Agenda item

To receive statements from each of the Cabinet Members and deal with any questions arising from those statements.

Minutes:

Councillor Chatt presented his statement as Portfolio Holder for Public Health and Housing highlighting the excellent work undertaken by the White Rose Home Improvement Agency in Scarborough and Ryedale.  Members then put questions to Councillor Chatt about whether the opportunity had been taken during ongoing works on the Spa Footbridge to protect the structure against nesting gulls, the similar need to proof St Thomas Hospital, certification available to property owners in the selective licensing scheme and raising public awareness around recycling so as to reduce contamination of blue bins.  In reply, Councillor Chatt commented that Borough Council officers had held discussions with County Council officers several years ago about proofing the Spa Footbridge, but it was felt that doing so would displace the nesting kittiwakes, which were currently identified as a conservation priority, to another part of the town.  Local County Councillor Janet Jefferson added that she had also requested that the footbridge be proofed but had not obtained a response.  Councillor Chatt recognised the similar issue at St Thomas Hospital which he referred the Portfolio Holder for Transformation, Councillor Phillips.  In respect of the selective licensing scheme, Councillor Chatt commented that compliant landlords were issued with certificates; however, unlike with Houses in Multiple Occupation, there were no common areas in which to display the certificate.  He also distinguished between compliance with the scheme (a minimum achieved after an inspection) and accreditation through the National Landlords’ Accreditation Scheme which the Council supported and promoted to landlords.  Councillor Chatt acknowledged that educational stickers on blue bins needed to be reviewed in the coming year.

 

Councillor Cockerill presented his statement as Portfolio Holder for Major Projects adding an update on the Whitby Piers project.  Members were advised of Councillor Cockerill’s extreme dissatisfaction with the quality and appearance of the parapet wall adjacent to the link bridge to the West Pier Extension which had been rebuilt as the first part of the project.  He reassured Members that the contractors shared his view and would be working now to improve the visual aspect of the wall appropriate to its heritage status and location.  If these works failed, then the wall would have to be demolished and rebuilt.  Members thanked Councillor Cockerill for his intervention in this matter which had caused much anger in Whitby and asked how it was allowed to happen.  Councillor Cockerill reassured the meeting that the project would continue to be closely monitored.  In reply to Members’ questions, he confirmed that Staithes Harbour Commissioners would be consulted on the Staithes Coastal Defence Strategy and provided an update on the South Bay Chalets: consultants, Royal Haskoning had been engaged to undertake the design of the work necessary to stabilise the area and would act as Project Manager.  They had been in discussions with a contractor with the aim of demolishing the chalets early February - the first phase.  Royal Haskoning would consider various methods to stabilise the area and construct a new wall.  It was likely that a listed planning application would be required after the design of the retaining wall had been decided.  However, it was too soon to

give any firm timescale for subsequent phases of work.

 

