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Agenda item

Public Questions and Petitions

To receive any questions or petitions from members of the public



Public Question in respect of Disposal of Assets




Mike Hodson commented that a Sheffield Telegraph article on 13 June 2019 listed a number of assets sold by the Council between 2016 and 2018, with the amounts of money realised by each sale. Two of the sites sold were Abbeydale Grange School site and the Bannerdale Centre site, both off Abbeydale Road. The Abbeydale Grange site was listed as realising £741,000 in 2016 and the Bannerdale Centre site realised £2.3 million in 2018. Both these sites were in the South West area of the City, within 200m of each other; they were both about the same size and both had planning permission for approximately the same number of houses. Surprisingly, in Mr Hodson’s view, the Abbeydale Grange site was sold Freehold, whereas the Bannerdale Centre site was sold Leasehold, which would normally realise smaller sale prices.




Mr Hodson therefore asked could the Cabinet Member explain the huge difference in the sale prices for these two sites, in view of their significant similarities? Could they also confirm that, in the Abbeydale Grange case, the Council accepted a drop in the sale price of £2.9 million, exactly the same amount that the Council was due from the developer, Avant Homes, for their required contribution to the provision of affordable housing under the Council’s planning policies which stood at 30% of the likely sale profits?




Mr Hodson further asked could the Cabinet Member also confirm that, in both cases, the independent valuer recommended that the developers could afford larger contributions than were actually made, with a net loss to the Council of £3.6 million? In the case of Abbeydale Grange, the recommendation was for a £2.9 million (22%) contribution, whereas Avant Homes effectively paid nothing; and there are no affordable homes on the development. In the case of the Bannerdale Centre, the recommendation was for a £1.2 million (27.5%) contribution, whereas Barratt Homes actually contributed only £500,000 (23%), a loss of £720,000 with only 11 affordable homes on-site.




Mr Hodson then asked could the Cabinet Member also confirm that almost all of the cash contributions made by developers in the South and West of the City towards the provision of affordable housing were spent in other areas? Could they explain how this was reconciled with their planning policy aspiring to provide such affordable housing in all areas of the City, so as to avoid transforming the southern and western areas of the City into executive ghettos?




Councillor Olivia Blake, Cabinet Member for Finance, Resources and Governance, responded that the valuations had been given by two independent valuers. As a result of the first valuation, the Council commissioned a second independent valuation which confirmed the first valuation.




The Council traditionally sold properties leasehold. However, in 2017/18 the Government announced proposals which prevented the Council from selling properties leasehold moving forward. This was why the Bannerdale Centre was sold as freehold. It was difficult to make comparisons between sites, which was why the Council obtained a valuation on each property.




Councillor Bob Johnson, Cabinet Member for Transport and Development, added that, as far as he was aware, money had not been distributed to other areas. Section 106 money was negotiated with developers.




Public Question in respect of Birley Spa




Nigel Slack commented that the last he had heard in respect of Birley Spa was that the Friends of Birley Spa had worked diligently with local Councillors to get agreement to them being able to fundraise for the building and secure its ownership within the community and preserve this unique asset for the City.




Mr Slack added that a recent story in the Sheffield Star newspaper had thrown all this into doubt, suggesting that the Council had taken steps to place the building on the market within a few weeks and before the Friends of Birley Spa had received any practical support or encouragement from the Council. This story seemed to take both local Councillors and the City Council’s own Heritage Champion by surprise.




Mr Slack therefore asked will the Friends of Birley Spa be given the material support they need to undertake fundraising activities? Where does the sum of £200,000 come from and why is this being demanded in this way? How will selling the building to a developer address the issues of the 900 year old woodland and the nature reserve or the public access to that woodland? Was this a case of Property Services failing to support the potential for community ownership through what might seem to be deliberate obstruction of a committed friends group?




Councillor Paul Wood, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Community Safety, stated that he was pleased that Mr Slack had asked this question as there had been a lot of misleading information in the public domain. When the building was originally put up for sale, local Ward Councillors held discussion with the local community group. As a historic building it was a priority of the Council to preserve this.




Councillor Wood added that, once the community group had submitted their bid, all other bids were suspended. The local community group then held a meeting with Clive Betts M.P. who stated that the group needed to produce a business plan to ensure viability in the future.




The two biggest problems with the building were that work on the roof was needed (and work underpinning) to prevent sinking and part of the upstairs floor had collapsed which was a security risk. All the windows needed replacing and there was damp damage. The Co-operative party involved looked into the property and had surveyors value the property which was why there were two different figures in the public domain.




Councillor Wood further commented that, at the first meeting at the site with the community group, which Councillors Jim Steinke and Denise Fox attended, the community group were informed that they may need additional funding for the building. A number of attempts had been made to obtain funding but this had not been achieved. A meeting with the group was then arranged at the Town Hall and the Group’s business plan was explored. Unfortunately, this plan had no long term viability. The meeting was adjourned and Councillor Wood informed the group his opinion on how the building could be preserved.




The group then presented a further plan but this had the same viability issues. Councillor Wood made it clear to the group that the Council was not seeking a big capital receipt. What was needed was a viable plan to repair and run the building. At this stage the Council informed the group they would ask if the the sale could be delayed for 3 months to enable them to establish a viable plan for the building. The Council did not give any deadlines to the group at the last minute, as had been suggested.




Councillor Wood added that the guttering needed to be repaired before the winter and therefore the group were asked for a response within 7 weeks. Another meeting had been held with the group last Sunday and it was clear that some members of the group were hoping that the Council will just give over the building to the group and let them run it how they wish which, he suggested, would be totally irresponsible.




The group had been given a deadline of August 10 to produce a viable plan. Nothing had been ruled out at this stage. If all else failed and bidding was reopened the Council would insist any successful bids needed to have community access on the bottom floor of the building. Councillor Wood was proud of how the Council had dealt with the situation and the community group concerned had been provided with a great deal of support.




Public Question in respect of the Street Tree Strategy




Paul Brooke commented that he welcomed the report on the agenda for the meeting in relation to the Street Tree Strategy but took issue with some of the detail in the report. In paragraph 1.2.3 it stated that ‘The above statistics demonstrate that the new approach adopted, and the additional funding being made available by Amey for bespoke solutions, is having a significant impact.” This explains that Amey were providing funding only for the 26 bespoke solutions and that was Sheffield Tree Action Groups (STAG) understanding. STAG had photographic evidence of some of the ordinary engineering solutions (that they were told were in the contract price) that had been used to retain 191 trees that were to be felled as a last resort. Could the Cabinet Member please explain what new solutions Amey were resorting to and applying to these trees?




Councillor Lewis Dagnall, Cabinet Member for Environment, Streetscene and Climate Change, thanked tree campaigners for attending the meeting and welcomed the progress that had been made. Amey were now undertaking work that had previously been considered unviable which they had now decided they could accommodate the cost for, as well as taking on the risk.




Public Question in respect of Street Trees




Paul Brooke stated that, in the Council’s press release of 10 July 2019, it stated that there had been ‘adjustments to the Council’s specification around some trees’. STAG were told in the mediated talks with the Council that this was only to allow a temporary retention of trees to phase their felling over a longer period.




Mr Brooke added that the Council’s press release stated that 191 trees will be retained indefinitely. Will the Council make public the specification changes it has agreed with Amey and any associated documentation so the public can see what, when and how the Council made this change?




Councillor Lewis Dagnall responded that he wished for the trees referred to by Mr Brooke to be retained and this would be assessed on an ongoing basis. He hoped that they could be retained indefinitely. The Council met on a monthly basis with the Co-Chairs of STAG and this presented plenty of opportunities to receive information in due course.




Public Question in respect of Street Trees




Shelley Cockayne commented that, in the Joint Position Statement, the Council committed to holding a review after an initial phase of joint investigations and that this would be published so that lessons could be learned and applied to the remaining trees. The Council also agreed that the assessment/investigations would be joint. Could the Council explain why none of the STAG evidence had been used in the Council’s decision making and no review had taken place despite assuring the Bishop of Sheffield it would be done by the end of June?




Councillor Lewis Dagnall replied that the Council was in discussion with STAG as to how to enact both of the issues referred to by Ms. Cockayne.




Public Question in respect of Court Injunction




Carole Sutherland asked will the Cabinet Member expand his personal apology to workers, campaigners and residents to that of an apology on behalf of the Cabinet and confirm now that the Council no longer requires an injunction and will not seek to extend it?




Councillor Lewis Dagnall stated that he had a great desire for an injunction not to be needed in order to carry out the Council’s policies. The Council was working with campaigners and residents to try and work towards a position where the injunction could be relaxed. It was clear that the situation had come to an impasse and that change was needed and Councillor Dagnall was now glad that the Council and campaigners were working together collaboratively to chart a different course forward.




Public Question in respect of the Independent Tree Panel




Rebecca Hammond commented that the evidence and data behind the Cabinet report to be discussed at today’s meeting showed that Council officers ignored and overturned their own Independent Tree Panel (ITP) advice to retain trees using the engineering solutions available and opted instead to believe what Amey said at face value. Given that Amey were now doing what the ITP advised in many cases, will the Cabinet Member now accept that an inquiry into the gross waste of funds committed under the watch of the Council’s Chief Executive was overdue?




Councillor Olivia Blake commented that she had written to STAG today and her response to this question was outlined in that letter. Cllr Blake commented that this had been discussed through the mediated process and the Council was not convinced that this was valid at that time. She did not feel that the call for an inquiry was valid. She was happy to discuss any outstanding issues but did not believe the Cabinet meeting was the appropriate forum to discuss the issue of an inquiry and this should be discussed through the mediated process.




Councillor Dagnall added that the ITP was an attempt to move things forward but he did not believe the approach of analysing trees on a tree by tree basis had been successful.




Public Question in respect of Tree Campaigners




David Dilner asked will the Cabinet categorically state on record that accusations made against tree campaigners did not emanate from Sheffield City Council officers and/or elected representatives?




Councillor Lewis Dagnall responded that Cabinet was meeting today to discuss the report on the agenda and welcome the progress that had been made in discussions with tree campaigners. He now wanted to look to the future and how the differences in the past could be put behind us and he thanked tree campaigners that the situation had got to a point where the report on the agenda for this meeting had been established.




Public Question in respect of Tree Felling




Justin Buxton commented that, in Autumn 2017, he had prevented the felling of a street tree at 45 Willowdale Crescent. Would the Council therefore wish to take me to Court and seek my imprisonment?




Councillor Lewis Dagnall responded that the Cabinet meeting was not the forum to discuss individual legal cases.




Public Question in respect of Legal Issues




Benoit Compin referred to a legal case against him regarding tree felling and asked if the Council would work with him to resolve this issue?




Councillor Olivia Blake responded that Mr Compin would receive a written response.




Public Question in respect of a Social Services Case




Alan Savoury asked why the Council had kept his wife in care for the last 7 years at a cost of between £205-210,000. How could this be justified?




Councillor George Lindars-Hammond, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, commented that he did not have specific details of Mr Savoury’s case but he would look into it as a matter of urgency.




Councillor Olivia Blake added that the demands on the social care budget had increased massively in recent years. The Council had committed to using some of its reserves this year to cover the cost.




Public Question in respect of Leadership




Russell Johnson asked, in light of recent events, was it time for the Leader to step aside in favour of modern governance that fully exploited the talent and energy of the 74 Members, of all parties, not in the Cabinet?




Councillor Olivia Blake responded that a debate had recently taken place at Full Council into the governance model at the Council and this would be further examined over a 6 month period. Councillor Blake disagreed with Mr Johnson over his views on the leadership of the Council.




Public Question in respect of the Streets Ahead Contract




Russell Johnson commented that he noted that the Council had continued with its Streets Ahead PFI contract despite dissatisfaction from some members of the public with the contract delivery. One of the complaints amongst some members of the public was Amey’s breach of the requirement on the size of sapling trees. Why was the Council apparently unaware of this, or, if they were aware, were they not holding Amey to account?




Councillor Lewis Dagnall responded that the Council did hold Amey to account. The Council made appropriate performance deductions, where appropriate, and Amey did make alterations where necessary. The Council aimed to unpick all outsourcing contracts. However, due to the cost Councillor Dagnall did not think it appropriate to bring the Council out of some contracts due to the cost.