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Agenda item

Public Questions and Petitions

To receive any questions or petitions from members of the public.

 

(NOTE: In accordance with the arrangements published on the Council’s website in relation to meetings of the Cabinet held remotely, questions/petitions are required to be submitted in writing, to committee@sheffield.gov.uk, by 9.00 a.m. on Monday 18th January.)

 

Minutes:

5.1

Public Question Concerning Community Events this Summer

 

 

5.1.1

Ann LeSage commented, the Friends of the Porter Valley are continuing to raise funds for improvements to the Forge Dam area and wondered whether the Council thought that community events might be permitted in the parks by summer?

 

5.1.2

Councillor Mary Lea commented that she would firstly like to thank the Friends of Porter Valley for all the positive work carried out for the benefit of the area, which is renowned across Sheffield.   She stated that she would love for there to be events across all parks in the city in the summer but, unfortunately, at the moment, it is not possible to commit as it will be dependent on the situation in Sheffield, the situation nationally and obviously what government restrictions are in place at the time.

 

 

5.2

Public Questions Concerning True North Brewery and Millhouses Park

 

 

5.2.1

Mike Hodson commented, now that the Parks & Countryside Consultation – as required by the Building Better Parks Policy – is over, will the Councillor as Cabinet lead for Parks and Countryside commit to publishing the results of that consultation, so that the local community, park users, stakeholders and the public generally can be satisfied that the process has been robust, fair and transparent?

 

5.2.2

Councillor Mary Lea confirmed that yes, the Council will absolutely publish all the data that we collect and ensure that everything is transparent and available for everybody to see.

 

 

5.2.3

Mike Hodson commented, is the Councillor herself satisfied that the consultation has been as robust, fair and transparent as it should be? given that:

 

a) it was inadequately publicised, initially only on the Citizenspace website, and only later on social media sites, and on SheffNews, and later still via posters in the Park itself;

 

b) it was misleadingly described as a “Proposal to Create a Seating Area in Millhouses Park” - which ignores the fact that if implemented this would no longer be part of the park but part of the Waggon & Horses public house; a fact confirmed by Lisa Firth previous Head of Parks and Countryside Service;

 

c) the only mode of response to the consultation has been via the survey on the Citizenspace website, which effectively debars anybody without access to the internet, or lacking the technical skills or confidence to navigate that route; and which potentially allows responses from people all over the world, and potentially allows individuals to make more than one response;

 

d) the Consultation offers few and/or misleading examples of the claimed benefits to the park or the local community: e.g. the claim that “the proposal would lead to investment into this area of the park” ignores the fact that the Waggon & Horses “investment” would be in the seating and serving facilities, plus the gates into the park – all of which would have to be removed if the lease came to an end, leaving no gain at all for the park: e.g. it also claims that this investment could lead to jobs and/or training for local residents; whereas True North Brewery have stated that any new jobs created would be equal to 1 full-time job – and how that would be limited to local residents is not clear. Nor is there is any explanation as to why Parks & Countryside Service might want extra income from such an arrangement, or what alternative sources of income there might be;

 

e) there are some aspects of the proposal that the Citizenspace text and survey does not mention – such as the proposal for trees to be felled or cut back; and the proposal for three separate access-points from the space into the Park;

f) there is a clear lack of balance in the information given, and in the construction of the survey; with the introduction clearly implying that if the planning application is approved the proposal will go ahead; and the final sentence clearly implying that the consultation is simply about how the Lease should be shaped: plus most of the questions relate to what facilities the new area should have, etc. - all of which clearly assumes the proposal will be implemented.

 

Is this not unbalanced - completely negating one of the Council's [and the Local Government Association's] prime rules of consultations - 'the need for an open mind at the beginning of a consultation, and a readiness to modify proposals according to the feedback received'?

 

 

5.2.4

Councillor Mary Lea confirmed that we are awaiting the decision on the planning application.  She stated that she was satisfied that the consultation has been robust, fair and transparent, as it should be.  The consultation has been going on for a significant amount of time in various ways, with obvious limitations as a result of the pandemic. More than 800 replies have been received to the consultation which is a significant number of replies. In terms of jobs, she indicated that she welcomed any number of jobs, even one job is good news.

 

 

5.2.5

Mike Hodson commented, the Consultation information discloses that the Council actually owns the Waggon and Horses Public House. Is the Councillor aware that this poses a potential conflict of interest issue for the Council, in that the Council through its Property Service Department – as opposed to Parks and Countryside Service - would stand to benefit financially from any increased income and sustainability for the public house as a result of this proposal being implemented? Would the Councillor explain how the Council proposes to address this potential conflict of interest, so as to ensure that all benefits from such an implementation would go to the Parks and Countryside Service and not into the Council's general budget?

