Agenda item


Questions to the Leader or any Cabinet Member must be submitted by 12 noon on Monday 3 December 2018.


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.


Questions shall be taken first from the Group Leaders of the political parties who shall be entitled to ask an initial Leader`s question from his/her group, of which written notice shall have been given to the Head of Democratic, Legal and Policy Services prior to the meeting.


The order of questions shall then permit the first question from each other Councillor to be asked before any subsequent questions from the same Councillor. One question will be taken in turn from the same Councillor unless there are no other questions to be asked.


Every member asking an oral question is permitted to ask one supplementary question without notice provided that it is not substantially the same as a question that was put to a Council meeting during the past 6 months.


Any question remaining unanswered after 30 minutes will be answered within 10 working days in writing after the meeting by the appropriate Member and appended to the minutes of the meeting. 



a)       Question from Councillor R Raja to the Leader of the Council


The multi-year capital programme envisages spending in excess of £86M after the date of unitarisation.


Would the leader like to inform us of the mechanism which will guarantee that these commitments will be met?


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


As you say the Council is continuing to invest in the District and has set out in the draft Capital programme its plans for future years.


Many of these projects run over multiple years and once a contract has been signed then the new council will have to honour the commitments made by this Council. We will continue to make informed decisions based on sound and robust Business Cases so we do not think that the new Council would not wish to pursue good sensible schemes that have benefits for the community and deliver Value for Money for those schemes where we have not signed contracts.


However we are not in a position to guarantee delivery but we are making sure that we can take all reasonable steps to expedite delivery of schemes by accelerating work into this year if necessary and by examining potential areas of blockage to free up resources and to remove obstacles.


Supplementary Question


It is understandable that you can’t give us guarantees, I think that the view of the new Unitary authority will see common sense prevail. What will you put in place to ensure what has been in the pipeline will be delivered?


Supplementary Response


As I said, we will take all reasonable steps to expedite delivery of schemes by accelerating work into this year if necessary and by examining areas of blockage to free up resources and to remove obstacles according to the said business cases.


b)      Question from Councillor M Knight to the Leader of the Council


As the Bucks County Council consultation on Early Help Services comes to an end this week we are closer to knowing which Children’s Centres are going to be closed. In the proposals this includes the closure of both east Wycombe Children’s Centres at Ash Hill School in Micklefield and the Hampden Way centre which serves Totteridge and Bowerdean.

It has been suggested that local residents and organisations could be offered the chance to keep these facilities open. What support could Wycombe District Council offer to help residents who wanted to do this?


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


Thank you for your question, although I believe it may be a little premature.  The County is out to consultation at the moment and the proposed closures are one of three options, albeit BCC’s preferred option.  If Option B is supported there are actually seven children’s centres across the District that would close.  This Council cannot pick up the bill for all of those services.


In any case BCC is consulting on alternative uses of the buildings with the stated preference that in all cases formal nursery or other early years’ provision would be favoured.  If you wish to take on the two buildings you mention you would be best advised to engage actively in the consultation and work closely with BCC. I am sure this would involve the development of robust business cases, which would give more clarity on any financial needs you may have.  This Council cannot issue a blanket guarantee of financial support, but if there is a solid business case for investment I would be willing to consider it as part of overall budget setting.


Supplementary Question


Lots of residents in my ward are very concerned, it is an area of need where families need the support these centres provide. Would you be prepared to work with residents in respect of this provision?


Supplementary Response


Personally I do not have the skills needed, but I can speak with you outside this Meeting to look at this issue.



c)    Question from Councillor B Pearce to the Leader of the Council


Do you agree with me that now it is likely we will be having a Unitary Authority (a shame it's not going to be two) that it would be a good and prudent idea if a sub-committee could be set up in order to discuss the possibility of having a High Wycombe Town Council?


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


Thank you for your question Councillor Pearce it seems that there will be an opportunity later on the agenda to consider this question.  I therefore don’t think there will need to be a separate committee meeting to discuss it.


Supplementary Question


I have no supplementary question it was effectively put by Mr Vickery earlier during Public Questions, thank you.


d)     Question from Councillor M Hanif to the Cabinet Member for Environment


In October WDC cabinet approved an AQAP (Air Quality Action Plan) responding to poor air quality around High Wycombe, mainly from traffic. This plan was a watered down version from the aspirations of the steering group who were involved in its early stages. The plan fell short of addressing the challenging but fundamental issues of how to get people out of their cars and onto their feet, cycles and public transport. Also through public consultation 41 respondents submitted in depth comments and suggested amended actions. Yet no change to draft plan was made.


Are these consultations just a waste of time and provide good reasons for people to become cynical about consultations? 


Verbal reply given by Councillor Mrs J Adey (Cabinet Member for Environment).


I have a feeling of ‘deja-vu’ in that I have already responded to a similar question in the Bucks Free Press recently.


The action plan to help improve air quality in the Wycombe District was the result of lengthy negotiations between Wycombe District Council, Buckinghamshire County Council and local transport providers, in addition to strong input from community and environmental groups, including Wycombe Friends of the Earth. We also had a number of comments from members of the public which we took into consideration.


Tackling poor air quality at a local level is a complex task, particularly when so much depends on national policy and industry standards, and so I share your frustration in that the current air quality action plan perhaps doesn’t go far enough. That being said, we have agreed 25 actions that fall into three broad themes: national legislation and local policies; transport and infrastructure; and public engagement and behaviour. We hope to start progressing some of these actions in the New Year and will also be taking forward other suggestions that were made, along with other initiatives, which don’t currently feature in the plan. For example, officers  are currently seeking funding for a study into the potential feasibility of a low emissions zone in the areas with the highest levels of air pollution, which could bring in controls to limit older, more polluting vehicles -  be they private cars, passenger carrying vehicles  large and small, or those moving freight. I admit that this could be a drastic measure, and, subject to our funding application of course, clearly a lot of work is required to establish how this might work and what the ultimate benefits would be, but it is an area that I feel is worth exploring, as something that is within the remit of local government to introduce.


We’ll keep the plan under regular review, so we can account for technological and scientific advancements and new legislative powers. And we’re committed to producing additional planning guidance, particularly in the field of electric vehicle charging point provision; that will result in additional schemes to help tackle poor air quality.


With respect to the question raised about the value of consultation, it is clear to me that we would not have an action plan at all without the consultation that has taken place – the actions have, after all, been developed with our consultees! However, if after further consultation, additional suggestions are made, then of course it is not always possible to satisfy all concerned, and a balance has to be struck, with compromises made. Hopefully though as our plan develops and its impacts are reviewed, additional measures can be justified and introduced to tackle our local air quality problems.


Supplementary Question


Local Authorities have a legal duty in respect of Air Quality Management, other authorities are developing ambitious programmes. Would you say Wycombe District Council has failed in not providing a solid and robust scheme?


Supplementary Response


No I would not. We are working to establish a good scheme for our residents.


e)     Question from Councillor M Harris to the Cabinet Member for Environment


Given the publicity around plastic in our oceans, I have residents asking what happens to the plastic in their recycling bin if it is recyclable.  They would also like to know what happens if it's in the recycling bin but is not recyclable.  And what if they put recyclable products in the landfill bin by mistake.  


Could I ask the Cabinet Member to clarify the processes?


Verbal reply given by Councillor Mrs J Adey (Cabinet Member for Environment).


Mixed recyclables presented in the blue bins are collected and bulked at the London Road depot in Amersham, for transfer by road to materials recovery facilities (MRFs) situated in other parts of the UK. Plastic bottles are sorted from the other materials present in the mixture and separated into different streams according to the type of plastic present.


The different types of plastic bottles are formed into bales and then shipped to re-processors in the UK and Europe, sometimes further afield. The plastic bottles are then re-processed to provide raw materials for the manufacture of new products. Recent information shows that an average of approximately 10% of the plastic bottles collected in Wycombe may eventually leave the UK or Europe for recycling purposes. These destination countries include Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Indonesia and India.


If non-recyclable material is presented in the mix which arrives at the MRF, the various processes and technologies in use at the facility will cause it to be separated from the useful material. The unwanted material is then disposed of and depending on the MRF in question it will be used for energy recovery.


Any plastic present in the residual waste bin will be disposed of in a compliant manner. In Wycombe District this means it will be collected along with the other residual waste, bulked at the High Heavens transfer station by the Waste Disposal Authority (Buckinghamshire County Council) and transported for energy recovery at the Greatmoor energy from waste facility.


Plastics presented by Wycombe residents in the blue bins will be recycled, or if presented in the grey bins, plastic bottles will be treated as residual waste and disposed of properly by our contractors. Recycling materials collected from the kerbside by the Council’s contractor and sent for sorting, bulking and onward transportation are subject to a regulatory process. This regulatory ‘duty of care’ requires that waste is only ever transferred to an authorised operator who has a valid registration as a carrier, broker or dealer of waste, or a waste management operator who has an environmental permit. Only reputable and compliant contractors are used. Operators of MRFs like those used by the Council are required to keep records and report to the regulator details of what they send out, every three months. To check on all this, the Joint Waste Team has its own programme of ‘duty of care’ visits. All contractors taking recycling from us are visited, and the officers satisfy themselves that the operators are meeting the requirements of the legislation and all the necessary documentation is up to date and compliant. We recently visited Crayford MRF for this purpose and all was found to be in order.


Supplementary Question


Is there any way that plastics from my ward residents ends up in the oceans?


Supplementary Response


The Chances are exceedingly small, in that it is believed that only 0.03% of the plastics found in oceans comes from the UK.



f)     Question from Councillor M A Hashmi to the Cabinet Member for Finance & Resources


Online shopping has become a fact of life and continues to grow.


Is it not time for WDC to seriously consider the overhaul of the business rates system so that high street shops are not paying four times as much in business rates as their online rivals?


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



Business rates are an important source of local government funding but it is administered as a national scheme. The charge is based on a rateable value set by the Valuation Officer Agency, multiplied by a “multiplier” set by the Government. Whilst Local Authorities collect Business Rates they have no discretion to change this national system. The rateable values are calculated differently for different types of businesses according to the type of property, but as a general rule are based on the estimated rental value of the property on the open market. The calculation of Rateable Values by the Valuation Office Agency is a specialised area of work. Local Authorities have no input to the Valuation process. It is up to central government to overhaul business rates.

 Both the Government and WDC recognises that changing consumer behaviour presents a significant challenge for retailers in our town centres and is taking action to help the high street evolve. The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the Budget on 29 October 2018 that the Government was giving Local Authorities discretion to operate a business rates Retail Discount scheme for occupied retail properties with a rateable value of less than £51,000 in each of the years 2019-20 and 2020-21. The value of this discount will be one third of the net rate bill and will be available to qualifying business ratepayers from April.

At a local level Wycombe offers a range of reliefs as permitted by the National Legislation, including Small Business Rate Relief; Rural Rate Relief; Mandatory and Discretionary Rate Reliefs. In particular it is worth highlighting the Discretionary Business Rate scheme which helps local businesses with a rateable value below £200,000 that faced a large increase in business rates between 2016 and 2017. The Council has awarded over £150,000 Discretionary Business Rate Relief in the current year and will continue to offer support for the final two years of the scheme, using the funds made available.

The council will continue to explore all options that are within its statutory powers to help local retailers. Officers work hard to maximise discretionary schemes where they can.


Supplementary Question


Councillor Hashmi had no supplementary question.


g)      Question from Councillor K Ahmed to the Cabinet Member for Environment

Wycombe District & Chiltern District councils’ are currently undertaking a procurement exercise to seek tenders for a new 10 year contract to provide a joint waste, recycling and cleansing contract.

Given that the future of these councils in their existing format is limited, therefore is it wise to tie them into a 10 year contract?


Verbal reply given by Councillor Mrs J Adey (Cabinet Member for Environment).


The three Councils in the Joint Waste Partnership are procuring a new refuse, recycling and street cleaning contract, planned to start in June 2020. Contract commencement date will therefore be after the inception of the new unitary authority, which is likely to be in April 2020. Any contracts in place with the districts would be novated to the new unitary authority at this time.


There is a statutory duty on the district councils to collect waste, and residents require a well-managed, good quality, value for money service to be in place, without even a single day’s break in provision. Clearly the waste collection duty would transfer into the new unitary authority on its start date and so a procurement exercise is required to ensure that there is a supplier in place after the existing contractual arrangement ends.


The opportunity being offered by the procurement process is for an initial 10 years. The length of contract has been chosen as it offers a reasonable period of stability and an attractive commercial opportunity for any provider. It also reflects the expected service life of the principal assets, which are the waste collection vehicles. Shorter contracts may therefore not offer good value for money to the councils or may not be commercially attractive to contractors in what is a busy procurement market place for these services. An unattractive bidding opportunity represents a risk to the districts and any successor authority and should therefore be avoided.


It is therefore sensible to continue as we are, all the while making information available as appropriate on progress with the procurement of the planned new contract, for governance purposes.’


Supplementary Question


I note the three District Councils merging in respect of this contract. But there are 4 in the new Unitary Council, are not Aylesbury Vale District Council out of this opportunity, is a short term contract not a ten year one a better idea?


Supplementary Response


I have given my reasons already for this contract, Aylesbury Vale have in-house provision; we have always worked well together in respect of waste collection amongst the 3 southern authorities of Buckinghamshire.



h)     Question from Councillor B Pearce to the Cabinet Member for Economic Development & Regeneration


When the Pound Shop closed in High Wycombe, we were all concerned that yet another empty shop had appeared on the High Street but lo and behold, a shop very similar opened within a very short time of the initial closure. 


Was this a pure coincidence or was this due to hard work by council officials?


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


Though I recognise the comprehensive and sustained work of officers at the Council in respect of regeneration and economic development; the Council are not able to take credit in this instance.


Pound World on the High Street in High Wycombe closed in August. It was bought out by Pound Stretcher (their 8th Pound World store buy out) and re-opened the store in September after a refit.


Supplementary Question


Councillor Pearce had no supplementary question.


i)       Question from Councillor M Hanif to the Cabinet Member for Environment


A survey by the Gambling Commission has found that 89% of pubs failed to prevent children playing 18-plus gaming machines. The LGA (Local Government Association) has joined the Gambling Commission in calling on the industry to address the findings of this report and take urgent action to prevent young people from developing possible gambling problems as they grow older.


Surely WDC will be coming into contact with people impacted by gambling through a range of services, including housing and homelessness, financial inclusions and addiction services. This survey sends a clear signal that addressing problem gambling is a priority not just for public health and licensing but for the whole council and its wider stakeholders, thereby facilitating cooperation across departments and with local communities and partners.


What actions are WDC taking to strengthen work in this area?


Verbal reply given by Councillor Mrs J Adey (Cabinet Member for Environment).


Officers have no evidence of children playing 18 plus gaming machines and haven’t received any specific information that it is an issue in the Wycombe area. I can assure you that officers would take action if they noted this during their routine inspections or if they received a complaint. However in light of the recently issued report they intend to carry out further checks in relevant premises.


The anti-social behaviour team, the police and licensing undertake routine test purchase operations in licensed premises to ensure they are adhering to their licence thereby safeguarding young people. Whilst this focuses on CSE (Child Sexual Exploitation) and the sale of alcohol to minors, it raises their awareness of general safeguarding of young people in their premises. In addition, information is shared with hotels and pubs as part of Hotel Watch, so if there is a campaign or information available, this can be shared with them.


With regard to housing and homelessness our recording systems do not record details of clients affected by gambling addictions and as such we only have anecdotal evidence of cases of homelessness caused by gambling addictions.


Officers have advised that they have not seen a disproportionate number of homeless households presenting as a result of gambling addictions.


Supplementary Question


Councillor Hanif had no supplementary question.


j)       Question from Councillor M Knight to the Leader of the Council


Last December I asked you a question about Frogmoor and wanting to reclaim it as a place where all members of our community could feel welcome and safe.

Could you give us an update on what progress has been made to both reduce antisocial behaviour and generally improve the public realm in that part of High Wycombe?

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


Thank you for your question.  I am very happy to update you on progress as town centre issues have been a key focus of my administration over the past year.  You will be aware of the Anti-Social Behaviour Task and Finish Group report that Cabinet responded to last month.  Our response included a public commitment to fund a one year pilot for High Wycombe Street Wardens, who will have the powers to address issues within the town.  We expect to have the team in place in April 2019 and discussions have already taken place with local police and the BidCo to ensure all our town centre teams work together to achieve maximum benefit. 


I will also be sharing very shortly with all Members the details of some modest improvements we plan to make to Frogmoor in the spring to address the concerns around safety, inappropriate parking and the unwelcoming environment.  This involves improvements to seating, paving and lighting, which, twin-tracked with the advent of the Street Warden team, will encourage positive use of Frogmoor while tackling less desirable uses.  


We know our residents are keen to help those in need, but this help needs to be appropriate so we are also close to finalising publicity with Wycombe Homeless Connection on the help people can provide to services for rough sleepers, which we all hope very much will reduce begging around the town.  I am also looking forward to working with the new BidCo Manager, Melanie Williams, to ensure that the town welcomes visitors and supports local businesses by providing an attractive and safe environment. 


In the meantime the multi-agency Street Community Group continues to work with those most in need so that they can make the changes they need to in order to move on with their lives.


Supplementary Question


I recognise and commend the work of the Anti-Social Behaviour Task and Finish Group and welcome Cabinet’s support of the Group’s recommendation in respect of wardens.


In respect of the modest improvements in Frogmoor referenced by the Leader in her response, could she confirm that these were inspired by the CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) bid prepared by Councillor Ms Wassell re table tennis tables and band stands etc.?


Supplementary Response


No these were not inspired by that bid, these were underway before that CIL bid received.




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