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Agenda item

Public Questions and Petitions and Other Communications

(a)  To receive any questions or petitions from the public, or communications submitted by the Lord Mayor or the Chief Executive and to pass such resolutions thereon as the Council Procedure Rules permit and as may be deemed expedient.

 

(b)  Petition Requiring Debate

 

The Council’s Petitions Scheme requires that any petition containing over 5,000 signatures be the subject of debate at the Council meeting.  A qualifying petition has been received as follows:-

 

Petition regarding the future of Sheffield Central Library

To debate an electronic petition (https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-sheffield-central-library) containing 8,078 signatures (as at 29th November) calling on the Council to “keep the beautiful, purpose-built Central Library building as a library, reject any plans to re-purpose the building and invest in the upkeep of this building as a full public resource.”  The wording of the e-petition is as follows:-

 

“Libraries have been under threat across the country. Sheffield has already seen Walkley library sold to commercial interests. Now our council has opened up a review into commercial uses for the Central Library, with the possibility it will become a five-star hotel.

 

The Central Library is a meeting space for groups and individuals, hosts talks by local and national authors and helps people use the internet. It is also a beautiful building, purpose built as a public space, which the general public can currently enjoy.

 

The story of our beautiful art deco Central Library began in 1929, to a design by W. G. Davies and was conceived as part of a plan to create a civic (public) square. Today, the library houses Sheffield's largest general lending and reference collection. The Graves Art Gallery sits on the third floor with a gift shop and cafe and the Library Theatre, a space for local and student theatre companies, lives in the basement. It also houses a children's library. From the start, this building was imagined as a public space from top to bottom and should remain as such.”

 

Minutes:

5.1

Petitions

 

 

5.1.1

Petition Requesting Action Regarding Parking Problems Outside Totley Primary School

 

 

 

 

 

The Council received a petition containing 130 signatures, requesting action regarding parking problems outside Totley Primary School.

 

 

 

 

 

Members of the School Council made representations to the Council on behalf of the petitioners. They informed the Council that the petitioners were concerned about the safety of pedestrians in the area outside Totley Primary School. The school was considering expanding to two form entry, which would increase the numbers of children and add to the volume of traffic. They wished to keep children safe from dangerous situations on the roads which were caused by vehicles.

 

 

 

 

 

Local residents also complained of the problems relating to parking in the roads near to the school and a request had been made for parking restrictions. There was no zebra crossing for pedestrians and it would be some time before the roads were due to be resurfaced. The petitioners had met with the local ward councillor, Councillor Colin Ross, who had agreed that there were issues which needed to be addressed.

 

 

 

 

 

There were young children both at the school and at child care. Parents parked on Sunnyvale Road and it was difficult for children to cross the road. The petition had support of both parents and residents. A survey had been conducted which showed how children and parents travelled to the school. A meeting had taken place with highways officers and several options had been proposed, including the introduction of single or double yellow lines, implementing a one way system, encouraging parents to park outside of a five minute walking zone and to make the rest of the journey to the school on foot; and introducing a walking bus. The Council was asked to take action and introduce measures to help solve the problems with parking around the school as there was a potential for a serious accident.

 

 

 

 

 

The Council referred the petition to Councillor Mazher Iqbal, Cabinet Member for Infrastructure and Transport. Councillor Iqbal congratulated the members of the school council for giving an excellent presentation. He said that it was good that Councillor Ross had been to visit the school and that he would also like to visit the site, with Councillor Ross, look at the survey which had been carried out and see what could be done about the problems which the petition had outlined. A Council Officer had been in contact with the petitioners in relation to the road safety issues and Councillor Iqbal said that he would visit with that officer and Councillor Ross. The Council did think that road safety outside schools was very important and the petition had drawn attention to road safety issues and the situation particularly affecting Totley Primary School.  He said that, hopefully, more parents could be encouraged to walk to the school with their children.

 

 

 

 

5.1.2

Petition Requesting Assistance in Finding a Council Property

 

 

 

 

 

The Council received a petition containing 45 signatures, requesting assistance in finding a tenant a Council property.

 

 

 

 

 

Representations were made by Francis O’Shaughnessey. Mr O’Shaughnessey stated that he had been informed that he could not take over the tenancy of the property which had formerly been his parent’s home. His parents had passed away and the situation with regards to his family home was causing him considerable distress. He had been categorised as potentially being threatened with homelessness and felt that he should be given priority in finding a place to live as he feared that he could become homeless. He also expressed concern that people should be treated with better regard to their individual situation by the Council. He wanted to find a place to live which would allow him to move on and to deal with his circumstances as he had only recently lost his parents.

 

 

 

 

 

The Council referred the petition to Councillor Jayne Dunn, Cabinet Member for Housing. Councillor Dunn informed Mr O’Shaughnessey that a property had been found for him. She said that she would wish to meet with him to discuss the difficulties that he had experienced together with local councillors and officers. The Council was looking at the Lettings Policy and in respect of changes which had happened as a result of government policy with regard to housing. She said that she was very sorry for Mr O’Shaughnessey regarding the loss of his parents.

