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Agenda item

Public Questions and Petitions

To receive any questions or petitions from members of the public



Public Questions Concerning Street Tree Archive




Justin Buxton commented, further to the council’s promise to archive information relating to the scandalous street tree felling programme in Sheffield, can the Council confirm and categorically ensure that all information and data related to and associated with the Streetsahead contract and indeed the contract procurement project itself, is retained and not deleted prior to archiving, whether or not the information is considered suitable for public release?



Councillor Mark Jones commented that, as a result of the significance of the street tree archive and the information that will be included, the Council will be preserving data beyond the normal time frame requirements.  He stated that the Council was eager to get the archive established as soon as possible and to cover the period outlined by the Ombudsman's report and then, once established we will add all pertinent information that we can, going further back, including information from the previous administration.  He stated that legal advice will be taken in respect of whether information is considered suitable for public release and requested that details of any particular documents be forwarded on to him to check on their suitability for inclusion in the archive.



Public Questions Concerning Interpretation of Meaning of ‘May’ and ‘Shall’




Justin Buxton commented, with respect to the Council’s ‘Standing Orders’, sometimes referred to as rules. Please can the Council specify and explain in detail their interpretation of the word ‘may’ and furthermore also confirm or deny that in law the words ‘may’ and ‘shall’ have very different and distinct meanings?



Councillor Terry Fox commented that it is difficult to provide a precise answer without details of the full context but on face value “may” implies a discretion and “shall” implies an obligation, but you can often have a discretion as to how an obligation is actually implemented.



Public Questions Concerning Street Tree Felling




Justin Buxton commented, further to Councillor Dore's statement made at Cabinet on 18th November 2020. Can the Leader of the Council, Cllr Dore, confirm that all the decisions made, that resulted in the ‘illegal’ and very costly, in terms of both cash and reputation, pursuit of the street tree felling programme in Sheffield by Amey, pursuant to the Streets Ahead contract, were as a result taking officers advice? Why were pertinent questions not asked by the leader and Cabinet Members when it became clearly apparent something very wrong was happening and in turn avoid a less than positive legacy?



The Leader confirmed that no action taken had been deemed illegal and therefore, in the absence of the withdrawal of this aspect of the question, declined to allow the question.  She reaffirmed that all decisions taken were based on officer advice.



Public Questions Concerning Forestry Commission Investigation




Justin Buxton commented that the Leader of the Council, Councillor Dore, has previously stated on record that the first she heard of the Forestry Commission investigating the legality of the street tree felling progamme in Sheffield was from me on a Radio Sheffield ‘phone in’ no less than four months after officers were informed. Is this true? If so, is this acceptable? Was any review of officers concealing information commissioned by yourself or indeed any disciplinary action taken and if not, why not?



The Leader commented that, no doubt that Mr Buxton was aware of the Forestry Commission investigation before she was, as a result of his involvement with the campaign group that requested such investigation. 



Public Questions Concerning Waggon & Horses Public House – Involvement Table




Mike Hodson commented, could Cllr Lea update us on the status of the Council's Involvement Table, published in 2016, and the Council's Guidance for Consultations; and comment on the conflict between those and the current consultation about the extension of the Waggon & Horses Public House into Millhouses Park?



Councillor Mary Lea commented that there was no conflict between the Involvement Table and the Council's guidance on consultations with regards to the proposals for the Waggon & Horses development at Millhouses Park.  Consultations are currently undertaken exclusively online because of the global pandemic and the desire and need to keep people safe.



Public Questions Concerning Waggon & Horses Public House - Consultations Received




Mike Hodson commented, could Cllr Lea inform us how many specific responses to this consultation have been received to date, and what if any further measures are being taken to inform the public, and local residents in particular, that this consultation is taking place?



Councillor Mary Lea commented that the Council had received 641 responses to the consultation so far.  Such consultation has been widespread and includes posters which include QR codes linking directly to the consultation which have been displayed in Millhouses Park.  Secondly the information was sent out in Parks and Countryside email bulletins, reaching about thirteen and a half thousand people.  The consultation has also been promoted on the Parks and Countryside social media channels, reaching thousands of followers. She stated that the level of responses received so far is considered excellent for this kind of consultation.



Public Questions Concerning Tall Residential Blocks




Nigel Slack commented, with the news on Saturday that a Sheffield block of apartments has had its top four floors evacuated for fire regulation failures, affecting 35 residences, what steps will Council take to ensure that the current popularity within planning for very tall residential blocks are not putting residents at risk?


Will the Council also be undertaking reviews of previously accepted applications to ensure the builders and developers are meeting the exact conditions of the planning approvals, unlike the Hanover Tower situation?



Councillor Bob Johnson clarified that planning approval does not deal with construction or internal building safety issues, instead those issues are controlled at the construction stage under the building regulations.  Developers have a choice now, whether they use our local authority building control or whether they use the private sector and that is their choice to use an approved building inspector.  In the case of this site, it is understood that it was the latter route that the developer chose.


Subsequent maintenance of the building, in compliance with fire safety regulations, are the responsibility of the building owner. It is for the building owners to ensure that once completed and occupied safety regulations are adhered to.  If matters come to the Council's attention whereby buildings are subsequently altered by removal of key internal fire protection systems, then the Council will look at each case as it arises and take action where necessary with fire authority partners. The Private Sector Housing Team routinely inspect private sector buildings and regulate this.  They collect all the data regarding the sector and risks are assessed and addressed through their powers. Post construction the Council has successfully taken enforcement action on a number of buildings in the City recently, where some building owners and management agents are not maintaining their buildings and not addressing fire safety breaches.  For the buildings in the news recently, where prohibition notices have been served, we are reviewing what was installed at construction stage and how the block has been maintained in the following years to understand legal responsibilities and to  ensure that leaseholders are not being over charged for works that should have been addressed prior to the completion stage. 


The Council’s priority is as ever with resident safety.  We have a board of governance in place which is also attended by the fire service. The oversight of all existing building, all new buildings and those coming through the planning system will go through that process.


Councillor Wood commented that he would like to thank the staff that have been involved with this matter for their quick response.  He stated that once we have any notification from South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue we act immediately.  In this case, within an hour of the prohibition notice being introduced staff acted and within a number of hours everyone was rehoused.  He stated that he had written to the government minister, resulting in a telephone conversation yesterday on how we can try and resolve this to get people back in their homes as quickly, but safely as possible.  We are waiting for confirmation of details from government but if we get them, we will be able to get people returned soon. As a council we continue to make representations to government on building control issues, in particular that we feel the service should be back within the council.  Representations have also been made with the Shadow Housing minister.



Public Questions Concerning Cabinet Membership




Nigel Slack commented, can the Council comment on whether there is any plan to re-shuffle the Cabinet following the installation of the new Leader and whether this is in the best interest of the city in the midst of the current crisis?



Councillor Bob Johnson stated that he was not in a position to comment on this matter right now.



Public Questions Concerning Alleged Wrist Injury




Russell Johnson commented, at a previous meeting, I asked when and how the Leader became aware of the alleged wrist injury suffered by a member of Amey/Servoca staff during the opposition to tree felling on Meersbrook Park Road.


If the Leader was not aware, did Mr Mothersole fail to inform her? The then Chief Executive told me of the incident in a private meeting.  The question was passed to Cabinet Member Cllr Jones, who said he would investigate.


Despite a reminder, no response has been forthcoming, either from Cllr Jones or from the Leader. Could the Leader please honestly answer the question now and have this minuted for the public record?



Councillor Mark Jones commented that he was liaising with officers on this matter and was carrying out ongoing investigations to enable him to get a fuller understanding of the position before providing a complete response.



Public Questions Concerning the Leader’s Legacy




Russell Johnson commented, whilst wishing Cllr Dore well in her life post-SCC, I would like to ask whether, on balance, she believes her period as Leader will be seen as enhancing the reputation of my City, or will the well-known catalogue of embarrassing failures over the past decade or so overshadow any meagre achievements when people come to evaluate her legacy?  Also, may I reserve a place in the queue for a signed copy of Cllr Dore’s Memoir, should she decide to pen such a work?



The Leader commented that it was not just her legacy, but a joint, shared legacy under my leadership. She stated that it was important to note that her time in office as Leader coincided with the harshest central government cuts we've ever had to make.  During that time, we have sought to give the greatest protection to council services, to the people in the greatest need and the most vulnerable in our City.  Despite that austerity and the impact that it had we have done a number of things which made a difference to our City and our citizens: The introduction of the Fairness Commission; paying the living wage and becoming a living wage foundation accredited employer;  insourcing a number of services back into the council, including the Council Housing Service, Repairs and Maintenance, Customer Services, Youth Services and others; and the regeneration of the city centre which is now taking hold - the Council’s role in this and Heart of the City 2 has been significant.


We have projects such as the Outdoor City and the award-winning Grey to Green project. We negotiated the retention of World Snooker for a further ten years and the economic benefit that this brings to the City.  We developed a major events programme with support for many award winning national and international events, including the amazing celebration of the 2012 Olympics.


Immediately on taking office we saved our museums and galleries from closure from our predecessors and I was the first Member representing Sheffield on the Arts Council England.  We have overseen many award winning cultural and sporting venues and events. We have built new council housing and invested in our housing and neighbourhoods.  We have had investment and management of our parks and our environment, including receiving a number of awards. I personally have planted numerous flowers, bulbs and trees. I have worked with the women of steel to create the award-winning statue in Barker's Pool. We have seen the successful development of the Olympic Legacy Park, including Sheffield's first three to 19 through school, technical college (with Sheffield being the only city with two technical colleges), an advanced wellbeing centre, a food technology centre, alongside the stadium and youth stadium for rugby and football.


We have strengthened the advanced manufacturing sector in our City, including welcoming the likes of McLaren, Boeing and Rolls Royce. We have produced a new Local Plan which protects the green belt from development, despite the level of new house building targets imposed by central government. I have worked with other leaders of the core cities to put devolution on the agenda and have helped get the South Yorkshire devolution deal done and an elected Labour mayor.  As a member of the HS2 taskforce and Transport for the North I have ensured that the route of HS2 brings high speed rail into our city centre. I was involved in the creation of Transport for the North, the only statutory transport body outside of London and the subsequent investment into the transport network across the North.


I have worked collectively and collaboratively with all our partners across the City Region at many levels, including South Yorkshire and City Region Leaders, Local Enterprise Partnership, Fairness Commission, Health and Well-being Board, Business Advisory Panel, Sheffield Strategic Advisory Group and most recently, on probably the most emotional and difficult thing that we've done is to support the City through the Covid pandemic. My only one disappointment is not seeing Sheffield Wednesday make it to the Premier League which I'll leave for my successor!



Public Questions Requesting Independent Inquiry




Russell Johnson commented, I wonder whether, as a positive parting gesture and as a step towards detoxifying the Sheffield Labour ‘brand’, Cllr Dore might advise her successor to initiate an Independent Inquiry or a meaningful Truth & Reconciliation process around the Street Tree Scandal? This could be achieved without loss of face as part of the transfer of leadership and be presented as a welcome ‘new broom’ approach, beginning the necessary rehabilitation of our City in the perception of people locally and nationally.



The Leader to respond in writing.



Public Questions Concerning the Climate Emergency




Russell Johnson commented, why, yet again, does Sheffield lag behind Leeds in innovative ideas to help address the Climate Emergency? For example, Leeds has the largest plant nursery in the country, the ‘Arium’, capable of growing over 5m plants each year and supplying community groups and the public.  That forward-looking Authority is also planting millions of trees, embarking on educational programmes and other initiatives. Their Climate Action Network sets the gold standard for Local Authorities. What is Sheffield doing? A bit of greenwashing at best or something more profound?



Councillor Mark Jones commented that Sheffield was already globally recognised for the innovative work around the Grey to Green project, which will tackle some of the climate change issues.  With regards to tree planting there had been much activity by many people over many years, this city has approximately 21 to 22% of our area covered by trees, 18% of which is in the urban environment.  As part of our tree strategy we will be planting 10,000 trees per year and, we have submitted two bids, one which has been successful and one where we are awaiting the outcome, which will hopefully double that, increasing the tree numbers that we are planting.  He stated that it has to be noted that tree stocks across the nation face many challenges, including diseases and viruses.  We in Sheffield are taking  actions now to address those issues and make sure that the legacy of our tree stocks and the viability of our tree stocks continue into the future. We have also converted 20 hectors of unproductive forest to broadleaf forest to increase biodiversity, to somewhat address the challenges of climate change, which we are already witnessing. 


He stated that, in terms of the street tree strategy that we are currently formulating, we hope to become an exemplar for Leeds and others to follow in terms of how we manage our trees.   With the tree wardens initiative, we hope to be able to push forward the education elements of this. 


He confirmed that the climate changes that we all face is something that we take very seriously.  We have a comprehensive study ongoing at the moment that is being undertaken by consultants, who will be reporting via the Green City Partnership Board, a cross city and cross party board that we've established to ensure that all stakeholders in this city have an opportunity to input into our climate actions.  We will be rolling out a comprehensive programme of education and engagement policies with the citizens of our city.  The report, which will be public, will identify significant challenges and we will not shy away from that and we are determined to stick to our 2030 commitments.  We will look to deliver everything that we can to tackle climate change, because it is happening now, it is something we recognise as being an issue we must tackle now for ourselves, our children and all future generations.


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