Agenda item

Public Questions and Petitions and Other Communications

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.



(NOTE: There is a time limit of one hour for the above item of business.  In accordance with the arrangements published on the Council’s website, questions/petitions are required to be submitted in writing, to, by 9.00 a.m. on Monday 12th December. Questions/petitions submitted after the deadline will be asked at the meeting subject to the discretion of the Chair.)





Stannington and Malin Bridge Gas Leak Incident




The Lord Mayor (Councillor Sioned-Mair Richards) invited the Leader of the Council (Councillor Terry Fox) to comment on the major incident that was affecting residents in the Stannington, Malin Bridge and Hillsborough areas.  Councillor Fox stated that the major incident which had been declared was both a significant engineering challenge and a humanitarian issue.  He and local Councillors had visited the affected areas on several occasions and witnessed the pain and suffering being endured by local residents and the tireless efforts of the employees of the Council and other agencies and companies who were responding to the incident.  He expressed his thanks to those responding to the incident and asked the Chief Executive to give an update on the situation.




The Chief Executive stated that on Saturday 3rd December, 2022, a water main burst in the Stannington area of the city, which caused around 1.3m litres of water to enter the gas network in the area, resulting in around 3,000 properties in the Stannington, Malin Bridge and Hillsborough areas being left without gas. Remedial work was undertaken by Yorkshire Water to repair the water main, but the water ingress has caused serious, sustained disruption to residents and businesses across the area.  Cadent, who own and were responsible for the gas network, have been working on site since 3rd December to restore gas to affected properties.  This has required the pumping out of all of the water that entered the network, purging pipes before repressurising the network, and then making good damage to meters, boilers and gas appliances affected by the water ingress.  This incident coincided with a Level 3 cold weather alert, freezing temperatures and snowfall across the area, which made the engineering work more difficult to complete than it would otherwise have been, and has also had a significant impact for residents who have been without heating for this very cold period.




She stated that to respond to the incident, the Council declared a major incident on Tuesday, 6th December, and had put in place a full incident structure.  This had included twice daily multi-agency Tactical Coordinating Groups, regular Strategic Coordinating Groups, and an on-site bronze commander based at Lomas Hall, and this would continue until the major incident was stood down.  Working with Cadent and Yorkshire Water, the Council has been coordinating the humanitarian response to the incident, which has included providing electric heaters and blankets, and non-electric items such as blankets and thermal clothing to residents, undertaking door knocking and welfare checks on known vulnerable residents, and providing other support, such as emergency accommodation when required.  Adult Social Care teams have undertaken checks on all people known, and referred, to social care services to ensure that they are safe and well.  The Council has utilised its cost-of-living helpline to provide additional support to residents when needed, including accessing hardship schemes.




Because of the increased use of electric heaters etc., this resulted in additional pressure on the electricity network in some parts of the affected area during the course of last week which, in turn, resulted in disruption to electricity supplies for some households, adding to the difficulties that they have faced. In response, Northern Powergrid have provided free food from mobile vans in the area, with the Council subsequently taking over the running of these, with each van serving approximately 1,000 meals per day within their location.  Cadent and Yorkshire Water have agreed a compensation package for those affected – details of this are available on the Cadent website and affected households should each have received leaflets through their door setting out how to claim this.




The situation as of this morning is that 196 properties remain without gas.  These were primarily in the Malin Bridge area (Holme Lane) and are mainly (but not entirely) commercial and industrial properties.  However, within the 196 there are around 87 across the affected area where Cadent have not been able to access the property.  Once contact is made with the resident, Cadent will reconnect the supply to these households.




The Chief Executive added that this has been a challenging and dynamic incident and the Council cannot say for certain when all properties will be reconnected, although it is the case that the numbers of affected properties have reduced dramatically in the last few days and that most now have gas reconnected.  The Council would continue the response until all properties have had gas reconnected. The Council would also be putting in place a recovery strategy to support the community in returning to normality.  Full lessons learned/debrief would also be conducted once the incident has concluded.




She concluded by expressing her thanks to the many people involved on the ground in the response to the incident, which include many Council staff who have dropped their work and been redeployed to assist the response, and she also expressed thanks to the residents of the Stannington, Malin Bridge and Hillsborough areas who had shown incredible resilience and community spirit.




The Lord Mayor echoed those sentiments and expressed thanks to local Ward Councillors, MPs and other Members of the Council who have assisted the response to the incident.






Petitions and Public Questions




The Lord Mayor (Councillor Sioned-Mair Richards) reported that one petition and questions from eight members of the public had been received prior to the published deadline for submission of petitions and questions for this meeting. She reported that the question which had been received from Paul Wade had since been withdrawn by Mr. Wade and would be asked at the next meeting of the Council.  She added that a question from another member of the public had been received immediately prior to the meeting, but she had decided not to permit the question to be asked on this occasion due to its late receipt, and instead had suggested that the question, which concerned the Council’s budgetary position, be asked at either the Finance Sub-Committee or the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee, both of which had meetings in early to mid-January.




Petition Requesting the Council to Increase Payments for Residents Hosting People From Ukraine




The Council received an electronic petition containing 307 signatures, requesting the Council to increase the payments for residents hosting people from Ukraine.




Representations on behalf of the petitioners were made by Miranda Allen. Ms Allen stated that whilst the Council had advised that it was awaiting advice from the Government on any planned increase in the payment, numerous other local Councils had taken their own initiative, and had already increased their payments. In the light of the cost of living crisis, many hosts were struggling to find the extra costs required to house people which, in some cases, could result in hosts being forced to end the arrangements earlier than planned. It would be more cost effective to the Council to increase the payment in the long run as the alternative would be for the Council to find alternative accommodation for those who no longer had hosts.  Since the beginning of the Hosting Scheme, in March 2022, the Government had provided very little publicity, and the Scheme was still in Phase 1, which indicated that there would be further phases, such as where the Government would match guests and hosts. This, however, had not happened and, in the meantime, more and more Ukrainians were finding themselves homeless which, given what many of them had already been through, was not acceptable. Ms Allen referred to recent comments made by Lord Harrington, who had helped set up the Scheme, and who had called for payments to be doubled for the second six months of hosting to try and keep down the number of homeless Ukrainians.  There appeared to be no plans in place for when hosts were no longer able, due to the cost of living crisis or other reasons, to house people.  People hosting larger families were finding it particularly difficult as the payment was the same, regardless of the number of people being hosted.  The Scheme had been set up for three years, with funding specifically allocated for this.  The war was showing no signs of ending, and the need for help was not reducing.  Many Ukrainians were also finding it difficult to find jobs here, and had little chance of moving to live independently.




The Council referred the petition to the Housing Policy Committee.  Councillor Douglas Johnson (Chair of that Committee) thanked Ms Allen for submitting the petition, and expressed his thanks to all the hosts in the city who had opened their homes to accommodate those Ukrainians who had fled war and persecution.  The Council had consistently lobbied the Government on this issue, whilst being mindful of the need for fairness in terms of housing refugees from other parts of the world. Council representatives had also directly lobbied Lord Harrington, when he recently visited the city. Councillor Johnson stated that the Government had recently announced a package of measures, and one such measure included an increase in the payments to £500 per month, for a period of two years.




Public Questions




Question From Geoff Cox




Geoff Cox asked whether the leadership of Sheffield City Council would accelerate the production of the Decarbonisation Route Maps.




