Agenda item - Written questions from members of the public.
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Written questions from members of the public.
A list of public questions received by the due date of the 8th July 2010 will be circulated separately as part of an addendum at the meeting.
6.1 The Mayor reported that five written questions had been received from members of the public and invited Mr. Elkin to come forward and address the council.
6.2 Mr. Elkin asked the following question; “Now why have I been told by one of your employees that the trees around Hove are only looked at every two years? I would like to thank him for doing the two trees that I spoke about but the rest of the trees down Vallance Road and Vallance Gardens haven’t been looked at for over a year?”
6.3 Councillor G Theobald replied, “Good afternoon Mr Elkin. You did telephone me about this and you appear to have been informed, judging by your question, that the frequency of routine pruning is based on several factors relating to the size and type of trees and the class of road, but generally trees are hard pruned either every two or every four years, with an interim inspection midway between each period, and with a percentage of the total stock being pruned annually.
Norton Road was pruned as it was due on the rota. The arboricultural staff are currently pruning low growth from roads in the New Church Road area. Vallance Road has been inspected and as the person to which you refer in your question has already informed you, low growth will be removed by the 23rd July, so it was going to be done and it will be done.”
6.4 Mr. Elkin asked the following supplementary question; “You are in charge of the environment. Vallance Gardens is a Conservation Area and there is a tree there that was planted at the end of 2008. It is now overgrown, it is not a full grown tree but the leaves actually come down to the pavement. If it is not looked at very quickly you are not going to look at these trees for over four years. I am sick and tired of stupid answers to questions.”
6.5 Councillor G Theobald replied, “As I have tried to explain to Mr Elkin on the telephone and I think officers have tried to explain to him, trees are regularly pruned according to when they need this and I have already said the timescale for doing trees throughout the city and we have a professional arboricultural staff who look at these things.
I have already said that as far as Vallance Road is concerned the trees to which you referred will be done because they are on the rota. Certainly I will ask the arboricultural staff again to have a look at this particular tree and if in their professional judgement it needs to be dealt with, then it will be dealt with but they are the professionals and I must rely upon them to make decisions on trees. I am certainly not competent to actually judge whether a tree needs pruning or it doesn’t need pruning but we do have staff who do this.
I can assure you that we are very, very keen on trees in this council and that we want trees to be there, to flourish and to give joy to all our residents. I will have a look at this tree or ask staff to have a look at this tree and as I have already said if it needs doing it will be done.”
6.6 The Mayor thanked Mr. Elkin for his questions and invited Mr. Hawtree to come forward and address the council.
6.7 Mr. Hawtree asked the following question; “In view of the National Coalition's manifesto clause that will allow councils to bring back the committee system, would Councillor Mears please tell us what steps she is now taking to further this?”
6.8 Councillor Mears replied, “Before directly answering the question, I would like to give Mr Hawtree a bit of background to where we are. The Labour Party had been tinkering around with the council’s governance arrangements for many years. After the major upheaval to create the Unitary Authority we have had an Executive Board in Waiting, a failed Referendum on a directly elected Mayor at a cost of tens of thousands of public money, then alternative fall-back arrangements which the whole council was quite happy with and now the strong Leader and Cabinet.
The Labour Government imposed the strong Leader and Cabinet model upon us but we worked with other parties to make what has been acknowledged as the most open and transparent Constitution in the country. To change again will require primary legislation, expected to be introduced in the Commons in December at the earliest. There is little prospect of it coming on to the statute books before next May.
Taking any steps at this stage would be a waste of council tax payers’ money as there is no legislation in place to guide our actions. It is also unclear as to whether the statutory requirement to consult and other procedural steps under the 2000 Act will be retained. We need to see the legislation and any associated guidance so that we are clear as to what is required.”
6.9 Mr. Hawtree asked the following supplementary question; “I am aware, of course, that with the 2007 Act there is that special clause about Brighton and the question isn’t simply having it back straight away and so I am grateful for your highlighting those varying aspects of the matter. Being an optimist I like to hope that we can achieve this whether it’s before or after next May as you suggest, so with this in mind, and as I say it’s not a simple matter, can I ask you three key issues:
1) How do you envisage the committee system fitting in with the new system of Strategic Directors which is in progress?
2) How you would regard Graham Allen’s recent stated aim that every local authority should be allowed to decide its own voting system through referenda?