 

 

 

 

5.1.3

Petition Requesting Traffic-Calming Measures on High Street, Dore

 

 

 

 

 

The Council received an electronic petition containing 411 signatures, requesting traffic-calming measures on High Street, Dore.

 

 

 

 

 

Representations on behalf of the petitioners were made by Katie Salt who stated that she and her 2 year old daughter were nearly knocked down by an oncoming car, which thankfully managed to stop. Pedestrians, including parents, older people and disabled people, struggled each day on High Street, Dore. The area included schools and nursery schools. There was concern about the speed of the traffic, vehicles which sometimes mounted the pavement due to the narrow two way road and poor signage, especially around the schools, and no safe crossing, particularly for people who were disabled or for children.

 

 

 

 

 

She said that, as the roads were narrow, there should be a 20 mph speed limit. At present, vehicle speeds were thought to range from 30 to 50 mph. In addition, young adults drove dangerously at night time. Residents and retailers wanted to erect signs to help improve the situation. Parents chose to drive their children to school because of the dangers posed to children walking to school. Whilst she was aware that there were cost constraints, these needed to be balanced with a person’s life.

 

 

 

 

 

The Council referred the petition to Councillor Mazher Iqbal, Cabinet Member for Infrastructure and Transport. He said that he understood that a meeting was to be organised to include Dore Residents’ Group, the Village Society and the three ward councillors to identify solutions to the problems which had been outlined in the petition. Council Highways Officers would also be asked to visit the site and explore options.

 

 

 

 

 

5.1.4

Petition Objecting to the Proposed Demolition of Garages on St Michael’s Crescent, Ecclesfield

 

 

 

 

 

The Council received a petition containing 27 signatures, objecting to the proposed demolition of garages on St Michael’s Crescent, Ecclesfield.

 

 

 

 

 

Representations on behalf of the petitioners were made by Karen Thistlethwaite regarding the proposed demolition, of which tenants had been informed by letter. There had been no consultation or meetings arranged regarding the proposal. She said that there were 19 spaces, not 29 as had been stated and 14 of these were in use. It was stated that revenue from the garages was inadequate and yet the proposal was for the creation of free parking spaces. She said that there were people who would like a garage, although the Council had said that there was no demand. The basic garage buildings and surfaces were sound. The garages had not been maintained apart from the occasional clean up. She invited the Cabinet Member to meet with her and local councillor, Councillor Pauline Andrews.

 

 

 

 

 

The Council referred the petition to Councillor Jayne Dunn, Cabinet Member for Housing. Councillor Dunn stated that a Council Member question had been submitted to her concerning the garages and she understood that consultation with regard to the garages had taken place with the tenants’ group some time ago. This issue would be revisited and Councillor Dunn said that she would meet with local councillors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.2

Public Questions

 

 

5.2.1

Public Question in respect of Streets Ahead Contract

 

 

 

Nigel Slack referred to recent events in relation to the Streets Ahead Contract. He stated – Rustlings Road dawn raid; potential desecration of a registered War Memorial during the Centenary commemorations of WWI; Trade Union law abused; Human Rights Act, Article 11, attacked; one Walkley Councillor firing out contradictory comments, depending on his audience; condemnation from one CLP; resignations of party members; motions of no confidence within the party and within this chamber. A transglobal corporate contractor rubbing their hands all the way to the bank. No flexibility or transparency in the contract. 25 year commitment and £2.1Bn cost.

 

 

 

Mr Slack added that he had heard last night (at the meeting regarding future plans for the Central Library) about the Central Library being 'not fit for purpose'. What disaster will it take for this Council to recognise that this 'Streets Ahead' contract, negotiated by the Liberal Democrats & signed by Labour, is really not fit for purpose? And to explore what can be done about renegotiating?

 

 

 

Councillor Bryan Lodge, Cabinet Member for the Environment, responded that the Council would be working together with the community in respect of the War Memorial. It was not potential desecration as the trees would be replaced.

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge believed that the Streets Ahead contract was, on the whole, good for the City.  He accepted there would be differences of opinion but he did not believe the contract could be classified as not fit for purpose.

 

 

5.2.2

Public Question in respect of Future Plans for the Central Library

 

 

 

Nigel Slack stated that, in launching the proposals for redeveloping the Central Library building, the Council had clearly ruled out a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal and the Deputy Leader had commented - "We are absolutely clear that we will only do the final deal on this project if it is right for the city." – Was this right for the City's financials or for its people?

 

 

 

In response, Councillor Jack Scott, Cabinet Member for Community Services and Libraries, commented that the Council would only proceed with the deal if it was right for the people of Sheffield. Mr Slack was correct that the Council had ruled out a PFI deal. Councillor Scott would wait for the debate later in the meeting to expand further on the issues, but he believed the public meeting on the issue, held on 6 December 2016, had given a broad acceptance to explore the options in relation to the Central Library. Councillor Scott concluded that he was determined to engage with as many people as possible during this process and reiterated that no fixed decisions had been made.

 

 

5.2.3

Public Questions in respect of Human Rights Abuses in Burma/Myanmar

 

 

 

Ahmed Hussain asked what the Council was doing about inhuman treatment and genocide in Burma/Myanmar? How could the City Council raise awareness for social justice and protection of human rights for minorities?

 

 

 

Anwar Ali asked if the Leader of the Council believed that the Council had a duty to become the voice of disfranchised people and a peace maker?

 

 

 

The Leader of the Council, Councillor Julie Dore, commented that the Council did have a duty to be the voice of disenfranchised people and that is what they had been elected for. Where issues were brought to the attention of the Council they had a duty to act. In respect of the question about Burma, there were many occasions where representations had been made in the Council Chamber about atrocities and human rights abuses across the world and Councillor Dore was surprised that these issues were not raised more often.

 

 

 

Where the Council received representations, they contacted the appropriate people and made the appropriate representations on people’s behalf and she wished on these occasions the Council had more power than it currently had. At the last meeting of Full Council, the Council had received a number of representations about the situation in Kashmir and as a result the Council had contacted local M.P’s and representatives in India and a response had been received which Councillor Dore would share with the Council.

 

 

 

Councillor Nasima Akther had contacted the Leader of the Council regarding the issues referred to by the questioners and it needed to be agreed who could take this forward and Councillor Akther may be the appropriate person to lead on this. The Council would contact the questioners with a view to taking this forward.

 

 

5.2.4

Public Question in respect of Chinese Investment

 

 

 

Teresa Pursall asked if the Council could explain further about the 60 year partnership agreement with the Chinese investors and its impact on Sheffield.

 

 

 

Councillor Leigh Bramall, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Business and Economy, outlined that the Guodong Group wished to invest in Sheffield in a variety of ways, such as commercial properties and residential dwellings. The difference with this investment compared to other investments in the City was the level of investment. Therefore, there was a need to put a clear structure in place. The Partnership Agreement was a 60 year agreement which, whilst not legally binding, was a long term commitment and a big commitment to the City.

 

 

 

The Partnership represented the Guodong Company’s wish to work with the City Council as this was the arrangement that they were used to in China in respect of Government involvement. The Council could say whether they were in favour of a particular project developed by the Company but could not tell them what projects to develop.

 

 

 

There would be a Board, comprising representatives of the City Council and the Guodong Company, which would meet twice a year to look at potential projects and other matters. In respect of the agreement itself, there were some commercially confidential elements but the agreement would be discussed later on in the meeting, there had been a public meeting held on 6 December and it would also be discussed at a future meeting of the Economic and Environmental Wellbeing Scrutiny and Policy Development Committee.

 

 

 

The Council would treat the Guodong Company as they would any other investor in the City and there were legal restrictions as to what could and could not be done. The Council was not on a policy direction to sell off public buildings in the City and in respect of the decision about the Central Library, there were a number of benefits for the City which would be discussed later on in the meeting.

 

 

5.2.5

Public Question in respect of Comments from Nick Clegg M.P.

 

 

 

Kaltun Elmi asked if the Council would agree that the Member of Parliament for Sheffield Hallam, Nick Clegg, should stop running down Sheffield when speaking about the City he represents? Did the Council especially condemn his use of the words Stalinist and draconian in reference to the work being legally carried out by AMEY?

 

 

 

Ms. Elmi also asked what the Council’s position was in relation to the religious abuses of minorities such as in Burma? Did the Council wish to make a public stance against such atrocities?

 

 

 

Councillor Julie Dore responded that she had demonstrated in the Council Chamber that she didn’t tolerate breaches of human rights and would continue to support those affected. Councillor Dore was happy for Ms. Elmi to make representations as to how she thought the Council should respond to the situation in Burma.

 

 

 

Councillor Dore believed that Nick Clegg had not only talked down the City but let down the City and had not stood up for Sheffield on a number of issues. In respect of Nick Clegg’s recent comments in the media, Councillor Dore stated that she had never said that the decision in respect of Rustlings Road had been taken out of the Council’s hands and blamed the Police’s operation on this. She had said that this was a joint planning operation with South Yorkshire Police and had apologised for the Council’s role in that joint decision and she had proof of this. If Nick Clegg had proof of Councillor Dore making comments as he had stated he should show proof of this. Councillor Dore said Nick Clegg should apologise and, if not, she would be reporting Mr Clegg to the Parliamentary Standards Committee.

 

 

5.2.6

Public Question in respect of Ellesmere Children’s Centre

 

 

 

Libby Hamilton commented that Ellesmere Children’s Centre survived the cuts to early years because they had been extremely successful through their fundraising and financial diligence. The Centre still provided an excellent service for their community through their not for profit charity.

