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Agenda item

Public Questions and Petitions

To receive any questions or petitions from members of the public



Petition Requesting that the Council Refuse Planning Permission to Build Houses on the Historic Roman Ridge




Bridget Ingle submitted a petition, containing 2,500 signatures, requesting that the Council refuse planning permission to build houses on the historic roman ridge in Wincobank. The petition stated that the petitioners were appealing to their elected representatives on the Sheffield City Council Planning Committee to uphold the 2013 decision of C.J Ball, an inspector appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to refuse the planning application 18/00146/OUT to build 22 houses on the line of the Roman Ridge.




The petition further stated that this 27km ancient earthwork, not yet fully understood or dated, ran along the side of the Scheduled Iron Age Hill Fort at Wincobank. As a Celtic defensive frontier against both the early Roman invaders and the later Saxons, it has the same historic value as Hadrian’s Wall and Offa’s Dyke. It is a monument of local and national significance.




The petition concluded by stating that the remaining sections were either destroyed, scheduled or under Council protection and this land should be protected too. The petition asked the Council to ensure that this well used section of land (just below the hill fort), already designated as open space, be left fully accessible for further archaeological investigation and for the benefit, education and enlightenment of future generations.




In presenting the petition, Bridget Ingle stated that this was the fourth occasion a planning application had been submitted for the site. Previously, the application was recommended for granting by officers but refused by the Planning and Highways Committee. The developer appealed and this was turned down. She was therefore looking for Council support for refusal of the application.




Councillor Jack Scott, Cabinet Member for Transport and Development, thanked Ms. Ingle for her attendance and the petition. The Cabinet did not have a position on this as such, as it was a decision to be taken by the Planning and Highways Committee and Councillor Scott did not want to influence their decision making.




However, Councillor Scott added that he agreed that this was a beautiful part of the City with unique heritage. He understood the frustration within the community at another application having to be fought against. The process did need to be followed correctly though, but if the application was refused the Council would do its best to support the community and try to win at any potential appeal hearing. Councillor Scott would welcome a meeting with Ms. Ingle on the issue should she wish.




RESOLVED: That the petition be referred to the Planning and Highways Committee for consideration.




Public Questions in respect of Sheffield’s Clean Air Zone Proposal




Ibrar Hussain, a taxi driver in the City, referred to the consultation process for the Clean Air Zone proposal. He commented that Transport for London (TfL) had introduced a phased process in London and asked if the Council had considered following that process in Sheffield?




Mr Hussain further asked had a detailed plan been prepared for taxi drivers and private hire drivers should the proposal be introduced? Had there been a risk assessment undertaken on the impact to those groups?




Mr Hussain commented that a big problem in the City was cross border working where taxi drivers could be licensed in other parts of the country and drive into Sheffield to work. What would happen to them if the proposal was introduced? Mr Hussain did not believe the Highways service within the Council had tried to work with the taxi trade to understand the effect it would have on them.




A further big problem in Sheffield, Mr Hussain added, was taxis around Sheffield Railway Station with particular peak times between 4 and 9pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The continuous traffic there was causing problems and better planning was needed to cut emissions. What was the Council’s plans in respect of that?




With regards to possible Government grants being received to help implement the proposal, Mr Hussain commented that he was aware that Leeds City Council had been requested to revise their proposals in order to receive the funding from the Government. If Sheffield applied to the Government for £40m to implement the proposal, what share of this would taxis and private hire cars receive in order to mitigate any financial damage to them? If less than £40m was granted to Sheffield, how much would they receive then?




In terms of the consultation process, Mr Hussain commented that he believed the report on the agenda for the meeting should state that there would be a meaningful consultation with the taxi trade. He requested that the detailed plan for the proposal be referred to a Council Scrutiny and Policy Development Committee as the impact on the taxi trade was immense. Mr Hussain believed that the Licensing Service at the Council was poor and Hackney Carriage licensing should be separate from private hire car licensing in the way that other licensing regulation was.




Ammer Hanif, a local taxi driver, commented that he believed there was a lot of ignorance about the taxi trade. They earnt about the same as the national minimum wage and, should the Council’s proposal be implemented, their earnings would be below even that. Taxi drivers provided a vital service for the community and he did not know why those who could least afford it were being targeted.




Mr Hanif did not believe the Licensing Service was fit for purpose. He and many of his colleagues were being penalised for playing by the rules. If Mr Hanif obtained a license from TfL he could circumvent Sheffield’s requirements and if the proposal was implemented it would encourage others to do the same.




Lee Ward, representing Alpha, a private hire taxi association, commented that there were 185,000 private vehicles in the City, and 3,000 were licensed in Sheffield. He questioned what policy could improve air quality if it was only targeting 3,000 vehicles? He believed the Council was too scared of charging everyone, but, in his opinion, everybody was contributing to the pollution so everybody should pay. Mr Ward believed that this proposal was a political decision and not a clean air decision.




In response, Councillor Jack Scott commented that he had considered a phasing process. That, however, would mean starting a year earlier, rather than a year later and he did not believe taxi drivers would welcome that. This proposal was setting out a trajectory and identified a solution which would get the City to having legally compliant air. There were far more details to work out in the period ahead and he welcomed comments regarding areas where further work was needed.




Councillor Scott wanted people to understand that there was a big public health crisis within the City and across the country by not having clean air. The Council did take action on cross border working and Councillor Scott would be happy to exclude drivers not licensed in Sheffield from the bus lane bonus. However, he hadn’t identified a legally practical way of achieving that as yet and further work would be done to look into this.




Councillor Scott accepted Mr Hussain’s comments in respect of the Railway Station and stated that a masterplan was being developed for the whole Station. However, this was private property and not Council property. The electrification of Midland Mainline and improvements to the taxi fleet would help. Without the electrification there needed to be improvements to the taxi fleet as there were comparatively limited private car movements in the area, and these tend to be cleaner.




If the Council did not receive sufficient funding from the Government to support the proposal, it would not proceed with the plan it had outlined. The Council needed to put in place appropriate investment, grants, loans, guidance, advice and support for taxi drivers. If that was in place Councillor Scott would not support fare rises to pay for charges.




Councillor Scott accepted that the Licensing Service at the Council had been cut back and was now very lean. However, growing this would have to be paid for and would most likely mean an increase in licensing fees. He did not disagree that the proposal had the potential to have a massive impact on the taxi trade. However, he hoped that appropriate advice, support, guidance and investment would resolve this. He understood that, at this time, it appeared that the Council were adopting a “stick” approach. However, he believed that over time it would not look like that, when the full package of incentives and support was known.




Councillor Scott added that, overall, the taxi fleet in Sheffield was too old and the City needed to work together to get it cleaner. He did not turn a blind eye to infringements of licensing regulations, so if people were aware of specific examples, they should be reported to him.




In conclusion, Councillor Scott commented that this was a long standing problem and he did not see an alternative other than the Council’s proposal at this stage, as the City needed a clean, reliable and safe taxi fleet. He believed that the report on the agenda for the meeting would start a discussion amongst interested parties and the proposal would become clearer over time.




Public Question on the Ethical Procurement Framework




Christine Rose commented that the Women’s Equality Party welcomed the Council’s development of an Ethical Procurement Framework. Following on from the Party’s question at last month’s Cabinet meeting on the Gender Pay Gap, would the Council consider incorporating the following into the Framework. This would acknowledge the inequalities identified by the Gender Pay Gap statistics, encourage organisations across Sheffield to address it and to strengthen women’s economic outcomes:-


(i) Page 11 – Principals of the ethical code of conduct for suppliers point 3 living and minimum wages – ADD ‘gender pay gap’


(ii) Page 14 Appendix 2; Social Value in Tenders


Tackling Inequalities box – ADD ‘To work towards reducing the gender pay gap, ensuring that all employees are aware of their organisation’s track record and have the means to challenge it on an individual basis.’


(iii) Page 15 – Tackling Inequalities box – ADD ‘How will you work to reduce any inequalities identified in your gender pay gap report?




Ms. Rose concluded by commenting that the Party would welcome a meeting with Councillor Blake and the relevant Officers to discuss this.




Councillor Blake, Cabinet Member for Finance, commented that she welcomed Ms. Rose’s suggestions and agreed that a meeting would be useful to discuss this further, as some of the work may overlap with Government initiatives. The Ethical Procurement Framework was only signed off in March this year. A review would be done in due course to ensure that it was still relevant. There were issues with some of the Council’s outsourced services. Some historically gendered roles need to be challenged from an equality perspective. Councillor Blake’s office would be in touch with Ms. Rose to arrange a meeting.




Public Question in respect of Birley Spa Asset of Community Value




Nigel Slack commented that barely was the ink dry on the paperwork designating Birley Spa as an ‘Asset of Community Value’ than the Friends Group had been advised that it will be put on the market in 6 months time, the absolute minimum moratorium under the ACV legislation. Mr Slack hoped that it was not intentional on the part of Property Services, but this would feel like a deliberate kick in the guts for those who worked so hard to try and save this heritage building for the community, including some Councillors. As owners of the property, the Council could presumably allow up to the full 5 years for the ACV to lapse, but have chosen to allow only this mean and minimal opportunity for the community to organise, raise funds and then bid for this building. Why has this step been taken in quite such a seemingly uncaring way?




Councillor Olivia Blake responded that there appeared to be a bit of a misunderstanding in respect of the Asset of Community Value process. As the landowner, the Council had to give notification of its intention to dispose. This was a procedural matter and not aimed at the Friends Group. The Council had been clear that it wanted a timely process of bringing the building back into use and waiting 5 years could lead to further deterioration.




The Council had arranged a meeting with the Friends Group for 6 December and would continue to provide support to the Group. The notification of the intention to dispose had not been done to undermine the work the Council was doing with the Friends Group. There was a 6 week period to delay any sale of the building if the Friends Group notified the Council of its intention to bid. This started the clock ticking and the Group then had six months to complete the sale. This announcement did not mean the Council was selling the building at the moment and was just to signify that that was the ultimate intent.




Public Question in respect of Mount Pleasant




Nigel Slack stated that the guardians who had kept Mount Pleasant safe and secure for the last many years, had been evicted. However, it seemed unclear whether the sale to Hermes Care was yet complete and consequently who would be responsible for the building once vacant. Will the Council confirm the stage the sale has reached? What interim security will be in place once the guardians have vacated the buildings? What conditions were included in the contract to ensure the building was restored, rather than demolished, in the event of any unfortunate accident whilst the property was unprotected?




Councillor Olivia Blake confirmed that the Council was currently in negotiations with Hermes Care and was hopeful that contracts would be exchanged shortly. The building would not be left unprotected and there would be twenty-four hour security. The building was listed, so it could not be demolished. The company who employed the guardians had served notice on the Council and this was related to safety issues. The Council was hopeful that the building would be handed over to Hermes Care sooner rather than later.




Public Question in respect of Scrutiny




Nigel Slack commented that his previous questions at today’s meeting seemed to suggest a lack of joined up thinking and co-operation between Council functions. Councillors in Manchester were complaining of exactly that situation becoming ever more common in their experience and Mr Slack’s own conversation with Members indicated that this was not uncommon within this Council.




Mr Slack added that, at the same time, Scrutiny was becoming less and less trusted to do the job of holding the Council to account. The Call-in Scrutiny report being considered at item 7b on today’s agenda is perhaps indicative of why. The whole report (excluding preliminaries) is one and a half pages long and, if the words of the decision they were asked to scrutinise are taken out, the report is less than a page. The report gives no detail about the Committee’s discussions nor about the way the decision was made (unanimous/split). The decision not to take any action on this Call-in had a couple of caveats but no indication that, if the information finally received was unsatisfactory, there will be any consequence. When will the Council be reviewing the Scrutiny function, in conjunction with the Commons Select Committee report on the effectiveness of local authority overview and scrutiny committees, chaired by Clive Betts MP, to develop something more robust?




Councillor Olivia Blake confirmed that the Council had discussed the report from Clive Betts M.P. and a Council response had been given. Councillor Chris Peace, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, commented that, as a previous Chair of a Scrutiny Committee, she was very familiar with Clive Betts M.P.’s report. The general feeling was that it didn’t actually go far enough. The Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee, Chaired by Councillor Denise Fox, had considered the report at its meeting held on 19 July 2018. Councillor Peace had not seen the agenda for the next meeting of the Scrutiny Committee, but hoped there would be some follow up to this. She believed that Scrutiny fulfilled a very important function at the Council.