To receive a statement by the Leader of the Council on the activities and decisions of Cabinet and items included on the Forward Plan.
Report to follow.
The Leader, Councillor Simon Tagg submitted a report which provided an update to Members on the activities and decisions of the Cabinet, together with the Forward Plan.
The Statement was taken a paragraph at a time to allow for questions to be asked.
Councillor Maxfield welcomed the Growth Deal stating that she was pleased that the County Council and the Borough were working together on this.
Councillor Shenton enquired whether the decision taken at Cabinet last November in respect of the Market would be overridden by the Growth Deal.
The Leader said that it was a great document and that it set out a plan for the County and Borough to work together. With regard to the Market, the Growth Deal did not overwrite the decision taken at Cabinet as that was a Borough project. Councillor Sweeney was currently undertaking a review of the Market and Members would be made aware of any feedback.
Councillor Julie Cooper asked if the CCTV Review would ensure that any new cameras would be sited in appropriate locations and not simply replacing existing cameras.
Councillor Kearon welcomed any improvement to the CCTV arrangements and welcomed the commitment to include towns and villages around the Borough in the future. Councillor Kearon queried how much the additional equipment would cost and also, when towns and villages would be included.
Councillor Gary White really welcomed this. He stated that Madeley and Audley had already done this and asked that the Cabinet keep this project ‘on the agenda’.
The Portfolio Holder for Community Safety and Wellbeing, Councillor Jill Waring welcomed the work being done to upgrade the current system. A visit was being made to Stoke on Trent next week to view their system. Newcastle’s cameras were approximately twenty year’s old and there was much better technology nowadays. An effective system was needed in the Town Centre.
The Leader explained that there was not a solution for monitoring as yet but once this was sorted the project could be looked into further. A new system would assist the Police with their duties so they could be asked to contribute to an upgrade.
Councillor Harrison stated that the adoption of this document had been warmly welcomed. Councillor Gardner thanked the officers for the work that had been undertaken.
The Portfolio Holder for Planning and Growth, Councillor Paul Northcott stated that Conservation was taken seriously and that Maer already had a Conservation Area which needed the contents of this Document to protect its character.
Councillor Burnett advised Members that funding was in ‘full flight’ for the sports centre.
Councillor Paul Waring said that he was pleased that things were moving on. Project Managers had been sorted and there was a possibility of obtaining funding from Sport England.
Councillor Robinson enquired about the gas supply shared by the Kings School and the sports centre.
The Leader stated that it needed to be ensured that the project management was in place for the project.
The Kings School are happy to work with the gas supply company to get it back in place.
Councillor Kearon welcomed any improvement to the Planning Enforcement Protocol. Residents had expressed concerns in respect of this, to engage a response when there were clear breaches. Councillor Kearon asked what plans were in place to restore confidence in the planning process.
Councillor Panter felt encouraged by the initiative and would like to learn more about the enforcement process.
Councillor Gary White referred to the last sentence which mentioned a Members Information Event in the near future and asked when this would be.
Councillor Northcott explained that this was a Protocol for issues that had been raised where Members and officers had not been clear on what was expected of each other. The Protocol was in its last stages and would be finalised very soon before it is formally adopted.
There were staffing issues and this was being looked into`. The Council would be looking for a second Senior Enforcement Officer.
Members would be notified, on a weekly basis of live cases within their ward.
The Leader stated that the Council was in a jobs market where the private sector was looking for planning officers and also, Newcastle was located near to a Unitary Authority.
By the Council meeting in April, it was hoped that Members would receive a presentation about the Enforcement Protocol.
Councillor Robinson asked who planning enforcement came under since the departure of the Executive Director of Regeneration and Development, last month.
The Leader advised that the Acting Chief Executive had taken this on and from Monday 4 February, the Council’s new Chief Executive, Martin Hamilton would take on the role.
Members commented on the Guildhall and enquired as to its long term future.
Councillor Jennifer Cooper stated that the Council’s parking machines were outdated and asked if there were any plans to replace them? In addition, she welcomed the news of the government’s Future High Street Fund and asked when bids needed to be in by?
Councillor Sweeney confirmed that the deadline for bids was 22 March, 2019.
Councillor Shenton referred to street parking and a proposal by the County Council to put more parking meters on roads. Would there be any liaison with the Borough Council for this?
Councillor Shenton also asked when Members would be informed about the Ryecroft.
The Leader said that it was good to see the Guildhall back in use. The reception area was now open during the day and staffed by volunteers.
Councillor Sweeney stated that as part of the Borough Growth Fund, some of the parking machines that were between twenty and thirty years old would be replaced that would also be able to give more targeted information such as indicating footfall in the town during certain periods.
With regard to on-street parking, Councillor Sweeney confirmed that it was a misleading article in the Sentinel. The County Council were only doing three or four roads and those suggested in Newcastle were ideas for the future. Councillor Sweeney himself disagrees with the idea.
The Leader updated the Council on the current situation with the Ryecroft site and about a ‘backstop’ agreed by the previous administration which meant that the council’s hands were tied until at least September 2019 or even to Spring 2020. A residential oriented development was preferable but this was not be currently progressed without the permission of HDD. A new way forward would be discussed in the near future.
Councillor Fear welcomed the approach in looking at parking charges. There was evidence that the concessions made over the Christmas period had increased footfall in the town. Councillor Fear asked if the charges would have an impact on Council revenue?
Councillor Sweeney stated that statistics released by the BID were very encouraging and showed a great benefit. Concessions such as this do have a knock on effect to revenue so the Ten Year Car Parking Strategy was very important.
Councillor Fox-Hewitt asked what the 17%, referred to in the first paragraph was benchmarked against and also asked if the Ten Year Parking Strategy was being done in conjunction with the Air Quality Management Report.
Councillor Sweeney confirmed that the 17% was benchmarked on week 34 (financial year) to the end of the year based on the previous year.
Councillor Kearon was pleased to hear about the work of the Friends of the Guildhall and wished to formally thank and acknowledge them for their incredible work.
Councillor Kearon was pleased to see that the free parking had made a difference. He suggested that the former Civic Offices/Sainsbury’s car parks could be made free on Saturday’s and at other key points in the week in conjunction with the BID.
Councillor Brian Johnson asked if the reduced income of £10,000 from parking had been good value for money?
The Leader agreed that the Friends of the Guildhall had done great work along with Support Staffordshire. This council had ‘injected a purpose into the project with a can do attitude’ and it had gone from strength to strength as a result. Councillor Sweeney gave credit to the Leader for his ‘drive’ which had helped to reopen the building.
With regard free parking, it needed to be tied in with events that would help generate footfall in the town centre. More work was needed on this and discussions had been generated.