Agenda item - Oral questions from Councillors

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Agenda item

Oral questions from Councillors

A list of Councillors who have indicated their desire to ask an oral question at the meeting along with the subject matters has been listed in the agenda papers.

Minutes:

 

46.1      The Mayor noted that 17 oral questions had received and that 30 minutes were set aside for the duration of the item.  She also noted that since the agenda had been published, Councillor Wares had indicated his intention to withdraw his question and she would therefore not take that question.  The Mayor then called on Councillor Janio to put his question to Councillor Yates.

 

(1)  Councillor Janio – The Future of Local Democracy

 

46.2      Councillor Janio asked the following question, “Does the Leader of the council believe in being honest with residents?”

 

46.3      Councillor Yates replied, “The answer is yes the question is nothing to do with policy of this council which is the purpose of this part of the council meeting.”

 

46.4      Councillor Janio asked the following supplementary question, “Given the social media output of Labour candidates calling for deficit and government breaking budges. Can he confirm that he will be honest with residents and confirm that Labour is discussing inflation busting budgets for the following 4 years before we hold the local elections in May and it doesn’t come as a surprise afterwards?”

 

46.5      Councillor Yates replied, “I refer the Leader of the Opposition to the answer I gave just now, let’s deal with policy shall we, not the future I don’t have a crystal ball.”

 

(2)  Councillor Mac Cafferty – Library Budget

 

46.6      Councillor Mac Cafferty asked the following question, “The cuts to the library budget is significant, £242K and covers notionally cuts to staff, but the one thing we all know about libraries is that they achieve high value for money with low staff costs. Described honestly in the budget book as modernisation and rationalisation will Cllr Daniel give me a cast iron guarantee that this cut is not yet another attempt by Labour to close Hove Library?”

 

46.7      Councillor Daniel replied, “There are absolutely no plans to close Hove Library why would we have spent all that time, money and effort in investing in modernising it  and making it beautiful  in putting in a new café and finding ways to make it sustainable. The library is doing well.”

 

46.8      Councillor Mac Cafferty asked the following supplementary question, “You did all those things because ‘us’ and the community forced you to. Why does my community have this annual fight with the Labour administration over Hove Library when they have had neither the inclination nor the common sense to renegotiate private finance initiative payments of £1m annually for Jubilee Library. There is now no question the PFI payments in Jubilee Library put in place when Labour last ran this council but they have hamstrung our ability to pay for all of our libraries. I asked the Labour administration to re-negotiate our Library PFI deal in October 2015. 3 years ago, why 3 years on are residents still waiting?”

 

46.9      Councillor Daniel replied, “If the Leader of the second Opposition Group was so keen on making Hove Library so much better for everybody why did he not do it when he was in administration just a few years ago and if he also thought it was so easy to re-negotiate this contract I would put that question back.  He had every opportunity, but what they did was close a library the only Administration to close a library was the Green Administration.”

 

(3)  Councillor Bell – Life Events

 

46.10   Councillor Bell asked the following question, “Recently I was contacted by a local resident who was obviously suffering because their mother had died and found great difficulty in getting the resources when they contacted the Council here on how they should go about informing people and also with bereavement.  I wanted to know what the Council are actually doing about this?

 

46.11   Councillor Hamilton replied, “I am not quite sure exactly what the question is because of the scant information. Can I just say that obviously the Council, as such does not deal with “bereavement support.”  In that sense it is not a Life Events service, although we do make sure that the way the service is delivered is done in a way that respects families, in a dignified and sensitive way to the needs of customers.  The service does not provide emotional support such as counselling as that is beyond the remit of the service.  But we do everything possible to ensure that the surrounding area, the chapels the reception and everything is as sensitive and dignified as possible.

 

On the Council website you will see that there are 10 recommended organisations locally which do help and give bereavement support.  I can particularly recommend CRUISE because a friend of mine became a widow and she went to CRUISE and has now become one of their volunteers as she was so pleased with the help she received.  The funeral directors may have contacts when it comes to support for bereavement, most people have got family and friends that do the most of support and people are members of faiths and their faith leaders will also help.”

 

46.12   Councillor Bell asked the following supplementary question, “The Government set up a website called ‘Tell us Once’ which if you go onto it you will see there are only 5 local authorities in the whole of the country which are not signed up to this service of which Brighton & Hove are one. It is a service which is there where people who are suffering bereavement for loss of a family member can contact this number via ‘Tell us Once’ and they do all the communications for them so that they can spend the time they need to get over the sadness which they are finding. I would like to know whether the Labour Administration will commit to signing up to this service so that we can help people who are suffering loss in a much more beneficial way than having to contact 10 different people?”

 

46.13   Councillor Hamilton replied, I am unaware of this organisation that has been referred to, I am sure that I can contact Abraham Ghebre-Ghiorghis and Paul Holloway and discuss with them to see if it something that we should in fact be involved with.”

 

(4)  Councillor Littman – Pride Festival

 

46.14   Councillor Littman asked the following question, “Residents of Preston Park are generally very welcoming of the Pride celebrations in the park every year.  This year there were a number of issues which I have taken up with PRIDE CRC who are addressing them, but one of them was an issue which also applies to us.  According to numerous reports from residents Preston Park was returned to the Council in an appalling state this year, even after the Mayor’s big tidy up after PRIDE residents tell me the grass was littered with cigarette ends, bottle tops, disposable lighters and other micro-litter.  May I ask why the council accepted the park being handed back in such a state?”

 

46.15   Councillor Platts replied, “Thank you for your question on Brighton PRIDE which we all recognise is a very important celebration of LGBT+ identities, and raises awareness of the need of greater equality and inclusion for LGBT+ people. PRIDE this year was bigger than ever before, with nearly half a million people who came to the city that weekend, 55,000 of which attending the Saturday event in Preston Park alone.  Pride has a desire to improve the sustainability of the event which draws a large number of visitors and provides a significant boost to the city’s visitor economy. We are currently developing a Sustainability Strategy for the next three years to build upon the good practice to be introduced this will focus on reducing the waste generated by the event, together with an improvement in recycling of the waste generated.

 

            Measures to reduce the waste will include:

 

·      Monitoring the waste generated by each trader at the event by Pride staff with incentives being considered to reduce waste.

 

·      Pride will introduce reusable plastic cups in the managed event areas including Preston Park and the Old Steine.  Pride are also working with businesses on St James Street & Marine Parade to introduce and encourage the use of reusable cups during the Village Party. 

·      Pride will introduce improved messaging in the lead up to the Pride weekend, to encourage a ‘behaviour change’ for people that come attend the event, including people visiting from outside of the city, to be more aware of what waste they are creating and the impact.

·      Pride are going to improve onsite water refill areas to further encourage people to reuse their own plastic bottles, and reduce single plastic waste.  Also, Pride are working with the businesses along the parade route that offer a ‘water refill for free’, and further promote the use of this to the public.

 

·      Measures to improve recycling are being considered by a review of the collection of waste for the event.  At present it is acknowledged that improvements need to be made to ensure that greater recycling takes place of the waste generated.

 

46.16   Councillor Littman asked the following supplementary question, “I did not know Cllr Robins was not going to be here today so I understand it is a bit of a difficult one. Fundamentally the question is I assume that we have as landlords a contractual agreement with anyone who uses our green spaces and I going forward what assurances can you give that when events hand back our green spaces to the council that they will be held to a high enough standard of cleanliness, what penalties might be applied if they fail and also what remedial work would be required should they do damage to our grassed areas?”

 

46.17   Councillor Platts replied, “The best thing would be for me to provide a written response so that his question gets properly answered.”

 

(5)  Councillor Mears – Estate Regeneration

 

46.18   Councillor Mears asked the following question, “You may recall estate regeneration was actually started under our Conservative Administration.  Can the Chair of Housing re-assure this council because of Labour’s desperate need as time is running out to devote affordable housing to fulfil their 2015 manifesto pledge that regeneration of our estates will not be prioritised for over development causing serious problems with the existing infrastructure to the detriment of residents already living there?”

 

46.19   Councillor Meadows replied, “As you know the city is urgently in need of more low cost homes. Brighton & Hove is a growing city with high housing prices, an ageing population, low incomes and a significant proportion of households with support needs. When we are talking about development when the council was developing the City Plan, the National Planning Inspectorate instructed us to identify more sites for residential development to ensure that the need for that additional housing was met. In regards to over development  we really need to look at all spaces within the city as we are a very constrained city between the sea and the South Downs National Park, so it gets very difficult and we are looking at some very sensitive sites. We appreciate residents’ concerns and we will take all those into consideration.”

 

46.20   Councillor Mears asked the following supplementary question, “Can the Chair of Housing confirm this administration’s commitment for the absolute need to ensure through any build within our estates that any green land surrounding these estates will be protected ensuring this council also protects the natural environment now and for the future?”

 

46.21   Councillor Meadows replied, “I can only assume that you are talking about the green lands of the South Downs National Park. Which, as you know, we are not the planning authority but I have it on very good authority that they won’t allow us to build lots of homes on it.”

 

(6)  Councillor Sykes – BHCC and Sustainability

 

46.22   Councillor Sykes asked the following question, “As the Administration seem to have forgotten about sustainability in the context of the Economic Strategy which is on the agenda today, can Councillor Mitchell reassure us by reminding council of how sustainability in the council and the city is incorporated into Administration plans?”

 

46.23   Councillor Mitchell replied, “You would have seen that the Economic Strategy have a whole section on sustainability and promoting the circular economy.  The Living Coast Biosphere programme is our environmental partnership for the city and for the wider area. The One Planet living principles and the actions and large body of work that it represents due continue to be delivered and are being progressed and mainstreamed into individual service areas, and by our partners across the city. So across a number of new and emerging areas work is being taken forward with  officer time being spent less upon administration of an action plan but rather applied to the delivery of the project and the key areas of that work include the following:

 

·           Reduction of CO? emissions

·           The development of an Energy and Water Plan for the Greater Brighton area

·           Developing a circular economy across the council and wider strategies and
projects.

·           The phasing out of single-use plastics, and

·           Embedding sustainability standards into key city planning strategies,

 

I would like to see the different areas of this work together brought together within a Sustainability Framework for the council and our partners and a good opportunity to do this will be when the Biosphere Management Strategy is being refreshed in the coming year.”

 

 

46.24   Councillor Sykes asked the following supplementary question,

 

46.25   “We do have a Sustainability Action Plan the document title is ‘SAP 2015-2017” which incorporates some of the elements you talked about, but much of the document appears to be a historic document, the deadlines in the past.  I wondered what the plans are for a follow up Sustainability Action Plan or do we need to wait for a Green Council?”

 

46.26   Councillor Mitchell replied, “As I have just explained we are focused on delivery, making a change and carbon reduction and ending plastic use and that is what we are doing rather than producing plans and action plans.  We are taking forward the One Planet Living principles and we are working on those and delivering on that Agenda.”

 

(7)  Councillor Wares – Tourism & Business Development

 

46.27   The question had been withdrawn.

 

(8)  Councillor Knight – Mental Health in Schools

 

46.28   Councillor Knight asked the following question, “A study of 12555 children aged between 13 and 15 was undertaken recently and the results found that one in three have a mental health issue. What are the council doing to support schools to identify students who are in need of mental health support?”

 

46.29   Councillor Chapman replied, “Mental health in schools is something that I and the rest of the Administration of course take very seriously. All primary, secondary schools and post 16 provision have access to primary mental health workers and they are available at different amounts according to different provision.  I can provide more details on that availability to Councillor Knight.”

