Agenda item


To receive a statement by the Leader of the Council on the activities and decisions of Cabinet and items included on the Forward Plan.


The Leader, Councillor Simon Tagg presented the statement that had been circulated about the activities and decisions made by Cabinet to allow questions and comments. Reference was made to the Council’s best ever success in Britain in Bloom, which was outlined at paragraph 9 of this Statement.


Questions were raised and responses were provided as follows.


On paragraph 2 – Walleys Quarry Update


Councillor Adcock asked the Leader for reassurance that, following the problems encountered with the monitoring equipment, should the issue worsen again the Council would not hesitate to act and use the powers available to it. 


The Leader confirmed that the Council were continuing to monitor the Abatement Notice’s trigger points and would pursue it if necessary.  Use of the Council’s own hand held devices had increased since the news of the incorrect readings from the monitoring stations.


Councillor Dave Jones asked the Leader if the Secretary of State had given any reason for declining a simple request to hold a public enquiry into the failings of the Environment Agency (EA).


The Leader stated that he would distribute a letter that he sent on behalf of the Council, along with the Leader of Staffordshire County Council in which the Secretary of State had indicated that there was to be an independent inquiry by DEFRA into the failures of the EA.


Councillor Stubbs asked the Leader when the Council would receive the correct data.


The Leader advised that there had been a meeting of the Staffordshire Health Scrutiny Committee at Castle House on Monday 20th November to which the EA did not turn up.   The corrected data could be received in the new year. 


All of the monitoring stations had now been recalibrated and reporting data on a weekly basis.


Councillor Fox-Hewitt moved a motion to amend the recommendation of this report to include the following:


‘That Council agrees that the Leader of the Council will write to the Secretary of State admonishing them for the failure to support this Council’s request for a public enquiry; to ask them to reconsider their decision and invite the minister or their representatives to meet with representatives of this Council to discuss our concerns.’ 


The Leader supported this amendment.


On paragraph 3 – Newcastle Town Centre Regeneration


Councillor Brockie asked the Leader for assurance that all elected members would be given the opportunity to meet with the representative of the providing companies and see a detailed presentation on what is being proposed for the town.


The Leader referenced the Special Meeting of the Finance, Assets and Performance Scrutiny Committee on 9 November at which this item had been debated following a Call-In.  The Capital and Centric Business Model had been explained, along with the financial details.  This Council, relevant Scrutiny Committees and the Planning Committee would all have an input as the plans moved forward.


Councillor Allport asked for assurance that the plans for the refurbishment would retain focus on accessibility to the market area.


The Leader stated that the Ryecroft development was about residential accommodation with the hotel and the York Place development would open up and connect that part of the town.


Councillor Gorton asked for more information regarding the rent free stalls for traders on Mondays, in terms of the start date, whether it would be launched on a trial basis and would the stalls be offered on a first come, first served basis.


The Portfolio Holder for Finance, Town Centres and Growth, Councillor Stephen Sweeney stated that there would be sixty stalls on the first day and the take-up of them would be assessed.


Councillor Wright asked what control and supervision there would be for the provision of short stay parking bays at weekends and asked if the costs of supervision were factored in to the cost of maintaining the area.


The Leader stated that the ‘nipper’ parking would be on days when there were no event markets taking place.  The Council’s Multi-Function Teams (MFT) would enforce the parking spaces.


Councillor Richards asked what was being done to ensure that the needs of the town centre were represented to the police authority and if the Council’s own resources were being properly and fairly deployed in terms of antisocial behaviour.


The wardens who were part of the MFT would be out and about and would liaise with the police.  There was also the CCTV system operating in the town centre and Public Space Protection Orders were also in place.


Councillor Sweeney stated that the regeneration of the town centre did not just include the Ryecroft and York Place developments.  Previously vacant units were being brought back into use and there was an idea to have a large television screen at the bottom of the town.  Reference was made to the Keele University Hub coming into the Ironmarket.  Councillor Dave Jones declared an interest here as he worked for the University and had been involved with that project.


The Leader agreed with Councillor Sweeney stating that it had all been made possible by the Government grants.


Councillor Fox-Hewitt stated that there did need to be a strategy with working with the police to increase the number of dispersal orders.


On paragraph 4 – Sustainable Environment


Councillor Gary White asked the Leader how the infrastructure and cabling would be treated when the solar farm at Keele Cemetery was installed.


The Leader stated the Council was looking to use the highway for the cabling and it would all be detailed in the planning application


Councillor Reece asked for assurance that the Council had the resources to maintain the trees being planted under the Urban Tree Planting Strategy.


Councillor Adcock welcomed the planting of the trees and the introduction of the Tree and Biodiversity Management Plan and asked when that would be coming before committee to be scrutinised.


The Portfolio Holder for Sustainable Environment, Councillor David Hutchison confirmed that there was a Tree Management Plan which was being developed into a Borough Council Bio-Diversity Management Operations Plan.  It was hoped that the Plan could be presented to the next Health, Wellbeing and Environment Scrutiny Committee but it had missed the deadline.  The Plan would be completed within the next week and Councillor Hutchison stated that he would email the Plan out to all Members once finished.  The Plan would then be considered at the next meeting of the Health, Wellbeing and Environment Scrutiny Committee in the new year.


Councillor Dave Jones welcomed the proposed solar farm in Keele but had some concerns regarding the location as the area was highly visible across and into the older part of Keele Village. He stated that the Council had made significant strides in reducing its carbon emissions.  However, Councillor Jones had concerns about the amount of papers being presented at meetings and would support all papers being presented online within a suitable timeframe.


The Leader agreed with Councillor Jones’ concerns about the proposed solar farm and stated that the Council needed to ensure that they got it right.


Regarding paper usage, the Council had made massive strides in reducing that over the years but there was still further to go.  Some items on the agenda did have late deadlines and were therefore published on the day of the Committee.  The Leader was discussing with officers and IT as to who actually still needed paper copies and opportunities for laptops or tablets to be provided if they did not have their own equipment.


Councillor Fox-Hewitt asked, as part of the Tree and Bio-diversity Plan, were there any plans to scale up the workforce capacity - the numbers within the Council’s team, skills, training to meet future demands.


The Leader assured that part of the Plan would be the budget and the staffing implications as it was a change in the way that the Council worked.  More trees meant a less requirement for intensive grass cutting.


On paragraph 5 – Borough Local Plan Update


Councillor Grocott asked when the comments from the public consultations would be available on the Council’s website.


Councillor Crisp was pleased that the consultation on the first draft local plan ensured a comprehensive engagement process with an eight week consultation period and asked the Portfolio Holder for Strategic Planning for confirmation that the accessibility and inclusivity would continue during the next consultation on the Local Plan.


The Leader stated that the first consultation ‘options for sites’ was the biggest that the Council had ever done and that had now been surpassed by the latest one. People were able to respond online, via email, by letter or in person.


The Portfolio Holder for Strategic Planning, Councillor Andy Fear confirmed that the suite of consultation measures used for the Regulation 18 plan would go forward with the Regulation 19 plan.  Officers were now working through the responses and the findings would be available in the new year.


On paragraph 6 – Town Deal Update – Projects in Knutton


Councillor Moss asked the Leader what support and financial resources would be made available to ensure that a CIC came forward to run the community centre and, should this not be achieved, would it put the whole project at risk.


Councillor Dave Jones asked if there would be flexibility in the people coming forward to run the centre, as the Council had requested, whether they were to do that under a management group rather than a CIC.


The Leader stated that the new community centre needed to be put onto a sustainable footing.  The CIC model should be explored as it could apply for outside funding.  There were varied levels of Management Committees with some running the centres themselves and some just taking bookings. The aim was to bring in a group that could run the centre, bring in funding and keep it sustainable in the long term.


Councillor Sweeney paid tribute to Alderman Derick Huckfield who had done a great deal for Knutton and been a great advocate.  This current scheme would be putting the heart back into Knutton and a great legacy for Alderman Huckfield.


On paragraph 7 – Temporary Accommodation Policy


Councillor Parker asked which property would be purchased for use as a homeless hub.  In addition, the Portfolio Holder for Finance, Town Centres and Growth was asked if the Chancellor had responded to his letter as yet.


The Portfolio Holder for Community Safety and Wellbeing, Councillor Gill Heesom stated that, at present the Council was still looking into various properties so there was no definitive answer at this time.


The Portfolio Holder for Finance, Town Centres and Growth stated that no response had been received as yet.


The Leader stated that it was not just Newcastle that was making the case for temporary accommodation – extra funding.  More and more cases were coming in seeking temporary accommodation.  A joint letter had been sent to the government, signed by over 150 district council leaders. A settlement announcement would be received before Christmas.


On paragraph 8 – Financial and Performance Review Report – Second Quarter 2023-24


Councillor Stubbs asked for a full breakdown of the types of membership at J2 and the ability to compare the breakdown from quarter four of the last financial year and quarters one and two of the current year.


The Leader confirmed that this could be provided and sent to Councillor Stubbs.


Councillor Burnett-Faulkner asked for an update on the current position in relation to the external audit for 2022-2023 financial year.


The Portfolio Holder for Finance, Town Centres and Growth stated that the auditing of the Statement of Accounts had been completed with the exception of the Staffordshire Pension Fund which was awaited from the County Council.  At the last meeting of the Audit and Standards Committee, the external auditors had praised the Council for the standard of the accounts produced, the working papers and assistance provided to them during the audit.


Councillor Stubbs asked the Leader to confirm if the markets were not performing well at present and needed special assistance.


The Leader stated that the current administration had revived the markets into a vibrant events market. There would always be days where occupancy was not full.  The free market day proposed for Monday’s was to bring it into a more vibrant market. 


The proposed changes to the market were being brought in so that it did not look empty on the lower occupancy days but temporary stalls would be erected on days with full occupancy.  The Leader stated that the success of the market was a tribute to the Council’s Town Centre Manager who promoted the market through social media and working with the traders.


Councillor Paul Waring asked the Portfolio Holder for Finance, Town Centres and Growth if he was still confident that the Council would still achieve a balanced outturn at the end of the current financial year.


The Portfolio Holder for Finance, Town Centres and Growth stated that he was very confident.  A cost of living reserve of £400,000 had been established in order to safeguard the Council against inflationary increases in utilities and pay.  All finances were closely monitored by the Finance Team, Corporate Leadership Team and the Cabinet.  As at the close of period 7, the Council was still on track to deliver a balanced outturn.


On paragraph 9 – Success in Britain in Bloom


Councillor Panter congratulated everyone involved in the tremendous achievement.  Winning the Royal Horticultural Society Britain in Bloom Award for the whole country was a phenomenal recognition for the Borough and testament to the dedication and hard work of the staff and residents. Councillor Panter asked the Leader if he agreed that in the Council’s 850th year, the award would help the Council’s bids to be even more successful.


The Leader stated that, this year, more than ever if the Council was going to win the nationals, it had to have a unique selling point which was the 850th Anniversary celebrations and that made all the difference.


Councillor Dave Jones praised the hard work and dedication of Council staff and community volunteers who ensured that, every year the Borough returned a fantastic result in Britain in Bloom.  Councillor Jones proposed a round of applause for everyone involved.


Councillor Fox-Hewitt asked if there were any plans for reward and recognition schemes for the Council staff that had put in many hours in all weathers.


The Leader confirmed that there was a thank you every year for those involved.  The Council also had a recognition scheme and this year would be looking to recognise all those that had made winning the awards possible.


Resolved:     (i)       That the Statement of the Leader of the Council be

received and noted.


(ii)      That the Leader of the Council write to the Secretary of State, admonishing them for the failure to support this Council’s request for a public enquiry, to ask them to reconsider their decision and to invite the minister or their representatives to meet with representatives of this Council to discuss its concerns.


Watch the debate here

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