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 2 – Newcastle and Kidsgrove Regeneration Update


Councillor Holland stated that a lot of levelling up money had gone unspent and said that it was great that this Authority was delivering the levelling up money awarded to it. 


Councillor Holland referred to a document, produced by the Labour Party as part of the local elections campaign and raised concerns at a quote from the paper “we will widen devolution by asking all Councils, outside of an existing or combined authority to begin preparatory work to join together”.  Councillor Holland was concerned that this was a plan to take away Newcastle Borough Council’s independence.  The Leader was asked if he too felt that this was a concern.


The Leader had read the document and shared the concerns stating that it was something that this Council needed to be aware of.  All Groups had stated in the past that they wanted to keep the independence of the Borough.  The Leader stated that he was prepared to write to all of the candidates for the upcoming elections asking them to commit to preserving the history, integrity and independence of the Borough.


Councillor Parker asked the Portfolio Holder for Finance, Town Centre’s and Growth for an update on the developments for the free market on Monday’s. 


The Portfolio Holder for Finance, Town Centre’s and Growth stated that Monday’s had always been the quietest day on the market so a decision was made to make Monday’s a free market day.   Prior to the decision, average usage had been four stalls and now was nearer to ten and on one day there had been fourteen new traders using twenty five stalls.


On paragraph 3 – Procurement of Streetscene and MMF Vehicles and Plant


Councillor Gary White welcomed the fact that electric technology was being embraced across the Borough and asked Council to recognise that there was only 22% of the UK generating electricity through solar and wind power.  Keele University were leading the way in terms of green hydrogen.  The Leader was asked if there was any intention to liaise with the University on this approach.


The Leader referred to a previous paper to Cabinet regarding a possible solar farm in Keele Cemetery.  A report would be going to Cabinet later in the year with an update on that, and the work being done with Keele University.


The Council was liaising with the University regarding hydrogen power.


Councillor Edgington-Plunkett welcomed this and asked the  Portfolio Holder for Sustainable Environment, apart from the six electric pick-up vehicles, what was the rest of the Council’s fleet like and were any still to be replaced and were there plans for all streetscene vehicles to become electric powered.


Councillor Edgington-Plunkett asked the  current position in terms of the grass cutting, when the first cut would be done and how many cuts throughout the year.


The Portfolio Holder for Sustainable Environment  stated that the roadside verge mowing had started in mid-March and would continue through to mid-October with a frequency of eight times per year with any cuttings falling on walkways or cycleways being put back on to the verges.


There were now twelve vehicles in the streetscene fleet, half of those being electric and the other half using the hydro-treated vegetable oil.


On paragraph 4 – Newcastle Town Deal Digital Infrastructure Project Update


Councillor Gary White welcomed this project within the Town Deal Region and asked the Leader, when opportunities arose to engage with the relevant authorities and private infrastructure, please could he do so on behalf of the rural communities.


The Leader stated that there was a County plan to get as many people as possible in the rural communities connected by 2026.  There was funding available and voucher schemes for residents to club together.  The Leader would ensure that Councillor White was in touch with the County Officers regarding this to ensure that he could get Madeley, Betley and the other rural areas up and running.


Council Adcock asked the Leader, as well as Community Centres, what other places would benefit from this infrastructure and where would it be placed.  


The Leader stated that Community Centres could be the hubs for this project.  Other council owned facilities and county libraries would also be able to be used as well as other public realm material such as CCTV poles and lamp post network.  The project was being carried out by the private sector and, through the Town Deal Funding, money had been invested so that the project could happen sooner.


On paragraph 6 – Tree and Biodiversity Management Plan


Councillor Adcock asked the  Portfolio Holder for Sustainable Environment if officers would be monitoring the survival rate of newly planted trees as a percentage (approximately 25%) would not make it to full maturity.  In addition, would any trees, not surviving, be replaced.


The Leader stated that the 25% was a national figure.  There were circumstances where trees would not survive, including vandalism but the Council would look to go back and replace them and there was funding to do that.


Councillor Gorton stated that Councillors had been pleased to see the publication of this Plan which explained how the Authority would look after the trees, setting out actions needed to ensure that more of the trees survived.  The Leader was asked if he agreed that there was scope for involving residents to a greater extent in the delivery of the Plan, possibly asking them to help with annual tree inspections.


The Portfolio Holder for Sustainable Environment stated that the survival risk for newly planted trees not reaching maturity was between 10 and 25%.  The risks included adverse weather, water and nutrient stress and accidental or intentional damage.


The Portfolio Holder stated that he had not previously considered public involvement but would bring it up at the Sustainable Environment Steering Group.


A review of managing the Council’s tree stock took place in 2018 and £30,000 expenditure per annum was incorporated into the Council’s arboricultural work programme.  A new software management system called ‘easytree’ had been incorporated to identify and manage the Council’s  current and future tree stock of approximately 112,000 trees.


Councillor Reece asked if there was sufficient staff and, in relation to increases in costs, fuel, tools and equipment, was the available money sufficient.


The Leader stated that the Plan outlined the staffing and financing arrangements.  Where a large amount of trees were planted, the grass beneath them required fewer cuts and therefore freed up resources in that area of work.  From around year fifteen, the trees did need to be maintained more.


On paragraph 7 – Sport England Swimming Pool Support Grant for Kidsgrove CIO


Councillor Jill Waring was pleased that this grant had been awarded to Kidsgrove CIO stating that it was an excellent facility and urged everyone to use it.


The Leader agreed that it was really good news getting this money.  A problem for all sports facilities over the last couple of years had been the increased cost in energy and if the Centre could get the solar panels, it would cut down on their energy requirement.


Councillor Crisp asked the Leader how well J2 was doing, including membership since the pandemic.


The Portfolio Holder for Leisure, Heritage and Culture stated that Kidsgrove’s membership was now over 1,500 and were on target with all of the projected forecasts.


The membership at J2 stood at 4,025 and pre-covid had only been 2,900, reducing to 600 during the pandemic.


An online booking system had gone live, there was now a J2 app and a kiosk in the foyer of the leisure facility.  The app and Kiosk alone had helped to achieve 5,400 bookings during February.


There were child swim classes with around fifteen schools involved and medical professionals could refer people to the wellbeing centre.


On paragraph 8 – Museum wins Awards


Councillor Panter stated that during the Council’s 850th celebrations there had been over 44,000 visitors and he was very much looking forward to visiting the Museum during his upcoming term as Mayor of the Borough.


Councillor Fox-Hewitt expressed his gratitude to the staff and volunteers as a parent of young children sharing his interest in history.  The Leader was asked if he would write to the team at the Museum, on behalf of Members, thanking them for their work and dedication and that it be explored if there could be some small reward for the staff and volunteers.


Councillor Jill Waring stated that the Museum was the Jewel in the Crown of Newcastle and to win the award for the whole of Staffordshire was brilliant and well deserved.


The Leader stated that he would pass on the comments and ensure that they got recognition.  The Museum would now be going through to the national awards and were wished the best of luck.


Councillor Brown was amazed at the range of courses and activities provided by the Museum.  All of the staff were friendly and helpful and credit was given to Elise Turner for creating a wonderful array of events.


Councillor Gorton felt that events curated by students deserved recognition. There had recently been an exhibition curated by students from Madeley School  and during the first week, around 3,000 people viewed the artwork on show.


Councillor Dave Jones stated that his daughter had been one of the young curators.  He stated that there was not much provision in the community to foster art and develop it so the Museum was important for the children and the future for Newcastle.


The Leader stated that over many years the Museum and its grounds had been kept as the Jewel in the Crown of Newcastle and it was amazing to see the children getting involved.


The Portfolio Holder for Leisure, Heritage and Culture echoed all of the comments and stated that the 62% increase in visitors this year equated to over 96,000. He had attended the awards ceremony with the previous Cabinet Member holding this Portfolio and stated that the level of competition

was very high.


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


Watch the debate here


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