 

5.2.6

Councillor Mary Lea commented that the pub is on a lease and ground rent is paid. This and any additional revenue income goes to Parks and Countryside not Property Services.

 

There is no conflict of interest. All Council services work together for the benefit of the Council and its residents so there would not be a conflict of interest.

 

 

5.2.7

Mike Hodson commented, the Councillor has previously assured me that the proposal from True North Brewery was robustly assessed in May 2019 against the process and the criteria set out and required in the Building Better Parks Policy – as approved by the Cabinet in November 2018.

 

Could she therefore explain why the copy of the assessment document shared with me by a senior officer from Parks and Countryside Service is dated 24 Aug 2020, and why the Assessment makes reference to the planning permission process when the Planning Application was not lodged until June 2020 – both of these dates being well after May 2019?

 

5.2.8

Councillor Mary Lea commented that the assessment was undertaken in May 2019. It was further updated as new information was available, including the submission of a planning application, in August 2020. We referred to the planning process in the May 2019 version because we knew that the submission would be subject to planning approval.

 

5.2.9

Mike Hodson commented, how does the Councillor reconcile conflicting claims in that assessment document; e.g.

 

a) under Criterion No.1, that “income from the lease will be spent directly in the park and can therefore improve facilities”; as against clear statements from past and current Heads of the Parks and Countryside Service, as well as from herself, that no such guarantee can be given? and

b) under Criterion No. 6, that consultation has taken place with “key stakeholders, including, for instance, local councillors, parks friends groups, sports clubs, park users and the wider community”; as against the decision taken in October 2020 to launch the consultation referred to in Question 1 above?

 

Lastly, does the Councillor regard as 'robust' the assessment against Criterion No. 10 in the Building Better Parks Policy – which asks 'if there is a better alternative proposal, or if maintaining the status quo is a better option?' – the answer to which reads “No, the proposal is the preferred way forward”: and would she not agree that that is hardly a factual appraisal, and that it falls well short of the Council's normal requirements for proper consideration of alternative courses of action?

 

 

5.2. 10

Councillor Mary Lea commented  that the Better Parks initiative recognises the need to invest further into the management and maintenance of the cities’ Parks and Green Spaces. Where income is generated within a green space the ambition is to reinvest within green spaces in the city. This helps protect the service from potential cuts in core council funding, improves services and contributes to easing budgetary pressures by reducing the Council’s overall costs for delivering the Parks and Countryside Service. As with all income generated within Sheffield’s parks, the needs of the specific park are balanced with those of all sites in Sheffield. However, when the matter was first discussed with Lisa Firth, it was suggested that a proportion of the income from this leased arrangement, if approved, could be given to the Friends of Millhouses Park to enable their valuable work in the park.  The friends rejected this offer at the time.  What can be guaranteed is that 100% of this income will be used to support Millhouses and other parks in Sheffield.      

 

Early discussions and consultation was carried out in 2017/18. You were part of this consultation. Further online consultation was undertaken in October 2020 as agreed with the Friends of Millhouses Park group.

 

No alternative proposals have been received for this small piece of land. In assessing the proposal that has been received from True North Brewery, the alternative of doing nothing has been considered throughout and this ‘maintaining the status quo’ is not considered a better option – this is partly subjective as decisions around our green spaces are not solely tick box exercises. The Better Parks criteria was developed as a direct result of your objections to this very proposal to ensure the council could demonstrate a clear method for making those decisions.

 

 

5.3

Public Questions Concerning Appointment of Interim Chief Executive and Chief Executive

 

 

5.3.1

Russell Johnson commented, at this time of continuing and worsening financial stringency, and in the light of SCC’s large reduction in turnover in recent years, would the Leader please attempt to justify:

 

(a)      the cost of over £200K for an Interim Chief Executive;

(b)      the appointment of a new Chief Executive carrying a salary of c. £190K plus on-costs;

(c)      the fact that the salaries for the most highly paid seven officers amount to over £1m pa. (excluding on-costs).

 

Why was the obvious opportunity of Mr Mothersole’s retirement not taken to share a Chief Executive with neighbouring Authorities?

 

Does the Leader/Cabinet Member agree with me that this continued profligacy and disregard for obtaining value for taxpayers’ money is likely be seen as a kick in the teeth by deprived people needing scarce services in our City? And that this wastefulness leads to further cynicism regarding politicians’ actions and in many Wards very low voter turnouts?

 

5.3.2

Councillor Bob Johnson commented that, once John Mothersole had confirmed his intention to retire and we knew that there would be a gap between his departure and the new Chief Executive taking up position, it was decided that an Interim would be appointed.  The recruitment to this position was carried out in an open and transparent way and led by an officer employment committee including elected Members. The ability to commence recruitment of a permanent Chief Executive was delayed due to the first national lockdown and the council's response to Covid but the need for an Interim Chief Executive to lead through that period remained, so the total cost of interim arrangements exceeded those set out in our outlined arrangements.  The actual pay for our  senior officers is set out in our pay policy and salary payments to council offices are reported annually in line with transparency and other reporting requirements.

 

5.4

Public Questions Concerning Heart of the City II

 

 

5.4.1

Russell Johnson commented, in view of the pandemic radically changing work patterns, purchasing habits and unemployment affecting the ability to rent new apartments, the ‘Heart of the City II’ scheme would seem to be a very expensive white elephant, perhaps around 10 years too late. What financial risk is the Council – the Taxpayer – liable for in the likely event of the failure to secure anticipated income streams for the project?

 

5.4.2

Councillor Mazher Iqbal commented that the Council decided to take a different approach following the unsuccessful Seven Stones proposal in 2017 by moving to a block by block approach.  For example he referred to the success of the HSBC office building. A decision was taken to seek retailers that are not already in the city resulting in us successfully securing companies like Weekday and Monkey, also within that block we have CMS which are a global legal firm and an independent retailer, Marmadukes, providing a mixed tenure.  Unlike Seven Stones which would have caused us a huge problem, like it has done in other cities where large retail outlets are finding it difficult to let units, our current approach includes retail, leisure, residential, office space and new public realm. We also have Angelo Gordon, a real estate investor, on site with a large build to rent residential scheme, which is around £60m of investment.  Also, Radisson Blu, a global hotelier, have signed heads of terms and New World Trading is opening a new restaurant.  He stated that the Council will shortly be making an announcement on Leah’s Yard.  We have secured John Lewis in the city.  The former Leader and I recently attended the topping out of the Isaac's building, which includes 52 apartments, town houses and workspace and he reported that the Carver Street office block is full.  He stated that this demonstrated that our approach is justified and was keeping the project and the city moving and that he would disagree with the comment made in respect of the project being a white elephant, in fact the project is a great success.  In addition to this he referred to the regeneration and redevelopment of the Moor, the work carried out on the Heart of the City has levered in extra funding of £15.8 million from the Future High Street Fund, which connects that thread and the final part of the jigsaw which is Castlegate. The city centre is moving forward and the next policy for us, which we will be announcing in February is how can we replicate that in our district centres. 

 

5.5

Public Questions Concerning Governance Model

 

 

5.5.1

Russell Johnson commented, at Full Council two weeks ago, I was pleased that in an answer to me the Leader did not seek to defend the current ‘Strong Leader’ model for governing our city. In view of that apparent flexibility and the sad fact that both of our Football teams are in the doldrums, citizens’ spirits might be lifted if the Council were to be the first major Authority in England to announce a plan to implement a move to a modern committee system of governance. This would be a significant and progressive achievement marking a new and dynamic era in the history of Sheffield Local Government. And maybe no further embarrassing appearances in Private Eye’s ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column!”

 

5.5.2

Councillor Bob Johnson commented that, as you'll be aware Councillor Fox, alongside the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee, led on this work and they also carried out the Big City Conversation.  I obviously will be looking into the issues raised in that Conversation and how the Council engages and makes decisions and is indeed held accountable.  I understand that there was a lot of consensus around this work on what we can do to make improvements.  Through this work I will continue to work with Councillor Fox and other colleagues to take these ideas forward.

 

5.6

Public Questions Concerning Council Meeting Questions

 

 

5.6.1

Nigel Slack commented that, the first Council Meeting of 2021 was not a particularly edifying experience. Despite promising words from the Leader of the Council about working together better and getting away from tribal politics, it only took some minor baiting from the opposition parties for things to revert to previous habits, flinging comments across the virtual chamber, the Lord Mayor being disrespected and Cabinet members in the thick of it.

 

It served however to highlight an issue of concern to this member of the public for some years. Back when the late lamented Harry Harpham was Deputy Leader I asked a question about the unfairness to the public of the questions item being hijacked by Party activists to ask questions of Council that promoted an openly party political response being made, clearly a stooge in the gallery taking time from genuine questions from members of the public, possibly with questions prepared by their Party. The person in question stood as a Labour Party candidate in West Ecclesfield at the 2019 local elections. Harry Harpham's response was that she was a member of the public like anybody else.

 

Is it therefore time the Council adopted a protocol to prevent the sort of scenes we have witnessed at recent Council meetings where candidates and Cabinet members have used the public questions arena as a battleground for upcoming (or not) elections?

Should political party candidates or even just party members be required to declare that affiliation when putting questions?

Clearly all parties share some responsibility in this issue, is it not time to grow up?

 

5.6.2

Councillor Bob Johnson commented that he will take this as a statement rather than a question and will take on board what is being said.

 

5.7

Public Questions Concerning the Current Lockdown

 

 

5.7.1

Nigel Slack commented, are we really in lockdown? You would not know it from the traffic on the roads. On a recent exercise walk I took to the backstreets around Heeley Bridge to avoid the traffic and yet I passed the following open businesses - a surface treatment company, a safety lamp manufacturer, a kitchen maker, including customers in the showroom, a van haulage hire company, an accountants, a carpet showroom, and various building supply firms.

 

This is no doubt the impact of a looser definition of essential businesses but also of insufficient government support for businesses and people in general during this deadly pandemic. Workers are effectively being forced back to work and the negative impact on this so called lockdown is inevitably going to cost lives. Once again Government is choosing economy over people's health and this Council can do nothing but follow orders. It is also reflected in reports that some schools are dealing with 40% of their normal numbers still in school. How does this compare to the first lockdown in March 2020?

 

With the country quickly approaching 100,000 deaths nationally (equivalent to 1 in 6 of this city's population) and 700 deaths locally what can this Council do to make health the top of the agenda rather than the economy? When did Council last meet with the SCR Mayor to push him to pressure Government? When did Council last meet with the city's MPs to push them to pressure Government?

 

5.7.2

Councillor Drayton commented that the points being made are important but it was important to recognise that the rules of this lockdown are different from the rules of the previous lockdown.  You are right in saying that there are more businesses open this time and it is the same with schools, with the notion of key workers and vulnerable children expanded.  She confirmed that the research shows traffic movement is down in this lockdown but it has not gone down to the level it was in the previous lockdown

 

As well as the impact on health, the impact on the economy in the City, particularly for our most deprived areas is significant,  We must do all we can to  ensure that the people of Sheffield have jobs when we come out of this pandemic.  She referred to the Marmot Review on Health Equality and the importance of a good environment and housing and the important work already being carried out in these areas by the Council.  

 

The daily death toll of 1610 in the UK yesterday is just awful and unacceptable but what we can say here in Sheffield is that the number of cases is lower than the national rate and one of the lowest rates in the country.  This is no doubt as a result of the people of Sheffield, in the main, following the rules and they should be thanked for this.

 

She indicated that she had detailed information with regard to School attendance that she would share with Mr. Slack but confirmed that there were seven schools in the city that had children for one day at least at 40% but the vast majority were lower than that.  She confirmed that the message from the Outbreak Control Plan, agreed by the Prevention and Management Board is still to keep people safe, protect the most vulnerable but reopen Sheffield. To keep people really healthy we need children to go to school, we need businesses to be operating and people to be working.

 

Councillor Bob Johnson confirmed that he meets constantly and regularly with MPs and the City Region Mayor.

 

 

5.8

Public Questions Concerning Public Archive

 

 

5.8.1

Justin Buxton commented, further to the council committing to an "archive" of all information pertinent to the street tree "felling programme" pursuant to the Streestahead contract with Amey, following the Local Government Ombudsman finding the council had acted "less than honestly". Please update residents with absolute details regarding the progress of this, including specific remit, brief and timescale.

 

5.8.2

Councillor Mark Jones commented that he was pleased to report that a project team has been formed under the leadership of the Archives and Heritage manager, Mr Pete Evans.  He is reporting to a Project Board led by the Interim Executive Director of Place Mr. Mick Crofts.  We have identified archives software for purchase and a procurement process is underway. The Project Board has had a first meeting and agreed to extend the time scale for the project to 2013 until 2018 which covers the report from government.  An analysis is underway to ensure that all stakeholders are identified and invited to contribute, so this is extending beyond the remit of just the council and hoping that other partners in the city can contribute to the archive.  It is hoped that the archive will be launched in approximately four months, although there may be some slippage in that time scale due to the increased cover of the archive and additional content that we hope to include.

 

He stated that things are moving forward, we are trying to work as quickly as we can and hopefully we can reassure you that the archive will be coming online in a timely manner.

 

5.9

Public Questions Concerning Civil Injunction

 

5.9.1

Justin Buxton commented, with regard to the civil injunction sought by the Council and granted by Justice Males:

 

Against how many individuals were committal proceedings sought in court?

Against how many individuals were costs awarded by court in favour of the Council?

Of the above how many individuals have satisfied said costs in full and what is the value of these costs broken down individually?

If there are outstanding costs, what are the individual values of any unpaid costs?

What action is being taken and what is the plan to recoup any costs awarded by court from individuals that haven't yet paid costs awarded by court?

 

5.9.2

Councillor Mark Jones commented that our officers are addressing that question and extracting the information from the relevant files which will take a little while. A written answer will be provided in due course.

 

Supporting documents: