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 Annual Report and the Leader stated that this Council ‘made things happen’ and this Statement reflected that.


Questions were raised and responses were provided as follows.


On paragraph 1 – Cabinet Meetings


Councillor Fox-Hewitt expressed concerns at a decision taken at Cabinet on 16 January regarding the future delivery of the Communications Service – being outsourced and managed by Staffordshire County Council.  Councillor Fox-Hewitt felt that this should have been subject to scrutiny. 


The Leader was asked if he would engage in a small stakeholder consultation including members, external partners, local businesses and residents before committing to outsourcing this vital element of council delivery.


The Leader stated that the item was not called-in when it could have been.  The County Council had already been delivering the service for around twelve months due to Communications Officers’ retiring or going on maternity leave.  The cover from the County Council had worked well and the County did work for other Authorities too.


No consultation would be carried out.  The matter had been discussed at Cabinet and was not called-in.  There was potential for it to be looked at by the Finance, Assets and Performance Scrutiny Committee in the future. 


On paragraph 2 – Walleys Quarry Update


Councillor Bettley-Smith asked the Leader if he agreed that the stink was as bad as ever and would he consider that the inactions of the Environment Agency (EA), along with their failed monitoring systems was unacceptable and an outrage.  In addition, did the Leader agree that this now needed a full public inquiry.


The Leader agreed and stated that at the last Full Council meeting there had been a request to write to the Secretary of State and at the following Cabinet meeting that request was upgraded to include writing to the Prime Minister also.  As of today, the Leader had received no response so the matter had been taken up with the local MP to try and get a response in regard to the public inquiry.


Councillor Brown asked the Leader if the Council had evaluated any new data and any links to ill health from the emissions, now that the EA monitoring stations were calibrating correctly. If this was the case, could the report be shared immediately.


The Leader stated that the Council was not doing the re-evaluation.  The EA had brought in an independent body to do it.  Once the data was available, the Health Agency could give its view on the health impacts.


Councillor Lawley asked, in light of the increase in complaints to the Council and EA, had the Council approached Walleys Quarry to establish what the cause of the increase in odours and emissions was and if so, what was the response.


The Leader stated that the Council’s Chief Executive had regular meetings with Walleys Quarry and they were aware of the complaint data and spikes in the monitoring.  The EA was the regulator of the site who could put measures into place but the Council did have its Abatement Notice process and officers were evaluating the latest conditions and seeking advice on next steps.


Councillor Adcock asked the Leader if he agreed that the situation had gone on far too long and that the EA should release their historical data, release the results of their long running criminal and regulatory investigations and consider a strong case for a closure notice.


The Leader agreed and stated that three years had passed since the Council passed a Motion at a special meeting condemning the EA’s lack of response.


Councillor Whieldon asked the Leader if he agreed that the excuses being given by Walleys Quarry were ridiculous and ill-founded and were hiding behind them.


The Leader stated that operators are there to make money out of a process and needed to be kept in check by the ‘permit authority’ – the EA who were letting the Borough down. The Council was trying to hold the EA to account with demands for a public inquiry and also asking them to take action.


There had been an announcement on social media where the EA had stated that they felt that Walleys Quarry were not doing all that they could.


Councillor Dave Jones asked the Leader what the Council was going to do to finally put an end to the situation at Walleys Quarry.


The Leader stated that there did seem to be light at the end of the tunnel with the EA’s mood change and the Council was calling on them to act on their responsibilities to cap and close the site.


Councillor Fear stated that this issue had totally united the Council.  It was annoying that the Council had had to fight the people who were meant to fight for us.  The Council had had no help from the EA at all.   The Leader was asked if he agreed that now that there was some leadership at the EA, it was time for them to show what they were made of and get a return on the issues.


The Leader agreed and stated his annoyance at not receiving a response from the Prime Minister and had asked the local MP to chase it up.   


On paragraph 3 – Technology Strategy 2023-2028


Councillor Burnett-Faulkner asked the Leader to confirm that face-to-face contact would also continue for Kidsgrove residents.


The Leader stated that refurbishment was currently taking place in Kidsgrove Town Hall and upon completion the Tuesday and Thursday morning face to face availability would be resumed.


Through the Town Deal funding there was potential for a shared service hub and different ways of working with the Town Council.


On paragraph 4 – Chatterley Valley West


Councillor Brockie asked the Leader for confirmation that appropriate consideration would be given to local developers and employers when constructing and populating the units and that local employment opportunities in technology and logistics would be considered.


The Leader stated that one of the aims of the site was to have larger units.  The Council already had starter units but not the bigger ones for businesses that had grown to move into.  Businesses could also be brought into the Borough which would be future jobs for people.


Councillor Gorton asked the Leader how the forecast for generating up to 1700 jobs had been arrived at and if it would be better for the Council to ask the Economy and Place Scrutiny Committee to undertake an assessment of the project to identify all of the benefits.


The Leader stated that the estimated number of jobs that could be generated was included in the Town Deal Business Plan. The Town Deal Plans were scrutinised by the Economy and Place Scrutiny Committee on a regular basis.


Councillor Waring stated that the development would be of benefit to residents of Kidsgrove and surrounding areas, irrespective of the number of jobs being created.


Councillor Stubbs referred to the closure of Peacock Hay Road stating that the road should open in June, 2024.  The Leader was asked for assurance that this would be the case.


The Leader stated that the original contractor had gone bust and the County Council had taken the work over.  Cllr David Williams, the Portfolio Holder for Highways at the County Council would welcome an email from Councillor Stubbs.


Councillor Sweeney stated that this was good news and supported the scheme,


On paragraph 5 – Borough Local Plan Consultation Responses and Next Steps


Councillor Gorton stated that only 13% of consultation respondents had used the online portal.  The Leader was asked if he was surprised at the low level and if the Council should take note of reluctance to use an online portal for future consultations.


The Portfolio Holder for Strategic Planning, Councillor Fear stated that the survey received an excellent response and each would be taken into consideration.  When the portal was designed, initial teething problems that had been encountered with the previous one had been noted and lessons learnt. There would be further improvements made on future portals.  There were questions of the ages of respondents, some of whom would prefer to write in.


Councillor Brockie asked for assurance that, through the planning process, developers would be reminded to contribute to or provide social housing and the level of compliance appropriately monitored.


The Portfolio Holder stated that in regards to consideration of planning applications there were hard and fast policies about the amount of affordable housing and if developers did not comply, applications would not be given permission.


Councillor Northcott stated that the Government had updated the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) last December and made several changes.  The Portfolio Holder for Strategic Planning was asked if the changes to the NPPF would have any impact on the Local Plan.


The Portfolio Holder had read the updated NPPF and felt that there was nothing that would significantly change the direction of nor work on the Local Plan   and this view had also been checked with and confirmed by officers.


Councillor Crisp had spoken to residents who were opposed to building new homes had said that the last census had shown a decrease in the population in the Borough.  The Leader was asked if that was still the case.


The Leader stated that information received from the Office for National Statistics showed that Newcastle’s population was 125,300 (mid 2022 estimate), an increase of 2,300 since the 2021 census.  There had been an increase in households in the Borough from 52,600 to 53,400 estimated to go up to 59,000 and then 62,000 between 2029-2039. 


Councillor John Williams asked the Portfolio Holder to elaborate upon the planning applications coming in and the affordable housing included in the applications.  Months after receiving permission, some developers came back stating that they could not afford to do the affordable housing and it did not get done.   Secondly, the Cabinet had asked independent consultants to review calculations of the number of homes required in the local plan.  Had the consultants taken into account the type of housing or was it included in another part of the plan.


The Leader stated that policies on affordable housing at Newcastle had been clear for many years and would be in the new local plan.  Developers were challenged where necessary in relation to provision but were subject to the National Planning Guidance too.


Councillor Dave Jones asked for assurance that should allocation rates of social housing within developments form part of the local plan, that it would be enforceable at planning committee.


The Portfolio Holder for Strategic Planning stated that the Council had got tough planning policies and they would be defended.  Rejected applications would however be entitled to be taken to the Planning Inspectorate for appeal.


On paragraph 6 – Staffordshire County Council Urban Grass Cutting Contract Delivery


Councillor John Williams stated that he had contacted the County Council regarding vehicles parking on grass verges but they had said that they could not stop this from happening.  The Leader was asked if something could be done about the grass verges or get the County Council to do something such as placing of posts to stop parking.


The Leader stated that it was a job for County Councillors.  Stumps could be put in place and County Councillors had a budget for this or could raise it with the relevant highways people.  Councillor Williams was encouraged to contact his local County Councillor.


Councillor Parker welcomed this as, for the past few years, grass cutting had been the most complained about issue in his ward.  The Leader was asked if he agreed that this was a promising step in the right direction.


Councillor Sweeney agreed with Councillor Parker.  The County Council were cutting their own grass, on the highway.  Grass on Westbury Park verges was reaching up to two feet high.


The Leader stated that the key to this was that they had enough cuts per year.  The County had reduced this to six cuts and it was now back up to eight.  In house there would be more cuts, better quality and happy residents.


On paragraph 7 – Health Inequalities Grant Projects


Councillor Panter asked the Leader how widespread the issues of damp and mould in properties was in Newcastle and what was being done about it.


The Portfolio Holder for Community Safety and Wellbeing, Councillor Heesom stated that there had been ten hotspot wards that had been identified.  The issues were identified through either tenant complaints or proactive identification and were then dealt with.



Councillor Reece asked the Leader what the process would be for targeting properties with damp and mould, would it be based on the property or people’s health issues.


The Leader stated that this had only just been agreed at Cabinet and funding had only just been received so a programme would now be put together.  It would be good for the Health, Wellbeing and Environment Scrutiny Committee to monitor this going forward.


Councillor Bryan asked how this project would remove the risk of fire risk and accumulated materials as a result of hoarding.


The Portfolio Holder stated that the removal of hoarded materials was something that the Council already dealt with.  Unfortunately, once resolved a number of the cases did recur due to a lack of support and addressing the root cause.  The project would aim to bring about behavioural change.


On paragraph 8 – 850 Legacy


Councillor Holland paid tribute to everyone involved in organising and coordinating events held throughout the year and it was good to see that the Council and Borough would have a legacy going forward.


Councillor Gorton welcomed the mention that things would be taken forward from the 850th Celebrations and looked forward to the relaunch of the Civic Society and restoration of the Blue Plaque Scheme.  Talks that were given at the Museum on various Newcastle Citizens were well organised, well delivered and well attended.


Councillor Fear endorsed what Councillor Gorton had said and mentioned the Apedale Mining Museum which had also been involved in the celebrations.  The Leader was asked if the Council would grow the interest generated in the anniversary year.


The Leader endorsed everything that had been said and added that it had been a brilliant year and thanked everyone who had been involved. Taking the legacy forward was important.  The Museum were going to set up an event in respect of the Civic Society and Councillor Fear would be going along to that.  The Borough Heroes Awards would be held again this year and there would be a Chris Malkin Memorial History lecture looking at the Borough pre-Charter.   Councillor Fear would also be giving a lecture on Roman Newcastle.


Resolved:     That the Statement of the Leader of the Council be received and noted.


Watch the debate here


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