Agenda item

QUESTIONS FROM MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC

Written questions may be asked of the Leader or any Cabinet Member if submitted to the Head of Democratic, Legal and Policy Services no later than 12 noon on Monday 3 December 2018. Questions will be submitted in the order in which they were received.

 

A questioner will have a maximum of 1 minute to ask a question and the answer shall not exceed 3 minutes. Any questioner may put one supplementary question without notice within a maximum time of 1 minute and the answer may not exceed 2 minutes.

 

Minutes:

a)       Question from Mr N Vickery JP to the Leader of the Council.

Can the Leader of the Council please set out her and her Cabinets position on the future of Governance for the Town of High Wycombe post Unitary Authority launch in April 2020?

 

Verbal reply given by Councillor Ms K Wood (Leader of the Council).

 

I cannot speak for my Cabinet members.  My primary concern is the future governance of the District.  I suspect we shall hear rather more about the views of Members of this Council on Town governance later on in this meeting but what we do know is that we will have a new Unitary District Council for Buckinghamshire which will serve the Town of High Wycombe and we need to do everything we can to ensure that the new unitary Council is set up in a way that will best serve all our residents including our Town residents, and I am working hard to ensure that is what happens.

 

Supplementary Question

 

I get the feeling that this will be a case of too little too late. Why can’t you and your Cabinet agree this Local Governance Review now, to give this town the same representation as all other residents of the District, such as those served by Marlow and Princes Risborough Town Councils and Chepping Wycombe Parish Council etc.?

 

Supplementary Response

 

I pointed out in my first response that I did not speak for my Cabinet Members, we will hear later at this meeting the views of Members on this subject.

 

b)    Question from Mr R Colomb to the Cabinet Member for Finance & Resources.

In view of the impending demise of Wycombe District Council and its replacement by a Unitary Authority subsuming all the District and County Authorities, what steps is this Authority taking to ensure that the hard earned reserves that have been accumulated over the years and as you stated two Council Meetings ago are earmarked for projects within the District are in fact spent on these District projects and not lost to other priorities in other parts of Buckinghamshire?

 

Verbal reply given by Councillor D Watson (Cabinet Member for Finance & Resources).

Thank you Mr Colomb for your question and interest in these matters.

As a consequence of the sound financial management of public funds over many years, including the period during the time when you were the Council leader, the District Council has the benefit of a strong balance sheet having considerable reserves and with no borrowing.

The general fund reserve as at March 31st 2018 was £9.8M with earmarked reserves of £40.2M, Capital Receipts of £16.8M and Capital Grants of £7.4M i.e. a total of £74.4M of Usable reserves.

Given the strong balance sheet the following is planned:

The Council is continuing to invest during both 18/19 and 19/20 across the District for the benefit of local residents and will be applying its reserves in investing in the schemes to support the economic development, regeneration and place shaping aspirations of this Council.  Tens of millions of major project expenditure, where there is a sound business case, is currently planned for delivery during the period from now up to end of 19/20;

Retain a 15% reserve for unforeseen net expenditure – for the so called ‘’unknown unknowns’’ i.e. £2.1M;

The local government financial settlement, postponed from last week is still to be announced. Should the need arise we intend to be in a position to mitigate any major decrease in New Homes Business, Business Rates, negative Revenue Support Grant or internally generated income the council receives e.g. rents and fees/charges;

Set aside funds for transition costs with regard to the formation of a new authority;

Maintain a low level of council tax;

Continue to do what we can to support the local economy; and

Effect potential land acquisitions in support of the Local Plan.

It is anticipated that Wycombe District Council Usable reserves will be considerably reduced during the next year or so but, I have to say, that it is unlikely that all the accumulated reserves from past years will be spent only within the District. Those members of the new authority, elected from the former Wycombe District, will I suggest, have a responsibility to ensure that the former Wycombe council tax payers receive a fair share of spending during the years ahead.

Supplementary Question

 

Do you share my belief that the residents of Wycombe District and especially of High Wycombe Town will be the most financially disadvantaged under the new Unitary set up? They will see loss of reserves and swingeing tax increases, Wycombe District Council has been well run, do you share my concerns?

 

Supplementary Response

 

Yes I do share your concerns, I am proud Wycombe District Council has consistently had the lowest Council Tax in Buckinghamshire. When harmonised; this will have a disproportional impact on these local tax payer, I hope a phased period of time can be utilised for this.

 

c)     Question from Mr P Crotty to the Cabinet Member for Housing.

In 2011 WDC sold assets including all of our council housing stock to Red Kite for just a few percent of its value.

 

What action does WDC propose now that Red Kite is proposing to sell some of those assets via subsidiary companies without having created the now overdue Star Block development under its contract with WDC?

 

Verbal reply given by Councillor Mrs J Langley (Cabinet Member for Housing).

