that was included in the planning application. The planning application process had been ongoing for a year and a half and had not been expedited. The other option presented was to use land across the road that contained a large number of trees. The community had previously asked about that land but were told that the land was used for the throwing/dispersal of ashes and as such was not an option. The report was showing as amber but when Mr Azam spoke to Dignity it was actually red. Mr Azam stated that they were running out of grave space and asked what the timescales were and what was the Council doing about it? Where was the urgency?


When Mr Azam had attended scrutiny in 2022, he had been informed that he could ask multiple questions which he did. However, in 2023 he was only allowed to ask one question with a follow on. In relation to the Muslim Bereavement Liaison meetings, they had previously been fully documented. There was a record of what was discussed, who had said what, what was agreed etc. Now, only an action record was produced. Mr Azam stated that at the last Cabinet meeting, the Leader had stated that if meetings of the liaison group had been missed, conversations needed to take place and the meetings needed to be rearranged quickly. Mr Azam confirmed that it was a month later and Dignity did not have a new manager and the Council did not want to have meetings with the group. He asked how he could raise issues if the meetings could not be rearranged within a month and the next one was not until April? Mr Azam stated that it was woeful and disappointing. He asked how things could be moved forward.

The Leader stated that it was his understanding that efforts were being made to arrange a meeting with Dignity and the Medical examiner prior to the April meeting in order to address some of the practical issues raised. He understood the frustrations and doubts that Mr Azam had but the Leader had some assurance regarding the number of burial spaces and the availability of land.

In his supplementary, Mr Azam asked for some clarity around whether the annex that the planning application was for, was to be used solely by the Muslim community.

Councillor Alam confirmed that the expansion was for the Muslim community only due to changes in demographics.

Mr Azam asked if the Environment Agency could be invited to the meeting. The Leader explained that they could be invited but they were under no obligation to attend.

6.    Saghir Hussain stated that new graves were being dug but were filling up with water and within three days, the whole area was saturated and flooded. As such, that space was no good to use. Mr Hussain’s question was why did there have to be a planning application for a graveyard that had been used as a graveyard for the past one hundred years or more?

The Leader explained that the planning application was for land that had not been allocated for burials as part of the process. It was all to do with planning designations.

Mr Hussain stated that it was an existing graveyard and should not require any further planning applications.