Councillor Jefferson then put a question to Councillor Cockerill about the ongoing sheet piling works taking place on the Futurist site, which had commenced without prior warning to residents, despite assurances given by the contractors, Willmott Dixon and the Borough Council at a meeting with the residents of Blands Cliff and Prospect Place in August 2017.  Councillor Jefferson was very concerned about the severe stability issues caused by the piling as evidenced by cracks appearing in walls on the inside and outside of properties in these areas.  Councillor Jefferson requested that the sheet piling stop forthwith until further investigations and assurances could be given to the property owners, residents and businesses of Blands Cliff and Prospect Place.  Councillor Jefferson went on to voice concerns about the insurance implications of the ongoing works – not only public liability which officers advised was for a 12 year period, but also the property owners’ personal property insurance cover, since they now had to advise their insurance companies that in fact piling was taking place.  She suggested instead safer pile driving techniques such as hydraulic rams, and called on the Council and the contractors to underwrite the insurance policies of the said property owners of Blands Cliff and Prospect Place until the execution of these works were completed by a safe and secure means.  In reply, Councillor Cockerill advised that the priority of both the Borough Council and contractor, Willmott Dixon, was to deliver the safest possible solution to maintain the stability of the slope and protect the properties surrounding and adjacent to the site.  However, with engineering projects of this scale, sometimes changes to what was originally planned were unavoidable to achieve the required outcome.  Willmott Dixon had originally proposed to construct a concrete retaining wall to stabilise the slope behind the Futurist.  The decision to use steel sheet pile walls as an alternative construction method had to be taken in December in order to provide necessary additional stability to the slope at the rear of the site.  Piling work would continue for approximately one more week, and there was a full regime of movement and vibration monitoring being carried out during the works, both within the site and on surrounding properties.  A number of different methods of installing the sheet piles were investigated, and Willmott Dixon had properly sought and obtained the necessary statutory consents to install the piles using the current method (vibration and driving).  Whilst news of the method change was covered by local press and media in late November and was added to both the news section and planning section of the Council’s website at the same time, it was regrettable that direct correspondence to neighbouring residents and businesses about the change in method was late in reaching them.  At the start of the project the respective responsibilities under the Communications Plan had been agreed with Willmott Dixon who was tasked with updating adjacent property owners in regard to progress and any developments.  Willmott Dixon sincerely apologised for the oversight and would ensure that any further updates necessary in the New Year were issued in a timely manner.  There was extensive knowledge of the ground conditions within the site, and whilst the hydraulic ramming method was considered by Willmott Dixon, consultant engineers Arup, together with the specialist piling contractor, this was not deemed possible since the ground conditions were too stiff and the long length of the piles (18m) which would be bent.  Willmott Dixon had carried out condition surveys of all of the surrounding properties prior to commencement of the works and if any damage was caused it would be rectified by Willmott Dixon.  Willmott Dixon was also carrying satisfactory levels of insurance as reported at the beginning of the project.  Councillor Cockerill referred residents to Willmott Dixon should they have any issues arising from the piling.  He added that the costs of the project were still within the £4m budget approved by Council; however if the Council were now to instruct works not to recommence then the Council would become responsible for payment of additional delay costs and the budget would be exceeded.

 

Councillor Mallory presented her statement as Portfolio Holder for Corporate Investment.  Councillor Donohue-Moncrieff then queried, in light of recent concerns expressed by CIPFA at the level of borrowing councils had made to invest in commercial property, whether the Council’s commercial strategy risked the authority becoming dependent on commercial income, taking out too much debt relative to net service expenditure or taking on debt to finance commercial investments.  In reply, Councillor Mallory commented that the Property Investment Strategy was intended to generate net financial returns for the Council in order to help maintain valued service provision to the Borough’s residents, businesses and visitors and to help create and support economic development activity that contributed to the growth of the Borough.  This was in the context of the significant financial challenges faced by the Council as was evidenced during the recent finance updated presented to Cabinet.  The PIS offered innovative and creative solutions as a means of narrowing the projected £5 million budget gap over the next three years as an alternative to simply making further budget cuts leading to reduced levels of service provision.  The strategy was indelibly linked to the Corporate Plan, ensuring the PIS contributed toward agreed Council priorities and objectives. The strategy made specific reference to the latest statutory guidance from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the strategy report made it very clear that the Council would take full regard of the recommendations contained within the updated guidance.  Officers rightly took extensive legal and financial advice when compiling the strategy that Council approved in May 2018.  The strategy report set out both the legal framework in which the PIS would operate as well how the strategy was aligned to the Council’s Financial Strategy, Capital Investment Strategy and Treasury Management Strategy.  Updated Prudential Indicator information was contained within the report that detailed, amongst other indicators, how the strategy was financed and the revenue implications of the Council’s Capital Investment Strategy Programme.  The amount of finance required to deliver on these savings, relative to net expenditure was reasonable and sound and enabled the Council to receive an income stream net of borrowing costs.  The strategy also responded to guidance recently issued by central government on local government investments and the activity within this strategy would ensure the Council took full regard of the recommendations contained within the updated guidance.   The report considered by Members in April and May 2018 described the due consideration of risk, how these risks were to be mitigated and what actions were to be put in place so that the Council was risk aware, not risk averse.  Member briefing sessions were provided on the 8/9 May 2018.  The PIS would deliver £600,000 of the £5million budget gap, so Members were assured this was a reasonable and prudent proportion of the overall budget gap when Members approved the strategy with cross party support in its entirety on 14 May 2018, including the financial indicators. Councillor Mallory therefore did not consider that the Council was solely reliant on this strategy to deliver the necessary budget savings.  Members also agreed governance arrangements that were clear and robust, and included regular updates to Members of the Audit Committee such as the meeting held on 27 September 2018.  Members of the Overview and Scrutiny Board had also played a key role in the delivery of the strategy through vigorous challenge and scrutiny, evidenced at the meeting held on 18 September 2018.  And as a final proposal to safeguard clear and robust governance arrangements, Members also agreed on how the strategy was linked to the Council’s Property Asset Management Plan, which would be presented to Full Council later this year and then on an annual basis.  Councillor Mallory also drew Members’ attention to the article which appeared in the professional journal Room 151 in June 2018 which cited Scarborough Borough Council as providing a good example of a well-defined approach to developing the Investment Strategy and so gave external, independent validation by trusted experts in this area.

