Agenda and minutes

Economy & Place Scrutiny Committee - Thursday, 8th June, 2023 7.00 pm

Venue: Astley Room - Castle. View directions

Contact: Geoff Durham - 742222 


No. Item






There were no declarations of interest stated.



To consider the minutes of the last meeting of the Committee.



Resolved:     That the minutes of the previous meeting held on 16th March 2023 be approved as a correct record.




There were no update from Cabinet.


Cllr Moffat expressed her concern over the number of substantial items on the agenda which may have required more than one meeting. The Chair wished to re-assure everyone that the necessary time would be spent on each topic.




Mrs Victoria Roberts, Senior Community Engagement Manager for the HS2 Project, gave an update presentation on the Phase 2a constructions works involved in delivering the railway between the West Midlands and Crewe. The project, which formed part of the Government transport capital investment programme, was to be paused for two years while activity was being rephased. Some preparatory works were nonetheless to be carried out.


Three questions had been received from members of the Public and were passed on by the Chair before being discussed.


Question 1:


“I Reside on Whitmore Heath which before HS2 was a very sought after area to live, I always enjoyed walking around the Heath until now with padlocked chained up gates, empty eerie houses and hs2 security doing laps around the Heath. I’m disgusted by how many of these houses are sat empty, many for over 6 years, which has resulted in three properties costing over £3 million being turned into Cannabis Plantations. Another property worth £1.4 million has been taken over by squatters which would never have happened if these properties had been let out, instead of renting it out, HS2 have now set up a welfare unit for their security on a neighbouring empty property which cost hs2/the taxpayer £1.3 million last year. Just on my walk alone I pass properties worth over £11 million which are all currently sat empty with some being empty since the day they were purchased by hs2 many years ago. The security alone on our road is needlessly costing the taxpayer hundreds of thousands if these properties had been rented out, I’m fully aware this is a recurring story all the way along the trace wasting millions of tax payers money. My question is why aren’t these properties being rented out, is there anyone even accountable for renting out these properties?”


It was confirmed that HS2 acquired 35 properties around Whitmore Heath, 16 of which were rented out and 19 currently unoccupied. Among the latter 3 were on the market, 5 were undergoing works and remaining properties were subject to governance approval processes and surveys to ensure they were meeting rental standards. Regarding security, regular patrols were operating and would stay in place regardless of properties being rented out or not. This applied to other areas as well across the whole of the HS2 route. Illegal occupiers had also been evicted and the related property secured.


The Chair asked questions and responses were provided as follows:


-       How many properties were currently unoccupied under the consideration that the cost of bringing them up to standards would be exceeding taxpayers’ money? – Three of the properties were concerned.


-       Given the rentable value of these properties, and the fact they had been unoccupied for so many years, who was accountable for scrutinising whether taxpayers’ money was indeed not being wasted? – A property management company was managing the properties on behalf of HS2 and required to supply reports demonstrating good governance. HS2 was in turn  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.




The Planning Policy Manager presented an update on the Borough Local Plan that had been presented to Cabinet earlier in the week.


Questions were asked and responses were provided as follows:


-       Cllr Gorton expressed his disappointment that members only had limited opportunity to feed into the Local Plan before it went live; what were the arrangements to scrutinize the Local Plan once the consultation would have ended? – The Chair commented that this was a regular standing item on every scrutiny committee and the Strategic Planning Portfolio Holder added that members would be able to scrutinize the plan then. It was confirmed that the Local Plan was at the draft stage and would be reviewed by the committee following the consultation. It would then go through full Council for approval before being submitted to the Planning Inspector.


-       The Chair asked when the consultation would finish and if any information would be available at the next committee meeting in September. – The consultation would end on the 14th August and the responses would then take a couple of months to process. A sense of how many responses had been received as well as key themes could be shared with members at the next meeting. The Chair commented that there wouldn’t be many items on the agenda then, which would allow members to ask questions and decide next steps.