 

 

 

The Centre was told, formally, by the Council that they could buy the building that they had been in for 20 years. They had the price confirmed, and the finances in place. Now that the Council had found out that the Centre had been successful in a joint capital bid with other third sector centres, that offer had been withdrawn and they had been offered a lease instead. The Centre could not proceed on that basis and the outstanding maintenance work for the building now fell on the Council. If the Centre had been a private sector property investor; would buying of this property have been given?

 

 

 

Councillor Ben Curran, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, responded that he had been made aware of this issue a week ago. Ms. Hamilton was correct in that a leasehold of the building was on offer and he understood that this was the offer from the start. The Council had written to the solicitors for the Children’s Centre and made clear that the Council was willing to negotiate on a long leasehold of the building but had not yet received a response. The Council wished for the nursery to take control of the space, and this was supported by Ward Councillors.  The Council was willing to work with the Centre and Councillor Curran would be happy to meet if this would assist things.

 

 

5.2.7

Public Question in respect of Housing and Planning Act

 

 

 

Carrie Hedderwick referred to the Government’s Housing and Planning White Paper, and commented that she was aware that the Council was opposed to it. She was also aware that a rally, opposing the Act, had been held outside the Town Hall in March, attended by local M.Ps and Councillors. Despite this, the Act had been approved in May 2016.

 

 

 

Ms. Hedderwick added that the national and local campaigns against the Act had achieved some successes. She therefore asked if the Council would join the local Axe the Housing Act Campaign and oppose the whole Housing and Planning Act and issue a press release in opposition to it.

 

 

 

In response, Councillor Jayne Dunn, Cabinet Member for Housing, commented that, ever since she had been in post, she had been opposed to the Act. Sheffield had been one of the leading Councils in the North of the country who had provided evidence leading to the end of the Pay to Stay Policy.

 

 

 

Councillor Dunn would be happy to join the campaign and had written to Gavin Barlow M.P, Minister of State for Housing and Planning, several times in respect of the Act and had not yet received a response. Councillor Dunn thanked all those involved in opposing the Act and stated that she would be happy to speak at any rallies as the Act went against everything the Council stood for.

 

 

 

Councillor Mazher Iqbal, Cabinet Member for Infrastructure and Transport, added that, along with colleagues, he had spoken out against the Act for the last two years. In respect of the planning element, the Council had been told originally that the White Paper would be released in December, but this had now moved back until the end of January, so this was in the hands of the Government at the moment.

 

 

5.2.8

Public Questions in respect of Highway Trees

 

 

 

Hannah Dodd commented that Sheffield had recently promised to reject fracking. Some time ago, it had promised not to fell trees. She therefore asked if fracking could become the next broken promise?

 

 

 

Councillor Bryan Lodge responded that the Council had been consistent in its approach throughout and documents from 2008/9 highlighted the need to replace highway trees across the City. He was not, therefore, aware of any promise that said trees would not be felled for replacement.

 

 

 

Declan Walsh asked if the Cabinet agreed with comments made by Councillor Neale Gibson that the peaceful tree protests were marked with violence, swearing, disruption, threats, abuse and racism? If so, could they provide evidence of such and evidence that the Police have been informed of potentially criminal behaviour? If not, would the Administration or the Councillor for Walkley Ward like to take this opportunity to apologise?

 

 

 

Councillor Bryan Lodge stated that he was aware that the vast majority of protestors behaved in a law abiding manner. However, some operatives had received abuse. Some operatives had reported racial comments made to them to their employer, but had not taken the matter further. Some GMB operatives had raised issues regarding the protest with the Trade Union. An employee of the City Council had felt so strongly about the behaviour of some protestors that they put this into an email which Councillor Lodge had seen. Councillor Gibson had been repeating this information and it would be for him to respond as he saw fit.

 

 

 

Dr Shetty asked why the Independent Tree Panel was not suggesting alternative highway engineering specifications and only making suggestions from the list of 25 ideas published by Streets Ahead as ‘engineering solutions’? Has the City Council specified that they can only make suggestions from this list of 25? Dr Shetty believed the public were led by Councillor Lodge and Councillor Terry Fox to believe that the Independent Tree Panel was entirely free from City Council interference and influence. Was this just more disinformation?

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge responded that the Independent Tree Panel could ask for whatever they felt necessary to make their decision. They could also suggest any solutions they saw fit. There was no interference from the City Council and they conducted their deliberations without any influence from the Council. The Panel recognised that there may be additional costs for the Council to consider.

 

 

 

Graham Benson asked if Simon Green, Executive Director, Place, would accompany Sheffield Tree Action Group on a tree walk? Mr Benson also asked had the Council factored into their equation the psychological and real physical benefits of mature trees to the local population? There were a number of reports which stated how mature trees benefited the lives of local people.

 

 

 

Mr Benson also commented that the Council stated that their contract with Amey was confidential. Who did the Council prioritise as most important – their accountability to Amey or to the electorate?

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge responded that he could not respond on behalf of Simon Green and Mr Benson should contact Mr Green direct.

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge was sure that many people felt strongly about the trees in their neighbourhood. There were a number of conflicting issues which needed to be considered in relation to highway trees and people would have different views on some of those things.

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge understood the anxiety over the commercial sensitivity of the Amey contract. The contract included a tariff for highways work across the City. As Amey were a commercial company, this figure could not be publically released. However, the Council had a substantially better price than prior to Amey taking over the Streets Ahead contract.

 

 

 

Freda Brayshaw stated that Sheffield City Council’s Code of Conduct advocated openness and transparency in its decisions and dealings with the public. How can this be reconciled with the suppression of the Independent Tree Panel report on the Rustlings Road trees between July and 4:30am on 17 November?

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge stated that the Independent Tree Panel had reported back and officers had considered the engineering solutions proposed. Councillor Lodge had referred to the possible solutions at the Council meeting in September. The Council had apologised that information for Rustlings Road had been kept quiet because of the nature of the operation on that road.

 

 

 

Colin Carr commented that, in December 2015, the then Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport, stated that flexible paving had been used on 143 occasions to save highway trees from being felled. This statement was untrue, as confirmed by the Information Management Officer at the Council by email on 29 June 2016. In fact, the City Council had not been able to provide one single example of where flexible paving had been used to save a mature, highway tree from being felled.

 

 

 

Mr Carr added that, despite the repeated assertion by Streets Ahead that a range of alternative engineering solutions were considered before a healthy tree was felled, why did they steadfastly refuse to consider the use of flexible paving, such as Flexi-Pave, around street trees in Sheffield? This product was currently being used and endorsed by Amey in Birmingham, along with many other towns and cities, so why not here in Sheffield?

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge stated that a lot of work had been undertaken to assess the benefits of using Flexi-Pave. It had been used on The Moor but Councillor Lodge could not find examples of where it had been used for raised roots. Councillor Lodge would be meeting with representatives of Flexi-Pave and if they assured him that it could be used safely with raised roots, he would look at it. However, this had not yet been demonstrated to Councillor Lodge and would not be used at present as a result.

 

 

 

Rob McBride commented that, in the light of the Arboricultural Association statement regarding the questioning of felling decisions in Sheffield, would the Council now take the opportunity to reassess their random decisions to fell some trees that were clearly healthy when, normally, engineering solutions would be found?

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge questioned the use of the term random felling and stated that the felling was not random at all. If a situation was black and white a decision would be easy, but there were many grey areas in this matter where decisions had to be made. Sometimes decisions which may have seemed wrong at the time have later been accepted as correct, such as the redevelopment of the Peace Gardens which was now widely accepted as a fantastic asset for the City.

 

 

 

Brian Mosley asked had the PFI contract for the Streets Ahead programme been renegotiated in the last 9 months. Yes or No?

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge replied that the contract had not been renegotiated but there had been a finance appraisal to see if savings could be made.

 

 

 

Dave Dillner asked if the Council had an ecological appraisal report for the forthcoming tree felling works in Nether Edge? Yes or No? If yes, could Mr Dillner have a copy as soon as possible?

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge confirmed that an ecological assessment was undertaken for each area.

 

 

 

Diane Carr asked if those who authorised the felling operation on Rustlings Road gave any thought to the possible adverse local and national media coverage and its effect on the reputation of our City?

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge responded that what was taken into account was the potential risk to public order which was why the decision was taken to set up the Silver Command as public disorder could have a negative impact on the perception of the City. It was a tripartite meeting involving the Police, Amey and the City Council.

 

 

 

Helen Mclroy commented in reference to a previous question, if there was evidence of a joint decision from the Police and the City Council regarding Rustlings Road, could Councillor Julie Dore please provide this?

 

 

 

Ms. Mclroy added that there was extensive evidence of frequent bad practice under Health and Safety guidelines among Amey workers. What was the City Council doing about this?

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge stated that there had been no Stop Notices issued to Amey Hallam Highways from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The Council regularly received information about breaches of the National Joint Utilities Group (NJUG) and these were always reported to Amey Hallam Highways. Financial penalties had been issued where breaches had occurred. If members of the public were aware of any breaches, these should be reported.

 

 

 

Richard Davis commented that several members of the Cabinet and the Chief Executive had been made aware of breaches of health and safety legislation by Amey and contractors on Rustlings Road. Across the country, the HSE had prosecuted Amey for breaches and all this information was in the public domain. In light of this, and Councillor Lodge’s statement regarding the importance of public safety, Mr Davis asked if all tree felling should be suspended until the outcome of the HSE’s investigations?

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge stated that the HSE had not issued any Stop Notices  and had not conducted any investigations which would mean an immediate cessation to work.

 

 

 

Phil Cormack stated that he was a resident of Ventnor Place and that a single tree at the end of his road had been partially felled and people on the road had not been informed of this and the consultation process had not been stopped as a result. There had been a lot of anger amongst residents about this. Why, therefore, was the tree at the end of Ventnor Place felled in the middle of a consultation period and why were residents not informed that a change had taken place to ‘Highway Act’ reasons?

 

 

 

Mr Cormack believed he had a right to complain about this, as his democratic rights had been affected, and he requested an apology from the Council along the same lines as the one issued regarding Rustlings Road. When Mr Cormack had complained about the tree felling, the complaint was dealt with by Amey who were the organisation Mr Cormack wished to complain about.

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge acknowledged that this tree had been felled whilst the survey was still open and commented that the tree had been felled in exceptional circumstances as it was causing a danger, and he had seen a photo which showed this. He would chase up Mr Cormack’s complaint to establish why it had not been responded to quicker.

 

 

 

Dr Phil Yate asked why had the Council made the street tree survey only accessible to people who speak English and have both a tree on their street plus the internet? How did the Council justify this discrimination?

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge reported that hard copies of the survey were available on request, although he was aware that there were issues with circulating these. Tree Surveys had been introduced to allow residents to have their say. Councillor Lodge would look into making these available in alternative languages.

 

 

 

David Baines commented that the Council had spent public money convening an Independent Tree Panel to objectively assess each and every tree proposed for felling. The report was published online at 4:30am, 30 minutes before the felling took place, 4 months after the date of the report. Councillor Lodge effectively admitted supressing this report in his written apology issued last week. Would the Council therefore agree the Panel was a sham, and would the Council answer what the point of spending public money on the report was, only for it to be supressed and ignored?

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge responded that the role of the Independent Tree Panel was to have a look at each tree and establish if it was dead, damaged or diseased. The Panel also considered responses from the public and if the response was over 50% they would look at the tree or trees concerned. The Panel were not legal or tree professionals and its advice was not legally binding. The advice of the Panel may result in additional costs for the Council and the Council had to consider this against the viability of implementing the solutions suggested. There were competing pressures on the Council’s budget and this needed to be considered carefully.

 

 

 

Louise Wilcockson stated that of the five trees on Rustlings Road that Councillor Lodge had advised it would have cost £50,000 to retain – for four of them, the Independent Tree Panel recommended using a mix of solutions, numbers 1,3,7,9 and 12 (mainly adjusting kerbs, levels and tree pits). However, Steve Robinson, Head of Highway Maintenance, advised the second Highway Tree Advisory Forum that solutions 1-14 were at no cost to the Council as they were maintenance solutions within a maintenance contract. Therefore, they should have cost nothing. So who is the Council saying got this wrong, the Council’s Head of Highway Maintenance (responsible for the Streets Ahead Project) or its panel of tree experts?

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge stated that the Tree Panel had looked at a number of solutions. However, these solutions were not considered viable. He had spoken about possible solutions at the Council meeting in September, but it was felt on balance that the cost of these outweighed the benefits.

 

 

 

Nicky Bea commented that it had been recognised for thousands of years that trees are beneficial to humans, animals, birds and wildlife, as told by ancient scriptures. The modern age proves this scientifically beyond doubt. We are severely polluted and have 5 rivers and 7 hills. Why is it ok to flood and pollute us more?

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge stated that there was conflicting evidence on this and a recent NICE report suggested that large canopy cover could cause air quality issues. Since the first scoping of bids for the Streets Ahead project, the documentation had shown that 75% of trees in the City were ready for replacement. The Council was working, therefore, to rebalance the age profile of trees in the City.

 

 

 

Jack Geveitz commented that there has been quite a big issue with homelessness in Sheffield, as demonstrated by tent city in Park Hill and a petition to try and get empty buildings opened. Did the Council think it was appropriate to be spending public money on chopping down trees in the face of widespread anger, when there were issues such as homelessness which remained unresolved?

 

 

 

Councillor Lodge stated that the City Council recognised there were a number of issues across the City and a lot of work had been undertaken in respect of the issue of homelessness. The funding for the Streets Ahead project was specifically for highway maintenance and was not allowed to be spent on other things.

 

 

 

 

5.3

Petition Requiring Debate

 

 

5.3.1

Petition Requesting the Council to Save Sheffield Central Library

 

 

 

The Council received an electronic petition containing 10,058 signatures, regarding Sheffield Central Library and calling on the Council to keep the beautiful, purpose-built Central Library building as a library, reject any plans to re-purpose the building and invest in the upkeep of this building as a full public resource.”

 

 

 

The Council’s Petitions Scheme required that any petition containing over 5,000 signatures would be the subject of debate at a Council meeting. The wording of the qualifying e-petition was as follows:-

 

 

 

“Libraries have been under threat across the country. Sheffield has already seen Walkley library sold to commercial interests. Now our council has opened up a review into commercial uses for the Central Library, with the possibility it will become a five-star hotel. The Central Library is a meeting space for groups and individuals, hosts talks by local and national authors and helps people use the internet. It is also a beautiful building, purpose built as a public space, which the general public can currently enjoy. The story of our beautiful art deco Central Library began in 1929, to a design by W. G. Davies and was conceived as part of a plan to create a civic (public) square. Today, the library houses Sheffield's largest general lending and reference collection. The Graves Art Gallery sits on the third floor with a gift shop and cafe and the Library Theatre, a space for local and student theatre companies, lives in the basement. It also houses a children's library. From the start, this building was imagined as a public space from top to bottom and should remain as such.”

 

 

 

Representations on behalf of the petitioners were made by Rebecca Gransbury. She stated that the petitioners believed that the Library should remain in its current building and that investment should be made in its upkeep and to maintain full public access for the future. The Central Library building on Surrey Street told a story and was a public resource for people, regardless of income. Whilst reference had been made to a possible future where people may regret not taking a decision, it would be short sighted to underestimate the value of the City’s heritage.

 

 

 

The Library was close in proximity to the City’s theatres and Tudor Square and provided a welcome for everyone to the cultural centre of the City. She urged people to think about what a five star hotel might be seen to represent in terms of wealth and luxury. Access to the Graves Gallery was also an issue as many people might feel daunted by having to gain access to the Gallery through a five star hotel.

 

 

 

It was acknowledged that a hotel would provide benefits to the City, including employment and income from business rates. Furthermore, people did not wish for the Central Library building to be neglected. Manchester and Liverpool were examples of where libraries had been created in listed buildings. Whilst the expenditure to redevelop the building was estimated at over £30 million, it was not yet known what the costs of creating a new library at another location would be. The Council was requested to pursue available funding to enable the repair of the Central Library building and to make the Guodong consortium aware of the strength of public feeling in relation to the Central Library.

 

 

 

In accordance with Council Procedure Rule 13.1(b), the Cabinet Member for Community Services and Libraries responded to the petition, following which the Shadow Cabinet Member for Community Services and Libraries spoke on the matter.

 

 

 

Councillor Jack Scott, Cabinet Member for Community Services and Libraries, stated that it was a significant achievement to have collected so many signatures to the petition in a relatively short time. He agreed that the Central Library building was iconic, inspiring and magnificent and it was a living, community space. However, there were some fundamental structural and service challenges regarding the Central Library building. 

 

 

 

He stated that it was right that the Council talked with people about the proposal regarding the Central Library building. Both parties (i.e. the Council and Guodong) would be able to withdraw at any time. This was the beginning of a journey in respect of the Central Library building and there were many details which needed to be worked through. The Council had made five promises with regards to the Central Library, as follows:

 

 

      1.      There will be an accessible, inclusive and inspiring central library building in the heart of the city centre;

      2.      The Council would not be exploring a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) arrangement to finance any new central library building;

      3.      The existing building will be protected through a triple lock of planning law, listing requirements and controls / covenants that the Council will place upon it as part of any agreement;

      4.      There will be a new Graves Art Gallery in the existing building (possibly on the ground floor), guaranteeing public access for future generations; and

      5.      The Council will work transparently, involving and engaging as many people as possible in an open way that builds confidence and trust in the Council.

 

 

 

Councillor Scott said that information had been made available to the public so as to explain issues concerning the Central Library. He hoped that there would be proper scrutiny and challenge of proposals. The Council would only proceed if the promises outlined above could be fulfilled. No decisions had been made at this point in time and both parties would be able to stop at any time. The Council would be talking with people about options and choices and would consult on the design of any consultation. Visits would be made to learn from other cities and Councillor Scott invited Rebecca Gransbury to join in with these visits if she would like to. He said that he looked forward to working with people and that there was a clear wish to develop a modern, accessible, inclusive and inspiring library as a key part of the City Centre.

 

 

 

The Shadow Cabinet Member for Community Services and Libraries then spoke on the matter and Members of the City Council then debated the matters raised by the petition, as summarised below:-

 

 

 

Concerns were expressed in relation to access to information about the partnership agreement between the Council and Guodong and although this had been requested, restricted access to documentation had been denied.  It was not clear whether the land transaction in respect of the Central Library building would be based on a lease or freehold. Members had been told that a freehold agreement had not been ruled out. It was requested that an open approach was taken in respect of proposals for the Central Library.  Questions remained as to funding for a new library and when it would open.

 

 

 

This was the beginning of a process and it was acknowledged that the proposal was a bold one and that there would be some concerns. The Graves Trust, Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Disability Sheffield were supportive and it was considered that the proposal would be worth examining further. The decision had also been called-in for scrutiny. The benefits of the proposals would be considerable and would include the retention of a much loved building and potential to bring the Graves Gallery to the ground floor of the building. The condition of the Central Library building was an issue which needed to be addressed in the context of the pressure on the Council’s finances. There would also be potential employment opportunities arising from the creation of a hotel and by attracting conferences to the City. Revenue would also be generated from business rates. People were asked to participate in the consultation relating to the Central Library and allow an opportunity for proposals to be explored.

 

 

 

The Central Library building was in need of restoration and repair and the approach from Guodong gave the potential for investment. The Graves Collection was held in trust for Sheffield people and that would not change. Initial thoughts about where the collection would be located were that the Gallery should remain a public space for people to visit and learn. There had not been detailed discussion in relation to the Library Theatre, but it was known that the Theatre was popular with amateur dramatics groups in the City and consideration would be given to the idea of including a new theatre in any new library building. Options remained to be discussed and it was agreed that a library should be an open and accessible public space.

 

 

 

The Central Library and Graves Art Gallery was important to the cultural heritage of the City. Whilst the potential for investment was welcomed, concerns were expressed that the agreement signed between the Council and Guodong in summer 2016 had not been made available, despite requests to see it, and that the 12 month exclusivity agreement would also not be made public and neither would advice given with regards the planning application. It was thought that no action had yet been taken to encourage interest from other investors.

 

 

 

People wished to talk about the Central Library proposals and that was one of the reasons that it had been called-in for scrutiny. There was a desire to have an effective and accountable process. The issue of the investment partnership agreement was also on the Scrutiny Committee agenda as part of the decision on the China Economic and Civic Programme which had been called-in.

 

 

 

The options for the Library did not appear to include keeping the library at its present location. It was important that the Council listened to people on this matter.

 

 

 

It was important to retain a library in the city centre and at the same time, not to let the Central Library building become unusable. Without significant expenditure, the building would represent a safety hazard and the library would have to move. The library was not designed to provide suitable access for disabled people, the children’s library was in the basement and the Graves Gallery was located at the top of the building, all of which was not ideal. One of the solutions was to restore the Central Library building and locate the Graves Art Gallery on the ground floor.

 

 

 

The fact that the Council had arranged a further public meeting about the Library illustrated the strength of feeling on this matter. The Council was urged to be careful about the process followed and the way it went about this issue, so that what might be a good idea did not create problems further on. The proposals were something that had to work for people in order to get their support. 

 

 

 

A number of caveats were suggested, which included minimising the work to the exterior of the Central Library building; employment of local people; refurbishment of the building; accessibility; and income from the sale of the building being used only to continue J G Graves’ legacy for the benefit of Sheffield people. 

 

 

 

It was important to continue Graves’ legacy and move with the times. The Graves Gallery was hidden at the top of the Central Library building, which was in need of restoration and refurbishment, which had significant cost implications. The City deserved an inspiring, inclusive and modern Central Library. Families found that access to the Children’s Library was difficult and it was important to make libraries accessible to children and young people to help promote reading skills. Libraries needed to be accessible and sustainable.

 

 

 

It was also essential that people were appropriately engaged in relation to the proposals. Reference was made to comments by the Chief Executive of Disability Sheffield concerning the problems of access to the Central Library for people with disabilities and the opportunity to move to a more accessible and inclusive building.

 

 

 

The lead petitioner, Rebecca Gransbury, exercised a right of reply. She stated that, at present, access to the Central Library building for disabled people was of concern and that was an important reason for further investment in the building. She asked how funding would be made available for the development of any new library building if that was required. She expressed a wish that people could work together on this issue, to achieve something that everyone wanted and that options remained open.   

 

 

 

Councillor Jack Scott, Cabinet Member for Community Services and Libraries, responded to matters which were raised during the debate. He referred to funding reductions by the Government which had led to changes to the library services in the City.

 

 

 

He responded to matters raised concerning access to information and with regard to restrictions due to commercial sensitivity and in respect of planning advice, and stated that the procedure being adopted was not different to what was done on other similar matters. Information which could legally be made publically available had been provided. Briefings had been given or offered to other groups on the Council with regard to the issue.

 

 

 

It was intended that the petition would be referred to a scrutiny committee, also noting that the matter had been called-in for scrutiny. It was the Council’s intention that an open and transparent approach was taken. 

 

 

 

The outcome of the debate on the petition was as follows:-

 

 

 

RESOLVED: On the Motion of Councillor Jack Scott, seconded by Councillor Vickie Priestley: That this Council notes the petition calling on the Council to “keep the beautiful, purpose-built Central Library building as a library, reject any plans to re-purpose the building and invest in the upkeep of this building as a full public resource”, and refers the petition to the Economic and Environmental Wellbeing Scrutiny and Policy Development Committee to be considered in conjunction with the call-in of the Cabinet decision on the China Economic and Civic Programme Update.

 

 

 

 

5.4

Petition Requesting the Removal of Trees from Vainor Road

 

 

 

The Council received a petition containing 22 signatures, requesting the removal of trees from Vainor Road. There was no speaker to the petition.

 

 

 

The Council referred the petition to Councillor Bryan Lodge, Cabinet Member for Environment. He stated that the petition requesting that trees were removed on Vainor Road showed that there were different opinions with regard to highway trees. The petition would be included in the consultation process.