In response, Councillor Julie Grocutt (Co-Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee) stated that the Council was keen to ensure that there was engagement and appropriation of the route maps with partners across the city, and this was deemed crucial to ensure their successful development and implementation. Whilst the timetable could be brought forward, the Council wanted to ensure that the maps had the full support of all stakeholders.  As part of the consultation, the Council had held a climate summit in November 2022, which had been well attended by partners from the public, private and voluntary sectors.  All the comments and suggestions raised as part of the consultation would be co-ordinated, and used as part of the development of the route maps.  The delay in the development of the maps was not preventing action being taken, with the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee, at its meeting on 24th November 2022, approving the scope for a £3.5m Local Renewable Energy Fund, and work commencing to identify buildings and to commission audits and feasibility work as part of this initiative.  Approval had also been given to match-fund two funding applications to support the techno-economic feasibility studies of extending the two district heating networks in the city, as well as assessing opportunities to integrate waste heat sources to help the decarbonisation of heat in the city.  This work builds on the Heat Network Zoning Pilot that the city has been engaged with this year.  The Council had successfully completed £1.1m Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme funded projects at the Town Hall, Acres Hill Store and the Moor Market, with further heat decarbonisation plans commissioned for other sites to enable bidding to future rounds of Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme funding.  The Council was also delivering housing energy improvement schemes through the Homes Upgrade Grant (HUG), Local Authority Delivery 2 (LAD2) and the Energy Company Obligations (ECO Flex), and had also recently submitted bids for further funding from the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund and HUG 2, and was currently awaiting the outcome of those bids.  In addition, the Council was working to improve the sustainability and mitigate the climate impacts of decisions, projects and procurement through the development and implementation of a Climate Impact Assessment Tool.  This year, the Council had also reported for the first time to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), who ran the global disclosure system for companies, cities and regions to manage their environmental impacts.  A score of “A-” (A minus) had been received - only one off the highest score of ‘A’ - meaning the Council was very much at the top end of reporting cities, demonstrating best practice standards across adaptation and mitigation, and have set ambitious goals and made progress towards achieving those goals.  The main area for improvement identified through the CDP reporting, was the need to have a detailed climate risk and vulnerability assessment for the city, and the Council will be addressing this next year as it would participate in the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission’s Climate Resilience and Adaptation programme.




Question From Abdul Raheem




Abdul Raheem said that electric Hackney Carriage taxis were very expensive to buy and had some common faults which the manufacturing company might not be able to rectify before the implementation of the Clean Air Zone.  If the vehicle was off the road whilst the faults were being rectified, the drivers would still be expected to pay very high monthly payments of more than £1,000.  How could a driver still pay £1000 a month while the vehicle was off the road due to on-board computer problems?


Mr. Raheem said that there were private businesses who were willing to rent out electric Hackney Carriage taxis in Sheffield and asked whether this was something Sheffield City Council could give some consideration to.


With regard to utilising the funds received from Central Government to implement the clean air zone, Mr. Raheem said he had some ideas for this and asked whether an officer from the Taxi Licensing Department would afford him the opportunity to put forward his ideas, because the vast majority of Sheffield Hackney Carriage taxi drivers may not be able afford a £73,000 electric Hackney Carriage.




In response, Councillor Joe Otten (Chair of the Waste and Streetscene Policy Committee) stated that the Licensing Service was currently carrying out engagement sessions with the trade on revisions to the Hackney Carriage Vehicle Policy. He stated that arrangements would be made for an officer of the Licensing Service to meet with Mr Raheem to discuss his ideas on vehicles.  Councillor Otten added that the Council was fully aware of the costs of new Hackney Carriage vehicles which were compliant with current Council policy, and the difficulties being faced by drivers in purchasing them.  Whilst the Council would explore alternative vehicles, it was keen to maintain the current wheelchair access, which it considered important for people with disabilities.  




(NOTE: Mr Raheem withdrew a second question which he had submitted, as he had received an answer to his satisfaction from the Leader of the Council, prior to the meeting.)




Questions From Jenny Carpenter




Jenny Carpenter stated that the Draft Local Plan must give a strong steer towards achieving the Council's target of net zero carbon emissions by 2030. The need for synergy between land use planning and public transport was evident if a 66% reduction in car use by 2030 is to be achieved, with 80% of journeys made by public transport, cycling or walking, and asked:-

1. Does the Council agree that the continued deterioration of bus services will only be reversed by bringing buses into public control?

2. Will the Council therefore urge the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority to complete its franchising assessment as quickly as possible?

3. In the meantime, will the Council encourage the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority to consider buying a bus operator so that it can create an operator of last resort to keep essential services running?

4. Will the Council explore the legality of ring-fencing traffic offence fines and dedicating them to improving public transport, and then let the public know the outcome?




In response, Councillor Julie Grocutt (Co-Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee) stated that she agreed that the deterioration of bus services was having a devasting impact on residents and businesses.  An attractive, reliable and affordable public transport system was key to the long-term aim of promoting sustainable transport, social inclusion and building for the future.  The specific operational model for public transport is something that the Council was discussing with the Mayoral Combined Authority (MCA), both directly through the Mayor himself and through officer dialogue.




In relation to franchising, a number of Transport Authorities were looking into this, and she was sure that staff at the MCA were considering what this looked like for Sheffield and South Yorkshire.  This piece of work had to be a priority, and the Council would be in touch with relevant officers at the MCA to expedite the matter.




Buying a bus operating company for public ownership was a complicated legal matter, but again, as the Council looked at the current network, it had to look at all options.  This was something that the Council considered was worth exploring, and SYMCA officers would be asked for an update.




Any surplus income generated through certain infringements (parking charges and fines) on the highway were already ringfenced, by law, for specific purposes.  This included the provision or operation of (or facilities for) public transport passenger services, environmental improvement schemes or highway improvement projects.  Parking income was reported in public records.




The Council was also looking into the possibility of applying for Moving Traffic Offence enforcement, related to the Traffic Management Act, Part 6.  The income generated from this would also be bound by the same legal framework as parking income, with public transport being an eligible spend.




Questions From John Wright and Mathew Killeya




The Lord Mayor stated that John Wright and Mathew Killeya were seeking to ask questions on the same topic and therefore she would invite them both to ask their questions and then invite the Leader of the Council to respond.




John Wright said the Council Elections on the 4th May, 2023 will be the first to require voters to show ID at the polling station. What plans are in place to ensure that does not exclude anyone entitled to vote, but might not have ID? Are the Council confident that there will be suitable ID available for everyone who needs it? I'm particularly worried that younger voters might be disincentivised from voting by the introduction of these new requirements.




Mathew Killeya said that the Government is bringing in Photographic ID as part of its Elections Act. This is set to take effect in time for next May’s elections.


I, like many people, am concerned that this is being rushed through and that many voters will be disenfranchised because they aren’t aware of the changes and don’t have valid ID. I’m also worried that younger people specifically will be prohibited from voting since there are far fewer valid forms of ID that will be accepted than for older voters.


For those that don’t have valid ID, it will become the duty of local councils to issue electoral ID documents so they can vote.


Has the Council started preparations for Photo ID and are officers confident that they have sufficient resources to implement this scheme, particularly given the lack of time they have been given by the Government and given the lack of clarity on the rules?




In response, the Leader of the Council (Councillor Terry Fox) said that he too was concerned about the situation and had been receiving regular briefings from officers in the Elections Service.  He said that he had a two-page response to the questions, which he would email to the questioners after the meeting, but would outline the key points now. He said the Elections Act 2022 introduces a requirement for voters to show photographic ID before being issued with a ballot paper at polling stations. The task has been made more challenging due to the fact that Elections Services across the country were still awaiting the regulations. The City Council would run a communications campaign, alongside the national media campaign, giving details to those persons who do not possess any of the required documents as set in the list, how they would be able to apply in person or online for the voter authority certificate. He said that, assuming that Parliament make the necessary regulations live, the Act comes into force on the 16th January, 2023, which was not far away to make the necessary arrangements.  Councillor Fox said that the Council would be carrying out training for its staff on the new processes and polling station training would be ongoing.  He said the Government would be providing some additional funding to local authorities to cover the costs of these changes, but it was nowhere near enough.  The core objective for the Council would be to ensure that, by May 2023, everyone eligible to vote would be able to do so.






(NOTE: The questions which had been submitted by Robin Hughes and Nesar Rafiq, but which had not been asked at the meeting due to their absence, would receive a written response from the Chairs of the relevant Policy Committees and be published on the website.)




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