 

Good evening Mr Crotty and thank you for your question. The transfer process was extremely complex and there are a good number of Councillors in the room who will concur with that. It was driven by a set of Government rules that included how the homes were valued, we had little to do with this.

 

In reference to your remarks regards Red Kite selling some of their assets via subsidiary companies. The two subsidiary companies you refer to are wholly owned by Red Kite, there are no shareholders who can take money out.

 

Red Kite and Twenty 11 are both charitable purpose organisations, any surpluses generated has to be re-invested. They are a tax efficient means of ensuring any surplus generated can be returned to one of the charitable companies to use for its charitable purposes.

 

Here at Wycombe District Council, Members and Officers are working with Red Kite with regard to their Twenty 11 pilot scheme and look forward to discussing the independent review of this pilot scheme with them in due course.

 

The Castlefield / Star Blocks scheme is a large project and not without risks. It is an ambitious scheme. Replacing 97 homes with 184 brand new ones is their biggest development scheme so far.

 

Red Kite are developing proposals for a planning application; discussions are ongoing with officers and Members.

 

 

Supplementary Question

 

Irrespective of the Star Block development, the 2011 deal now leaves us poorer by hundreds of millions of pounds. The Regulator for Social Housing confirms that WDC’s contract arrangement with Red Kite was quite legal. Assuming that this advice is accurate is there any other alternative for WDC constituents than to assume that WDC has behaved negligently on a grand scale?

 

 

Supplementary Response

 

Red Kite and Twenty 11 if they are to develop new homes at rents local people can afford, they need to subsidise the build costs with the profit from these companies.

 

I think it is important to make it clear that since the transfer Wycombe District Council are not involved in the day to day business of Red Kite.

 

Regular meetings take place with Red Kite which include the Deputy Leader (Dominic Barnes) the Cabinet Member for Planning (David Johncock), myself and senior officers.

 

Wycombe District Council also has two nominees on the board of Red Kite. They are both very experienced councillors: Councillors Ian McEnnis and Paul Turner.

 

d)     Question from Dr L Derrick to the Leader of the Council.

WDC's website says it is the responsibility of councillors to “represent constituents and help with their enquiries”.     

Can Cllr Wood confirm that she believes that as a minimum Ward Councillors should respond when approached by local constituents?

Verbal reply given by Councillor Ms K Wood (Leader of the Council).

Thank you for your question. Of course we like to be responsive, but it is not always possible or appropriate to respond to every email that is received, particularly when some emails are circular and sent to large groups electronically.  This type of email may not get answered and I think it is up to each member to consider whether to respond having considered all the circumstances of the case but in general, yes I do expect members to respond to members of the public who raise specific concerns about difficulties they are facing and for which they need their councillor’s help. 

 

Supplementary Question

 

During the course of delivering her address / question, the Chairman considered Dr Derek was introducing a new topic and ruled that it was not valid. He therefore did not permit it to be asked in compliance with Standing Order 10.4.

 

e)    Question from Mr A Walker to the Cabinet Member for Economic Development & Regeneration.

Would the Council be prepared to suspend the attempt to Compulsory Purchase the Brunel Shed in the forecourt of High Wycombe Station for up to three months, whilst a group of Community Based Organisations seek to develop an alternative plan for the re-generation and re-purposing of the Building?

 

Verbal reply given by Councillor S Broadbent (Cabinet Member for Economic Development & Regeneration).

 

It is heartening that there is public interest in the re-purposing of the Brunel Shed and that local groups seek to develop plans for one potential vision for the future use of the shed. However, the building has lain empty for a decade and none of the many plans which have arisen over that period have come to fruition. This is fundamentally why the Council has taken the step of deciding to compulsorily purchase the Brunel Shed: as long as the building is not in the possession of the Council its condition, its listed status, and the commercial requirements of its owners will mean that regeneration is not economically viable. The compulsory purchase process does not preclude any alternative plan so there is no reason to delay pursuing it. It should be noted there has been interest from various members of the public with suggestions and requests as to how the building will be used; these will be taken into account as part of the development of a formal business case for the future use of the Brunel Shed in due course.

 

Supplementary Question

 

High Wycombe Model Railway Club of which I am a member have a number of members who work for Chiltern Railways and Network Rail who are aware of the complex legal conflict in respect of the ownership/ use  of this building between Chiltern Rail, the Department of Transport and Network Rail. Do you not think a meeting should be convened of community based organisations to discuss the propositions for the use of this important community asset?

 

Supplementary Response

 

Thank you, a CPO (Compulsory Purchase Order) is not entered into lightly, it is a last resort, but we want to establish a future for this building. The situation between Network Rail, Chiltern Rail and the Department does not involve Wycombe District Council. Public interest in the building will of course be taken into account during the consultation stage that has to be carried out in order to complete the CPO.

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