To answer questions received under Council Procedure Rule 6.2.
NB In accordance with the provisions of Council Procedure Rule 6.2.9 there will be a maximum of 30 minutes allowed for questions and answers. Any question not answered within the 30 minute time limit will receive a written reply within 5 working days.
The following questions were asked under Council Procedure Rule 6.2.2:-
1. Councillor I T W Fletcher asked the following question of Cllr D Wright, Cabinet Member for Housing, Transport and Infrastructure.
The LGA had recently published the following document: Probity in Planning: Advice for Councillors and Officers Making Planning Decisions. Would the Cabinet Member Cllr David Wright - Cabinet Member for Housing, Transport and Infrastructure please advise members whether the advice and recommendations contained within this document would be implemented within Telford & Wrekin Council?
Councillor Wright responded that the Council had a very robust transparent, fair and efficient planning system which produced policies fairly, properly and transparently and determined planning applications equally fairly, properly and transparently. The Planning Authority was always looking to improve practices/processes and would look at what the LGA had advised before deciding whether to change anything to reflect the LGA advice – in particular whilst the Planning Authority invited ward councillors to comment on pre-application discussions, consideration would be given to how further briefing on the relevant policy issues could be provided; there was merit in members involved in Planning to undertake an annual visit of sample of sites where planning permission had been granted and implemented so that they could see and appreciate the impact of their decisions; and there was also merit in ensuring that the time allowed for public speaking at planning meetings was shared equally between those for and against any application.
Councillor Fletcher welcomed consideration being given to the implementation of an annual visit to sample sites and suggested a rush hour visit to the site of Holy Trinity Academy with the junction of Teece Drive and Priorslee Avenue.
Councillor Wright responded that he was keen for all elements of the report to be considered and whilst it was important to set strategic direction it was also necessary to allow Members to make planning decisions independently.
2. Councillor S Bentley asked the following question of Cllr S Davies, Leader.
Did the Leader intend to unlock the gridlock of Future Fit by collaborating constructively with Shropshire Council?
Councillor Davies responded that first and foremost the gridlock was something that was not this Council’s making. Often, the Council, had acted to operate within the government-set process for the reconfiguration of hospital services. He was aware of vocal dislike from certain quarters of the County of the Council’s stance but he would not apologise for standing up for the hospital services and a decent NHS because that was expected by residents. He noted that the Future Fit process was approaching a cost of £0.5bn and he did not think it was too much to ask for health bosses and the government to take a second look at how such a substantial sum of taxpayers’ money was spent. The proposal pitted one community against another but he stood ready to work together cross party, cross Council and with all local MPs to get the best healthcare and health outcomes possible. The challenge set a few years ago to health bosses was to find a solution not a problem or argument and the Council stood ready to do that. He reiterated his offer to meet all MPs, Shropshire Council and the Health Secretary at any time.
Councillor Bentley asked if the apparent change of viewpoint was due to the General Election result.
Councillor Davies noted that there was no U-turn in regard to the hospital situation: there was a clear clinical reason to retain the women’s and children’s centre in Telford but the Health Secretary had disagreed with that view. Telford would become the largest town in the UK without a fully functioning Accident and Emergency and this view had been made known to the Health Secretary but this remonstration had been ignored. The cost of the reconfiguration had reportedly increased from £311m to £500m and in the spirit of compromise and collaboration, he had suggested looking a single site super hospital to be built, fairly and centrally located by Shrewsbury and Telford. He noted that a Motion later in the meeting would debate this issue further.
3. Councillor S Bentley asked the following question of Cllr R C Evans, Cabinet Member for Customer Services, Partnerships, Culture & Leisure
Did this authority utilise the services of external contact centre contractors?
Councillor Evans responded that it did not.
Councillor Bentley noted that he had received some complaints about the way that some people had been treated when they had contacted the Council.
Councillor Evans noted that the Council’s approach to channel shift had improved services: since 2015 the abandoned call rate had been reduced from 28% to 8%, the number of call waiting had been halved to 1 minute and 16 seconds and the number of customers attending at Southwater for face to face services had decreased by 96%. Councillor Evans stated that she was pleased with channel shift strategy.
4. Councillor S Bentley asked the following question of Cllr R A Overton, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services, Enforcement and The Pride Programme
As of 31 January 2020 this authority took responsibility for Civil Parking Enforcement. Would the Cabinet Member consider the introduction of time restricted parking around our primary and secondary schools?
Councillor Overton responded that over the past two years over £600,000 had been invested into improving road safety outside schools, with projects being designed in conjunction with schools to mitigate the problems they experienced. The funding has delivered various safety improvements with some schemes introducing additional parking restrictions. A number of schools, both primary and secondary, already had parking restrictions in place and as at 31 January, when the Council took on Civil Parking Enforcement Powers, schools would be actively patrolled. The newly appointed Neighbourhood Enforcement Officers would take an education first approach to ensure drivers contravening restrictions understood the consequences if they continued to park their vehicle on a restricted area.
It was hoped that driver behaviour would change as a result of CPE and the need for parking restrictions across the borough would be kept under review. Requests would be reviewed, designed and implemented on a case by case basis, and the Council would work with local communities and schools to understand and treat any ongoing concerns. The solutions required for each area could differ, but could include time limited waiting restrictions as well as measures such as ‘school keep clear markings’ and ‘designated parking bays’.
In addition to introducing physical restrictions, the Council would also continue to deploy the Road Safety Education team to work alongside schools to help to educate our young people to be safe on our roads.
5. Councillor N A Dugmore asked the following question of Cllr S A W Reynolds, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People, & Education
Would the administration explain how a reduction in school transport provision contributes to addressing the acknowledged climate change crisis?
Councillor Reynolds responded that the Council was in consultation with residents of the borough about the ways in which travel assistance would be provided. The focus was around increasing independence and so, where possible, focussing on increased support of the Independent Travel Training offer for children and young people. This would enable them to use public transport, or be safe when walking independently, or cycling to school where possible.
It was understood that public bus routes were not available across the borough but work was taking place with Arriva to explore how travel in the borough could be made more sustainable both from an environmental and financial point of view.
For those areas of the borough that were not serviced by a public bus route, the Council would work with providers to encourage the use of Ultra Low Emission Vehicles, and where this was not possible, that vehicles at least met the latest vehicle emission standards.
The Council’s policy in terms of admissions was to provide local schools for local children, ensuring that children did not have unnecessarily long journeys to school. For the majority of pupils, a place at a local school was available within walking distance. School organisation and catchment areas were therefore reviewed regularly to ensure that this could happen.
Parents could express a preference for a place at a school that was not their nearest but it was their responsibility to transport their children in those circumstances.
Councillor Dugmore asked if there were any plans in place to increase school transport funding and Councillor Reynolds undertook to provide a written response due to the consultation being ongoing at the time of the meeting.
6. Councillor E J Carter asked the following question of Councillor C Healy, Cabinet Member for Visitor Economy & The World Heritage Site and Cllr D Wright, Cabinet Member for Housing, Transport and Infrastructure
As Chair of the Marches Strategic Rail Group, could I ask both the Cabinet Member for Visitor Economy and the World Heritage Site and the Cabinet Member for Housing, Transport and Infrastructure, whether they agree with me that the Plans to restore Rail connectivity to the Ironbridge Power Station Site provided the opportunity to offer the means of transporting 2 million tonnes of waste safely from the Site rather than by road, followed by the fantastic plans to reintroduce passenger services back to the main line as well as working with Heritage Line operators to help the visitor economy. This was in addition to providing a park and ride facility?
Councillor Healy responded that since before the local election in May, she had been of the view that a pedestrian rail link should be a key element of the proposals to develop the former power station site, together with the line being used for the removal of materials from the site.
To that end, members and Officers continued to work with representatives from Harwarth Group, Network Rail, Midlands Connect, Shropshire Council and potential future operators to assess the future of the rail line between the main line near Stafford Park and the power station.
The line was still owned by Network Rail who accepted the existing freight use of the line. There was recognition of the need to facilitate freight movements on this line to clear the site of Pulverised Fuel Ash and enable the mineral extraction to limit vehicle movements onto the highway network. Initial work on this project had involved Network Rail assessing the work required for them to enable the use of the line for freight, and in particular the works needed to the important structures on the line such as the listed Albert Edward bridge, and the unlisted but no less important, Coalbrookdale viaduct. This work was ongoing but more information from Network Rail was anticipated in the near future.
With regard to any future operation beyond freight, the authority was committed to growing sustainable transport modes in the borough. With both the proposed rail facility, and the park and ride site, the authority was supportive of measures to reduce the impact of vehicular traffic within the World Heritage Site, as well as supporting the Destination offer as identified in the adopted World Heritage Site Management Plan that sought to “develop the WHS into a pre-eminent green environmental tourist destination”.
Councillor Wright, Cabinet Member for Housing, Transport and Infrastructure, did not add to the statement.
Councillor Carter welcomed the response. He considered it was the most important transport movement arising in the coming years. He noted that a decision had recently been taken not to continue to provide officer representation to the Marches Strategic Rail Group and he sought support from the Cabinet to ensure officer attendance at the next meeting.
Councillor Wright noted that this was outside the remit of the question but added that he was happy to take up the issue with the Leader and Chief Executive.
7. Councillor E J Carter asked the following question of Cllr D Wright, Cabinet Member for Housing, Transport and Infrastructure
Would the Cabinet Member help to ensure that, as work takes place on the Ni Park off the A518 in Newport, a footpath and Cycletrack be provided on the North Side of the road between the Sheep Island and Aldi to enable a safe and quick access to the retail park, which was nearing completion, for residents of Station Road and others?
Councillor Wright responded that delivery of the footpath/cycle link to the North of the A518 was dependent on partnerships with private landowners and the Council aimed to ensure that this came forward as Phase 2 of the highways improvement works as they were delivered. The Council was very proud of the Ni Park development and the partnership generated with the LEP and Harper Adams and other players. It was a major step forward for the borough economy, and also sustaining jobs and investment in the Newport area. Phase 2 included an additional dual carriageway section on the A518, a proposed new roundabout to access the Station Road East development and also improvements to the Station Road (Sheep) roundabout as well as the footpath/cycle link from Sheep island.
Council Carter stated that as chair of the Regeneration Partnership for a number of years it was a pleasure, along with colleagues, to have been chasing up something up for employment in the Newport area and it was great to see the Ni Park coming forward with 900 proposed jobs and the retail park close by. He added that it would be useful to get some timescale of when this might happen.
Councillor Wright stated that the phasing would be looked at and further stated that since development the was being delivered by a Labour Council, with investment that the Labour administration had secured from the LEP and also pump primed, he could provide assurance that the Council was committed to delivering investment in Newport. He offered further assurance the project would be phased to deliver the highway and footpath improvements and that would be access to the site would be facilitated for people across the borough.