 

46.30   Councillor Knight asked the following supplementary question, “In 2012 the threshold tipped over 50% of teens owning a Smart phone why, when teen depression and suicide began to increase. By 2015 73% of teens owned a smart phone, the teens that spent more time on line than with friends in person were most likely to be depressed.  What does the administration feel about smart phones being used in schools across the city?”

 

46.31   Councillor Chapman replied, “The council can give guidance to schools on what it believes the use of a smart phone should be in schools but ultimately it is up to the school as to what they advise their children in the school in how they use their smart phones.  I agree that social media causes a lot of mental health issues.  I would advise schools to think strongly about this and to consider how they can best protect and advise the young people in their school to make sure that access to social media and looking at social media doesn’t affect their mental health.”

 

(9)  Councillor Brown – Planning Enforcement

 

46.32   Councillor Brown asked the following question, “Please can you tell me when we will have a full complement of planning enforcement offices to enable enforcement action to be taken in a timely fashion?”

 

46.33   Councillor Cattell replied, “The Planning Enforcement service is responsible for investigating alleged breaches of planning control.  It is a small team and comprises of 1 Principal Planning Officer, 2 Seniors and 2 Assistant Planning Officers.  In 2018, following a re-shape of the Development Management service, after our Pier review the service were able to recruit an additional Assistant Planning Officer and we now have 2 overall.  Over the last few years the team have struggled to allocate and investigate all cases on receipt and the team have been managing cases on a prioritisation basis, with HMOs, alterations to listed buildings allocated on receipt and these are our two priorities at the moment.  In addition, if a scheme is causing a substantial impact, this will be allocated and investigated on an ‘as and when’ basis.   Other cases are been investigated when the officers have had the capacity.

 

Between 2017-2018, the service has been working on a new Enforcement Policy Document.  Part of the work to prepare the document involved a consultation workshop with Members, all Members were invited. The finalised document was presented and approved at TDC Committee in September 2018 and is scheduled to be implemented in January 2019. This document is intended to provide much more certainty in respect of timescales for investigation and will provide updates to those that have taken the time to raise a query. Priorities have been introduced to manage the influx of queries and different timescales will be allocated to different cases, so people will have more certainty in the future.

 

In the meantime, there are still a number of unallocated cases and we have appointed two additional Assistant Planning Officers to assist with the investigation of these cases for a temporary period until the end of March 2019.  Furthermore, with tasking of the Field Officers now taking place, enforcement officers are able to give the Field Officers particular tasks as well as to allocate cases for investigation. For example the Field Officers can do the site visits while they are out and about, saving the Planning Officers time not having to be out of the office. The investigation of a case can take some time to resolve as the Local Planning Authority does need to be seen as fair and reasonable.  Notwithstanding this, it is accepted that some cases have been delayed and the new Enforcement Policy Document is intended to address this.

 

46.34   Councillor Brown asked the following supplementary question, “Would you agree with me that it is totally unacceptable that I have had to wait for nearly a year in several instances to even get cases allocated to a named enforcement officer let alone get the matters actually dealt with?”

 

46.35   Councillor Cattell replied, “I am really sorry to hear that and I do agree and I know you are not the only councillor who has had problems with this and I am really sorry to the residents that have had to have that uncertainty but this is why we have been putting a lot of time and energy into this new policy and, as I have said before, on other occasions at council, it is very difficult to recruit planning officers across the board it is not just us it is most of the South East as well. But now we do have a full complement and we have additional staff and I hope that now your residents will be able to get their issues resolved.”

 

(10)       Councillor Druitt – Glyphosates

 

46.36   Councillor Druitt asked the following question, “It is well known that glyphosate is toxic, poisonous and most likely carcinogenic and that by continuing to use it we are effectively poisoning our residents. In light of this council’s commitment in March 2016 to find alternatives and the fact that ten councils in the UK, including Lewes have already done so. Can the Chair of the Environment, Transport & Sustainability Committee tell us if we are still using glyphosate and if so why?

 

46.37   Councillor Mitchell replied, “City parks uses very little herbicide on beds as most are now mulched using the woodchip provided by our tree maintenance team.  Selective weed killers and grass fertilisers, which were once widely used in parks, are now significantly restricted to the small amount of fine turf that remains in our parks such as on bowling greens and cricket squares.  Wherever possible we use other methods of removing or preventing weeds such as strimming, mulching and using weed rippers.

 

In relation to weed control on the highway, to date, it has not been practical or cost effective to use these methods in all of the places where weed growth needs to be curtailed and so our twice yearly contract does use glyphosate in accordance with current DEFRA guidance and in compliance with the Control of Substances Regulations.  This governs the topical application of herbicides to the area being treated with the frequency being controlled. 

 

Previously, Officers have explored some different options for weed removal without the use of herbicides but at that time the options available were either impractical for highway application or considerably more costly.  Electric weed killers, Acetic Acid spraying, foam systems and hot water systems were all looked at but all would have been considerably more expensive than the current method.

 

But it is the case that the alternative technologies are improving and the costs are reducing and we would like to switch to an alternative method if practical and affordable.  Officers are therefore currently exploring these options with other local authorities, including Lewes and service providers.”

 

46.38   Councillor Druitt asked the following supplementary question, “I find it incredible that we are still using it on highways especially as Lewes has a lot more rural area than we do and many more highways in between and they seem to do without it.  I also would like to make sure that we are all aware that there is a lot of evidence that glyphosate resistant weeds have become widespread in many countries and we do run the risk as we continue to use it that we have to use ever more dangerous quantities of it in order to tackle resistant weeds.  My supplementary question is “Has the council trialled ‘Foam Stream’ yet and if not why not?  It is apparently very affordable, very effective and not just at dealing with weeds but also germs, chewing gum and grime which we have, as we know, become a visible embarrassment in this city.”

 

46.39   Councillor Mitchell replied, “My previous answer did state that foam systems have been trialled but I can give you a commitment that we are looking at all other alternative methods and that hopefully we will be able to let the next contract for our weed control using a different method.”

 

(11)       Councillor C. Theobald – Roundabouts

 

46.40   Councillor C. Theobald asked the following question, “I would like to know what is happening to our roundabouts in the city. We were told some years ago that there would be a corporate sponsor for the whole city but this does not seem to have materialised. One of the worst roundabouts is one in Patcham along the A23, there are also a lot of others which are in very poor condition.”

 

46.41   Councillor Mitchell replied, “In relation to the A23 /A27 Patcham roundabout – officers have developed a plan to renovate and to improve the surface appearance of the roundabout following Highways England’s maintenance work that was carried out at last.  I do believe that Patcham Ward Councillors have been briefed on the latest position and I think a contractor has now, or is about to be, appointed.  In relation to other roundabouts and their appearance I think this does come down to restrictions on budgets and having to prioritise issues such as road safety works and highways maintenance above that but I will certainly feed your concerns back to officers and we will see what we can do?”

 

46.42   Councillor C. Theobald asked the following supplementary question, “I would like to say that we have not been briefed on this.  There has been a sponsor very keen to pay for that roundabout but this does not seem to have happened. I think the council should negotiate more with that person and it is not just Patcham Roundabout, our city needs to look a lot better and our roundabouts need more care”

 

46.43   Councillor Mitchell replied, as that is not really a question I cannot provide a response.

 

46.44   The Mayor noted that the 30 minute period for Members’ oral questions had been reached and therefore the remaining 6 questions listed in the agenda and detailed below would be not be taken and would be carried over to the next council meeting in January; subject to confirmation from the councillors listed:

 

(12)       Councillor Page – Wheelie Bins on Pavements

(13)       Councillor Hyde – Taxi Trade

(14)       Councillor Deane – Artists’ Residencies

(15)       Councillor K. Norman – Road Safety

(16)       Councillor Gibson – Investing to Save

(17)       Councillor Nemeth – King Alfred.

 

 

 

Supporting documents:

 


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