Agenda item

QUESTIONS FROM MEMBERS

Questions to the Leader or any Cabinet Member must be submitted by 12 noon on Thursday 14 February 2019.

 

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. 

 

Minutes:

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

 

Whilst it is true that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has scored an own goal by imposing a leader on the shadow authority and devalued the unitary process and made it less democratic and less transparent.

 

Even so would the Leader like to tell us the benefits to the local residents of the waste of Council Tax payers’ money in seeking a Judicial Review to sort out incompetent Tory bungling? 

 

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

 

Thank you for your question Cllr Raja.

 

As you know, extensive discussions have been ongoing with both MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government) and the other Buckinghamshire authorities for some time, with a view to ensuring that the new Unitary Authority for Buckinghamshire is as robust and publicly accountable as possible. At an extremely late stage in the process, the Secretary of State changed the proposals for governance in a way which, as you rightly say, would have the clear potential to devalue the unitary process and make it far less democratic and transparent.

 

When faced with these circumstances, the Council could either accept the situation, which I firmly do not believe would be in the interest of the public, or challenge it through legal proceedings, which given the timing, had to be done extremely quickly. I would have preferred not to have been faced with such a stark choice, but in the circumstances I believe the right decision has been taken, and this has been vindicated by the support received from other District Councils in Buckinghamshire in the context of the legal proceedings.

 

Supplementary Question

 

The judicial review (JR) remains a waste of money, the new authority will be in place in just over a year. Nothing will happen as a result of the review. The JR will confirm the status quo. Tell us what benefits there are to it?

 

Supplementary Response

 

We feel that the pre-determined leadership of the Shadow Executive does not represent a partnership of equals. It is not democratic. We want an end product that we agree with. A lot of damage can be done within these 12 months.

 

 

b)     Question from Councillor A Hill to the Cabinet Member for Environment

 

As the High Street is dying. Has the Cabinet Member for the Environment ever considered trialing one hour’s free parking, once a week in the Swan car park to try and encourage people back to the town

 

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

 

I do not agree with the statement that the High Street is dying, in fact the Eden Centre has reported an increase in footfall in the last year. This bucks the trend elsewhere where on average a decrease of 3 to 4% has been experienced.

 

While it is true that there are some vacant retail units in High Wycombe the Council has taken and will continue taking a proactive role in supporting the town centre so that it can continue to thrive.  In response to your suggestion, the Swan car park is around 70% full on weekday afternoons and at capacity at the weekend. 

 

Therefore, on the basis of the available evidence rather than supposition, it is not the case that people need further encouragement to use it.  There is no evidence that removing or reducing parking charges encourages visits to a town centre.  Far more important is the availability and ease of access to car parking spaces.  

 

We have recently re-established the parking indicators on the approaches to the town and have allocated £1million for investing in the car parking service which will considerably improve the experience of visitors to High Wycombe.  A task and finish group is also being established to review the supply of parking in the town.

 

Supplementary Question

 

Has the Cabinet Member walked down the High Street of a morning, during the last few months to see whether it is in fact busy and hectic?

 

Supplementary Response

 

Quite often.

 

c)     Question from Councillor S Graham to the Cabinet Member for Community

 

Would the Cabinet Member for Community like to give a progress report (current state of works) regarding the Queensway cemetery? 

 

Verbal reply given by Councillor G Peart (Cabinet Member for Community).

 

This is an important project, in which there is a lot of interest. The Planning Application for the new Penn Road Cemetery is with our Planning service for determination.  So far we have been asked to amend the landscaping plan to include some different native species which we have done and resubmitted. 

 

We are aware that the BCC Sustainable Drainage team will be applying some pre-start conditions that relate to us providing supplementary information – we have already done this so that this does not delay the project.  We do not believe that Planning have had a response yet from BCC Highways, which is clearly very important for the success of our application. 

 

In the meantime we are working up the tender pack for the procurement of the new Cemetery with our consultants, Cemetery Design Services.  While we can’t issue this until we have planning approval it does mean we can move swiftly to procure a construction partner.

 

There was no supplementary question.

 

d)     Question from Councillor K Ahmed to the Leader of the Council

Can the Leader please share with us the strategy behind the decision of her Cabinet to raise car park charges at a time when businesses are struggling to make ends meet, especially in the East side of the town namely High Street and Frogmoor?

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

 

We have heard from Councillor Mrs Adey that the High Street is not dying. Whilst the Swan Car Park in fact has a capacity issue.

 

It is a common misconception that footfall in town centres is affected by parking charges. Research indicates that far more important factors are the availability and ease of use of parking facilities.

 

Parking charges have not increased for 10 years or more; the current increases are to bring them up to a similar level with neighbouring authorities in order to ensure that the parking service is viable and that we can invest in improving quality and increasing supply as required.

 

Supplementary Question

 

Wycombe District Council operates car parks across the District; at Marlow and Princes Risborough. If their charges were to be put up, their Town Councils would be in uproar. We here in High Wycombe have had higher charges than those towns. Why would that be?

 

Supplementary Response

 

Please note not all car parks in High Wycombe are owned by Wycombe District Council.

 

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

 

The cabinet has taken on the recommendations of the Remaking of the River Wye Task & Finish Group, yet its less than enthusiastic adoption of the idea and lack of a clear outline of when this work may be undertaken is disappointing not only to the members of the T&F group but to a great many residents of Wycombe who wish to see some life brought back to the Town along with the environmental, economic and psychological benefits a stretch of river through the town can deliver.

 

Would the leader accept that it is better for WDC reserves to be used to uplift the town than be thrown into the black hole which exists at the County council at the moment and thereby ensuring a reasonable legacy for our future generations? 

 

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

 

Thank you for your question, yes I would like to thank the Scrutiny Committee and in particular the task and finish group for the excellent work that they have done to look into the issues around the case for the river, the cost and funding issues.  Officers have been instructed to review this information and prepare a response for Cabinet. An information sheet outlining the work that is underway and confirming the timescale for a response will be published shortly.   

 

This Council is committed to and has a positive vision for High Wycombe town centre as a “uniquely appealing and attractive destination with a thriving economic centre … a place that people choose to live work and visit….”

 

I’m surprised that, as you were yourself a member of the Task and Finish Group, you are asking this question without even giving Cabinet a chance to respond to the recommendations. I am unsure how you have formed the opinion that Cabinet are less than enthusiastic when we have not even had a chance to provide a response. In fact perhaps you would be good enough to tell Council who is promoting this idea as I would like to speak to those individuals to put the record straight. Surely it is only courteous to allow Cabinet a full response before jumping in with allegations such as this.

 

What I will say in advance of the full response is that this Council is committed to and has a positive vision for High Wycombe town centre as a "uniquely appealing and attractive destination with a thriving economic centre"..

 

Over recent years the Council has been instrumental in bringing forward the Eden project and the Town Centre Masterplan. It has also led on a number of environmental improvement projects and has bought up and brought back into beneficial use a number of vacant retail units in need of refurbishment. I do not think that anyone can question our commitment to the town centre.

 

If the thinking is that we should splash the Council reserves on this scheme before the new authority is in place I have to say that this thinking is misguided. The lead in time for such a project is significant, requiring design and technical work, public consultation and the need to obtain planning permission, I could go on.

 

In any case, if we were to commit the substantial funding required to deliver this scheme, and the associated highway works, we would have to be clear that it is right for this to be the next major investment for the Council to make in the town – it would be wrong to rush into this before we have fully considered the issues.

 

If we were to rush into decisions without the due process, I’m sure you’d be asking questions in that respect!

 

Supplementary Question

 

Where did I learn that Cabinet was less than enthusiastic? I was at the last Cabinet Meeting, I attended and construed that there is no guarantee that this project will go on. I am enthusiastic, many colleagues feel we need to be more positive. Do you not think we should spend on this project in Wycombe rather than use this money to fill a hole in the Buckinghamshire County Council budgets?

 

Supplementary Response

 

I reiterate you were present at the Task and Finish Group meetings; there is no line in the budget for this scheme. There are lines it could come from. There is still a lot of work to be done on the business case.

 

f)      Question from Councillor K Ahmed to the Leader of the Council (note the Leader handed this question over to the Cabinet Member for Economic Development & Regeneration).

As most Members will be aware, last year the Council announced an exciting new project called ‘Desbox’, a shipping container hub for artists.

It is due to open for business this month, judging by the state of the area I hardly think that it will open on time.

Can the Leader please update us on its actual progress, including how many containers have been actually snapped up by budding artists?

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

 

DesBox never was “due to open for business this month”. In fact the construction contract was based on a March completion of the works. However its commencement was delayed because of ground clearance works, to enable piling (80 x 10 ton truckloads of concrete had to be removed).

 

A shallow gas main, revealed by the Baker Street road works, meant DesBox had to be raised 300mm. Such occurrences, especially on brownfield sites are not unusual.  These works, along with the recent snowfall, resulting in 3 weeks lost on the programme.

 

Further containers are due to be installed at the beginning of March, with the final East Richardson Street terrace units arriving in early April; with Practical completion in May. 

 

The response to our open days for prospective businesses looking to move into DesBox has been really positive. More than half the units are now reserved, including 13 artists and makers so far.

 

This is a good opportunity to promote. In that we’ll be hosting local artists in a special pop up exhibition space, as part of Bucks Art week, at DesBox from 8 -23 June.

 

Supplementary Question

 

With only half the units taken, perhaps you need to consider other uses for the boxes? According to Thames Valley Police the number of homeless people living on the streets of High Wycombe has risen to 34. Perhaps we could look at making boxes available for homeless, as is happening in a number of other cities and towns. Is this something you would consider or do you not care about these people?

 

Supplementary Response

 

The plan is for full use of these units for business use, we are confident of this. These are not a place for homeless housing. Providing jobs which these units do, is all part of combating homelessness. To conflate the two issues as you do  is not helpful

 

g)     Question from Councillor R Raja to the Cabinet Member for Environment

 

Is the Cabinet Member for the Environment aware that unfortunately, some of the residents in Bowerdean have had rubbish piling up in and around their houses because the bin lorries were unable to gain access to the streets.

Would she like to tell us how often bins have not been emptied, for a period of over a week, in the last 12 months? 

 

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

 

Records of reports held by the Joint Waste Team show that over the last 12 months, three addresses in Bowerdean Road had their collections delayed for more than a week, and one in Nicholas Gardens had delayed collections for more than a week, on two separate occasions. One of which was an IT issue, the issue not being conveyed to the team to resolve appropriately.

 

The Joint Waste Team’s contract manager tells me that collection delays in the area are frequently caused by inconsiderately parked cars blocking access for the collection vehicles. Many roads in the ward are narrow and steep - it can sometimes be impossible to make a collection at first attempt, and one inconsiderately parked vehicle can delay many collections.

 

Clearly, narrow steep highways are not a new development in High Wycombe, and so naturally the waste contract requires that repeated attempts are made to collect bins when access may not be possible first time around.

 

The Waste Team has also specified that smaller vehicles be made available to collect from areas where inconsiderate parking is reported by the normal collection crews. These are used as a backup, to make sure that reported delayed collections are put right as quickly as possible. The Team will also write to local households asking them to park considerately and where access difficulties persist, these may be reported to Buckinghamshire County Council’s parking service if the parking is thought to cross the line from inconsiderate to illegal.

 

Please rest assured that whilst we do experience occasional problems in the Bowerdean area due to anti-social parking, the Waste Team has solutions available to maintain service delivery. The officers in that team also analyse reports from residents and work with SERCO managers to tackle problem areas and hot spots.

 

Supplementary Question

 

I don’t blame the waste collectors. You mentioned Nicholas Gardens, but Sussex Gardens has more than 3 houses where waste collections have been delayed for over a week. There is inconsiderate parking, but we need a long term solution. Vermin and infection could result. Is a solution in hand?

 

Supplementary Response

 

Yes there is. When we have identified a problem, we work to solving it.

 

 

 

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