3) What conclusion have the council’s lawyers reached yet about David Cameron’s assertion that top cities can have referenda on a directly elected Mayor once again?”
6.10 Councillor Mears replied, “If I could answer the last question first, we actually don’t come into the first twelve in the country so we will not be having an elected Mayor.
The other questions that you’ve asked, Mr Hawtree, are quite detailed and you have asked questions of the lawyers. We will be looking obviously very closely at the legislation as it comes onto the statute books in December and your question around Intelligent Commissioning I believe, and I am sure that you have read all the papers, and as you can see it’s very open and transparent and everything will fold into place as it goes forward.”
6.11 The Mayor thanked Mr. Hawtree for his questions and invited Mr. Lowe to come forward and address the council.
6.12 Mr. Lowe asked the following question; “The barns at Stanmer Park which are owned by the council have huge historical value both locally and nationally. If restored they would greatly increase the number of visitors to the area and would provide local people and children with a living example of their heritage.
Villagers were promised a progress report and restoration plan for the barns, so could the Cabinet Member for Central Services tell us when this plan could come together, how much the restoration would cost and whether the council would be prepared to work with the various groups of Stanmer Park to find the money to do this?”
6.13 Councillor Alford replied, “The council has long recognised the historical value of the barns and has prepared a vision for the restoration, refurbishment and future use. The buildings are no longer economically viable for farming and their future use must be economically sustainable and self supporting to safeguard the buildings’ ongoing maintenance and protection.
The council wishes to make use of the unique opportunity to fulfil the objectives of the Downland Initiative by providing a range of services and facilities to attract visitors to Stanmer, improve the enjoyment of the park and provide a gateway to the South Downs. A working group has set out a vision and objectives for the buildings. The vision is seeking to provide innovative, inspiring and sustainable facilities for all which will enable people to connect with Stanmer, the South Downs and farming.
Just to compress some of the proposals for you, I won’t go through everything but there’s a visitor and information centre, a functional space for school visits, local community groups, temporary exhibitions, there’s commercial retail facilities on site, or potential space for, there’s flexible workshop space for creative makers, there’s office space, possible food outlets, public WCs, farm animal enclosures, basically leisure spaces for families and so on and so forth.
The proposal is aiming for an income generating, self supporting scheme that brings back into use these vacant historic buildings. The council is trying to progress towards this aim and has been seeking funding towards an overall feasibility study to consider the restoration costs and plans. The costs of this feasibility study are estimated in the region of £50,000, coupled with this the costs of the restoration and refurbishment are not known but are put somewhere in the region of £1.5-2m.
The council has had initial discussions with SEEDA, the South Downs, Low Weald Leader Partnership, etc, regarding the possible funding of the feasibility study and is currently putting together a bid for this feasibility study to basically get under way. As part of the feasibility study the council will be exploring all potential funding sources and would consider working with the various groups of Stanmer Park to support this aim.”
6.14 Mr. Lowe asked the following supplementary question; “When can we have the results of these initial discussions and basically have there been any discussions since?”
6.15 Councillor Alford replied, “Hopefully from my first response you will agree that there has been a great deal of time and effort put into trying to seek a satisfactory conclusion for these buildings. I would like to assure you we actually do take this project extremely seriously and I would like you to rest assured that the restoration is high on our agenda.”
6.16 The Mayor thanked Mr. Lowe for his questions and invited Mr. Scoble to come forward and address the council.
6.17 Mr. Scoble asked the following question; “I note that there is to be a Village Street Party in St James’s Street and yet residents and businesses alike in the area around St James’s Street have not been consulted in accordance with the Council’s Local Policy: ‘Demonstration, parades & street parties’ local residents of community groups can apply to close the road to hold street parties in their locality. The most important factor in arranging the party is that all frontages in the proposed roads both residents and businesses are canvassed for their opinion and a signed petition must be produced to be submitted to the council when requesting the road closure.
It would appear that the council and the Police have agreed to the closure of St James’s Street by accepting the request of a few people to hold the event. Can I ask what right do these people have to achieve the closure of the street over the weekend at the detriment of the residents and businesses alike without taking into account the views of the said residents and businesses?”
6.18 Councillor G Theobald replied, “Your question actually relates to the Pride weekend. The reality is that people will gather in a controlled or uncontrolled manner in and around St James’s Street on Pride weekend. The council together with the Police and other agencies has a duty to plan for a safe environment for this to take place.
The council’s role in closing the roads is to maintain public safety, as we are planning for a known set of circumstances as Pride has been happening for some years and if we did nothing then we would be failing in our duty as the highway authority.
The advice given on the council website is aimed at a conventional residents’ street party, rather than the St James’s Street situation where several thousand visitors come into the city to celebrate Pride. However, we do recognise that the event has an impact on those members of the community who do not wish to participate, however the measures that we suggest are in the interests of residents and visitors alike.
Residents have been notified in writing by the event organisers that the road closures will be put in place and when they will be effective from, which is Saturday 6.00pm to 3.00am and Sunday 2.00pm to 10.00pm. As I have already stated the council’s role here, working in partnership with the Sussex Police Authority, is to maintain public safety in the area where a known gathering is to take place.
The number of roads to be closed this year is nine in total, last year there were ten road closures. Rock Place has been taken out of the plan for this year’s event and as I have previously said both the council and the Police Authority are working with tried and tested arrangements to ensure that this event takes place with public safety being the key consideration.”
6.19 Mr. Scoble asked the following supplementary question; “I hear what you’re saying, Councillor Theobald. The 4,000 plus residents that live in the area are entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their homes as a statutory right. We have not been asked ever. It is equally so, I agree, health and safety is at risk; it is equally so that we can turn round to the council together with the Police and simply say ‘No’.
Why can’t this venue go down on to the seafront, which is a far better location? It would be self-funding, not requiring a grant of £10,000 of our hard-earnt money to pay rates and what additional costs are there incurred in council officers’ time in servicing this party?”
6.20 Councillor G Theobald replied, “Your original question was to ask me about road closures which is within my remit and is my responsibility, so once an event is announced I have the responsibility with officers to ensure that road closures are done for the safety of the public. It is not within my remit to decide whether the events themselves take place.”
6.21 The Mayor thanked Mr. Scoble for his questions and invited Ms. Paynter to come forward and address the council.
6.22 Ms. Paynter asked the following question; “The historic formation of our new Coalition Government brings to mind questions in relation as to how or whether Local Government is now expected to mirror this arrangement.
In Brighton & Hove, the Liberal Democrats rarely vote with the Conservatives, more usually aligning themselves with Labour and/or the Greens. To what extent are the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats required by convention or Central Government to now collaborate and form policy together in Brighton & Hove?
I would like clarification from both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Leadership on this.”
6.23 Councillor Mears relied, “As you have stated, nationally we have a Coalition Government and as Conservatives we support our Government. Locally the situation is status quo and therefore continues as before but I just would like to add, as the Leader of the Council, I offer an extended opportunity for every Party to work with us for the best interests of the city and that includes the two Liberal Democrats.”
6.24 Councillor Elgood replied, “I am very pleased to be able to answer but I perhaps wouldn’t use the words status quo too readily at the moment. The coalition agreement applies only to the UK-wide Government, it places no restrictions whatsoever on local council groups of the Liberal Democrats, so our council groups remain free as before to take what political action we deem necessary in the interests of the city.”
6.25 Ms. Paynter asked the following supplementary question; “It’s all very well and good for each of you to say status quo as it were but the fact is there is going to be conflicts of interest at some point where what has been agreed at Central Government is expected to be taken through down here and surely this puts the Liberal Democrats particularly in a difficult position when it comes to perhaps not agreeing with what their own Party in Central Government is doing. Is it quite right for there to be this great split between Local Government and Central Government when it’s the same Party, I mean it’s a bit schizophrenic isn’t it?”
6.26 Councillor Mears replied, “As I said earlier in my response, I believe that as Councillors we should work for the best interests of the city but I have made the offer across the floor to other Parties to work with the Administration. I truly believe, if they feel that the city should come first, they will do that. We have an item on the agenda today around budget cuts which has come down from Central Government and obviously it’s a Government paper and it’s a Government announcement, so I am very interested to see how the Liberal Democrats will deal with that and I am sure they will deal with that the same as Conservatives. It is a Government announcement and has to be dealt with accordingly.”
6.27 Councillor Elgood replied, “Well, I spoke to our Local Government Team earlier today regarding this question and I was told quite frankly we can do as we see is right and we will be doing exactly what we think is right and if that means resisting the policies of the Government, we will do that. The precedent in this Chamber has been set by the Labour Party who often campaigned the hardest against their own Party in Government, so we will do what we believe is right.”
6.28 The Mayor thanked Ms. Paynter for her questions.