-       Cllr Gorton asked if any public events were scheduled in the Wolstanton area in relation with the consultation. The Chair followed up wondering about the choice of the locations, who and why were the decisions made. – The Strategic Planning Portfolio Holder responded that the choice was down to where the consultation would generate the most interest which included the centre of the Town. Having an extra event in Wolstanton could be considered. The Chair encouraged other members to contact the portfolio holder directly if felt that other locations would need to be added to the list.


-       Cllr Gorton commented on the length of the document and wished to know if there could be a stronger statement on section 106 than the current one, as well as if other aspects of health and wellbeing could be addressed rather than focussing only on takeaway hot food shops. – The Strategic Planning Portfolio Holder responded that these were very useful remarks and could be taken into account in the next version of the document.


-       Cllr Panter asked if there could be paper copies of the presentation to be submitted to the Planning Committee and commented on the fact there were no reference to measures taken to generate employment in the area to match the 500 houses to be built. – The Strategic Planning Portfolio Holder responded that employment sites were taken in consideration in the Local Plan as well as overall sustainable development as required by paragraph 11d. About the presentation material the goal was to move towards paperless agendas and only print out paper as and when required.  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.




The Planning Policy Manager presented an update on Neighbourhood Planning including background information and current neighbourhood plans in the borough.


Issues were raised and responses were provided as follows:


-       The Chair asked about the neighbourhood plan covering Baldwin’s Gate and the relevance of the plan in the decision making process. – It was clarified that there were processes for communities to modify their plans however matters such as five years supply would come into play when decisions were made. The Chair commented that a lot of time and money were put in those plans by communities who would need to know what to do to stay compliant and keep the weight of it. Were there any mechanisms to help them achieve that? – There were indeed and the planning team was always open to provide advice and guidance to communities.


-       Cllr Holland shared that the Localism Act provided communities with mechanisms to have greater control over development in their local area. Their weight however was reliant on having a proper Local Plan in place.


-       Cllr Gorton wished to thank the Planning Policy Manager for his presentation and report extremely timely and helpful for members.


-       Cllr Moffat wished to emphasise the importance of neighbourhood plans in building positive relationships between the Council and local parishes and areas embarking into neighbourhood planning.


Resolved:     That the progress update provided on Neighbourhood Planning in the Borough be noted.


Watch the debate here





The Portfolio Holder for Finance, Town Centres and Growth introduced a presentation from the Deputy Chief Executive who provided an update on Future High Street Funds and Town Deals.


Members commented and responses were provided as follows:


-       Cllr Fox Hewitt asked when and how residents had had a say on shaping the strategic vision for the town on projects such as the car park, the circus school and the hotel. – There had been an exhibition in the library and a public consultation resulting in a lot of favourable responses had taken place as part of the bidding process.


-       Cllr Moffat wondered what the contingency payment plans were in case of change in economic circumstances. – The section 151 Officer was responsible to ensure projects were financially viable and measures were put in place to address economic risks. Regarding borrowing money the Council would only do this while having a plan how to pay back and bankruptcy was an unlikely scenario.


-       Cllr Moffat asked that going forward presentations be shared with members before the meeting so that they can think on it and prepare questions. – It was confirmed that officers would arrange that.


-       Cllr Gorton commented that the development were unusual as he would have expected the authority to have sold the site and for the developers to handle the risks. How would the Council manage those, such as ensuring a prospective owner or tenant for the hotel was found? – Hotel brands did not buy buildings, they rented them. The Council would be the landlord and owner, taking most of the revenue in. An operator would operate it and a hotel brand would take a franchise, both charging a fee. A feasibility study had been completed to demonstrate the need for a hotel in the area. 


The Chair wished to clarify and the Deputy Chief Executive confirmed that risk assessments were carried out for all projects and while moving from one stage to another.


Resolved:     That the update be noted.


Watch the debate here




Resolved:     That the work programme be received.


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Any member of the public wishing to submit a question must serve two clear days’ notice, in writing, of any such question to the Borough Council.



Public questions had been addressed under item 5 – the HS2 project update.



To consider any business which is urgent within the meaning of Section 100B (4) of the Local Government Act 1972.



There were no urgent business.