 

Councillor Nock presented his statement as Portfolio Holder for Legal and Governance.  Asked by Councillor Colling whether he agreed that as a democratic organisation the Council should allow members of the public to address the Council meeting by raising relevant, timely issues on the Council agenda and what steps he would take to achieve this, Councillor Nock confirmed that currently there was no mechanism for the public to ask questions or comment at full Council, regardless of whether they related to the agenda or not.  However, he noted that the agenda was available in the public domain about a week before the meeting, and ward councillors could and did put public questions to Portfolio Holders on their constituents’ behalf.  He therefore did not feel that democracy was being debased.  He warned too of the risks of public questions or lengthy statements in respect of particularly sensitive matters disrupting Council proceedings and so corroding the democratic process.  He added that the Governance Working Group had considered this matter previously and decided it was not necessary to include public questions/statements on the Council agenda in common with other local authorities.  However, he was willing to refer the issue back to the Governance Working Group should Members wish.  Councillor Colling confirmed she would like him to do this, citing examples of other local authorities in the region which made this provision.

 

Councillor Phillips presented her statement as Portfolio Holder for Transformation.  Councillor Colling then put the following question on behalf of a constituent:

‘Does the full council hold with the proposed closure of the Crown Post Office and franchised operation to W H Smith in Westborough bearing in mind that the Crown Post Office has operated from its current position for 108 years and is a much valued and recognised feature of central Scarborough?

Further, if there is a common consensus that this will not be to the full benefit of the residents of Scarborough for the foreseeable future, is the council able and willing to make a representation to the Post Office Management urging them to retain the existing post office in its entirety?’

In reply, Councillor Phillips commented that the Council did not have any direct control over a commercial organisation’s strategies but may be able to influence what would work well for the local community - the Post Office consultation had ended on 28 December.  To this end, senior Post Office representatives had been invited to an informal public Member Briefing on 21 January at 3pm.  The development of a new Town Centre Strategy had already shown the need for a dynamic strategy and partnership working to ensure the very best use of all local facilities.  This partnership included the Post Office, Royal Mail, W H Smith and the public.  In response to a further question, Councillor Phillips acknowledged the error in the Council’s opening times over the festive season listed on the internet, and assured the meeting that this error would not be repeated.  Councillor Donohue-Moncrieff then expressed concerns at the number of empty properties and businesses closing in Scarborough town centre, and the inadequacy of Council explanations for this trend, questioned the timing of the DBID levy, and asked if the Council would be applying to the Future High Street fund for support.  She was also very concerned by the Planning and Development’s recent decision to approve a significant development at The Bay near Filey which was not included in the Local Plan, and the implications of this decision for the planning of public services in her ward and for any future applications for development coming forward outside the sites in the Local Plan.  In response, Councillor Phillips confirmed that the Council would be applying to the Future High Street fund – one of a number of measures included in the Government’s budget statement to support high streets.  She added that as at October 2018 the vacancy rate in Scarborough town centre was 13.5%, lower than the regional average of over 15%.  Councillor Phillips acknowledged that the reasons for empty shops were varied, but this Council had taken a proactive approach by commissioning the Overview and Scrutiny Board to develop a Town Centre Strategy.  This was not a question of too little, too late but was a proportionate response engaging with the stakeholders themselves.  She commended the recent public engagement events in this respect.  Councillor Phillips then rebutted Councillor Donohue-Moncrieff’s criticism of the members of the Planning and Development, referring to their depth of experience and training, and defended their decision on this application which was in accordance with officer recommendations following refusal of an earlier application which had required amendment.  Councillor Siddons requested footfall figures for Scarborough town centre in the run up to Christmas in light of shops’ reports of a drop in business, and queried why it was decided to hold the Scarborough Sparkle event at the Open Air Theatre, thereby taking footfall away from the town centre.  He went on to criticise the Christmas lights, to refer to the threat of closure of national chains such as M&S and Debenhams and asked what was being done to avert the catastrophic failure of the town centre’s retail offer.  Councillor Phillips cited an 8% reduction in footfall in Scarborough town centre in December, not 23% as reported in the local media.  She commended the Scarborough Sparkle event which was very well attended, provided an opportunity for many small, independent retailers who did not have a presence in the town centre, and benefited from a special bus service from Eastfield via the town centre to the event.  Councillor Phillips disputed Councillor Siddon’s contention that the Sparkle event contributed to a decrease in town centre footfall, maintaining that the additional bus service may have increased visitor numbers.  She defended the evolving Town Centre Strategy which had top priority.  Councillor Chatt defended the Christmas lights explaining that they had been replaced several years ago by low energy bulbs and were rotated every season by the Council’s contractor.

 

Councillor Smith presented his statement as Portfolio Holder for Leisure referring to the success of the Scarborough Sparkle event which over the three days had attracted 26,572 visitors.  He was also encouraged that most of the stallholders wanted to return this year.  In reply to a question about parking enforcement in Hunmanby raised by the local parish council, Councillor Smith reported that there were 126 visits by civil enforcement officers in 2018 and 27 penalty charge notices issued.  The Council’s limited resources in respect of this service were deployed where there were most offences; however, the civil enforcement officers tried to attend the southern area at least two days per week.  In reply to a question about the Yorkshire Coast Destination Business Improvement District, Councillor Smith explained that this was not being led by the Council, but by a group of private sector businesses.

 

Councillor Turner presented her statement as Portfolio Holder for Communities.  In reply to a question about data protection and the Council’s Customer First Team handling calls on behalf of Scarborough and Ryedale Clinical Commissioning Group, Councillor Turner explained that in 2016 the Council had won a contract to provide communications, engagement and support services to S&RCCG and all Customer First staff had been fully trained in respect of processing personal data.  In reply to Councillor Donohue-Moncrieff, Councillor Turner apologised that she had not sent a response to her question put at the Council meeting on 5 November about the Jay Enquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, but it would not be appropriate for her to comment in any detail on an ongoing investigation.  Councillor Donohue-Moncrieff also asked Councillor Turner to comment on criticism North Yorkshire Police had incurred recently in the national media about a sexual exploitation campaign.  With reference to the allegations Councillor Donohue-Moncrieff said she had received about a serving Council Member and officer, Councillor Turner urged all to report any concerns through the correct channels.  Councillor Mallory rose to support Councillor Turner’s response stating that with regard to safeguarding concerns these should always be reported to the appropriate authority, including the police.  Finally, Councillor Turner undertook to give full support to Councillor Chatt’s campaign to accord apprenticeships the same status as educational courses in light of the evidence he had received in his ward that families on benefits were deterred from enrolling their children on apprenticeships because of the adverse impact on their household income.

 

 

Supporting documents: