Agenda item

Questions

The Joint Leader of the Council, or the Chair of any Committee or Sub-Committee, to take any questions that may be submitted in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 9.

Minutes:

Question No. 1

Question From:

Councillor Alan Amos

Question To:

Councillor Marc Bayliss, Joint Leader of the Council

Question:

In view of the Council’s repeated commitment to openness and transparency, on what basis did an officer of the Council decide not to inform 28 Members that the Fownes Hotel was to be filled with 124 alleged asylum seekers; how much extra time and effort would have been expended had he e-mailed all 35 Councillors at the same time instead of just 7; how much extra time and effort would have been expended had the notice about it been displayed in the Members’ Bulletin before it had happened rather than afterwards; and does he agree with me that all Members - being accountable to the people of Worcester and responsible for the running of the Council - should, at all times, be informed of any significant and/or highly charged event or development in their City?

 

Answer:

The gardener’s shed on Fort Royal was vandalised recently. The pump on the Splashpad broke in August. The Revenues and Benefits portal went down for a day recently, and the Tree Team unfortunately smashed into a wall at St. George’s Primary.

 

I tell you this because it exemplifies that all Members are not, as a matter of course, informed at the same time, of exactly every event in the city. Decisions are made on a day-to-day basis as to whether matters should be brought to the attention of the Leader, the Group Leaders, the Chair and Vice-Chairs of committees, and of course Ward Members. In fact, the City’s Constitution makes reference to the “need to know” principle and officers apply that principle on a daily basis in determining what information is reasonably necessary to enable each Member to perform their duties. It was on that basis that it was decided not to inform all Members of the plan by the Home Office to place asylum seekers in the Fownes before the plan was implemented.  

 

All Members were informed that asylum seekers had been placed in the hotel once it had been confirmed that this would take place. This is a perfectly acceptable approach in my view to keeping Members informed of events in the city.

 

Supplementary Question:

I thank Councillor Bayliss for his answer, but isn’t the truth that there appear to be those who think the people, and the people of Worcester, and most of their elected representatives, cannot be trusted to know what is going on in their city?

 

Therefore, can Councillor Bayliss – and I’m sure he can - give me two assurances? Firstly, that there aren’t, and will not be, two classes of councillor, those who are allowed to know what is going on in their city, and those who may not? And secondly, that the people of Worcester should at all times be informed of major developments - those which are highly charged, I’m not talking about routine matters – in their city, are informed either directly or through their elected representatives, whether it’s about asylum seekers, or indeed anything else? 

Answer:

I certainly don’t believe that there should be two classes of councillor, although certain roles do come with additional responsibilities and that is why people get additional responsibility allowances, and it’s a long-established system. In your role as a County Council Cabinet Member, you will have been aware of matters that other Members of the County Council wouldn’t have known.

 

We all have roles and responsibilities, sometimes you get privy to additional information in those roles that you have to keep private for a period of time. My general belief is though that Members should be told as much as is possible and that we have a general duty to share information.

 

On this specific one, I think the right decision was made, to be perfectly honest. We were not a decision maker here, we were simply informed of a proposal at that time, which the Government, and the Home Office, implemented, and as soon as it became de facto that they were going to do that, Members were told. I don’t think anybody was sought to be kept in the dark, and I believe that Officers acted in a responsible way on this occasion. I would say, however, that my general view is that we should tell people as quickly and as openly as possible when information is available to the Council.

 

 


Question No. 2

Question From:

Councillor Laurenson

Question To:

Councillor Marc Bayliss, Joint Leader of the Council

Question:

The government has announced plans to lift the ban on fracking and to ban solar projects on farms. Last week, the climate minister claimed that fracking and oil drilling are good for the environment. Having given a well-received welcome speech at the City Council’s inaugural Sustainability Summit on 30th September, what are your views on the government’s recent statements about the environment? 

 

Answer:

You’re inviting my own personal view on these matters. I think the government had it right previously in terms of fracking. Personally, I think the policy of the previous administration was the correct one.

 

As for solar projects on farms, I think there are competing objectives here. I mean, we certainly do not support ourselves in food, we’re not sustainable and self-reliant in food production, so agricultural land on farms I'd want to be used for food production primarily, but certainly supporting solar projects as an initiative is something that I wholeheartedly agree with, and I'd like us to go even faster.

 

I mean in terms of wind, you asked me about the government’s statements about the environment. I think I'm right in saying that we have something like between 60 and 70% of the entire offshore energy from wind production in the European Union and I think that that is something we should be proud of, and we should continue absolutely to find the most renewable sources of electricity and their generation. So, I hope that gives him some sense of my perspective on those matters.

Supplementary Question:

The Green Party Member of the House of Lords, Jenny Jones, recently asked Lord Callanan whether the Government would accept that fracking would not happen in areas where local people and councillors object. In response, Lord Callanan merely said that local support for fracking would be taken into account. If fracking is ever proposed to take place in or near Worcester, what level of local consultation do you think would be acceptable, and would you object to the proposal?

 

Answer:

I think I can provide him with absolute reassurance on this. I understand that, geologically, there’s absolutely no chance of fracking in Worcestershire, so I think it highly, highly unlikely that that question would ever arise, just given our geological base. It’s not my area of specialism, but certainly I believe communities should always be supported and engaged, and consulted on any major planning changes, and that would be a very major one. But I think I can reassure him that there’s no realistic danger of that in Worcester or Worcestershire.

 

 


Question No. 3

Question From:

Councillor Barnes

Question To:

Councillor Andy Stafford, Chair of Environment Committee

Question:

In November last year my motion asked about hosting Car Club spaces in our car parks. The motion as passed asked that:

 

  • Car Club be considered by the Environment Committee; and 
  • that the Environmental Sustainability Action Plan be updated to include an action with the objective to encourage and support the introduction of car clubs in Worcester.

 

Could you confirm either of these things have happened?

 

Answer:

Our Environmental Sustainability officers have been working in partnership with Enterprise Cars, with the first car club vehicle now set up in the Arboretum, and Enterprise Cars have also made it clear that they are keen to expand the scheme.  A detailed press release was issued just a few days ago and I’m happy to send you a copy if you haven’t seen it.

 

In terms of your second point, an action with the objective to encourage and support the introduction of car clubs in Worcester has been included in the Sustainability Action Plan for 2023/24, and this is on the agenda for the next Environment Committee.

 

Supplementary Question:

So, at the moment there’s just a paper going to the next meeting about our car parks being used – is that correct?

Answer:

It’s an update to the Sustainability Action Plan, which happens every year, so the intentions of the motion that was agreed last year is going to be included within the Plan in its entirety, as well as the ongoing works that the officers have already undertaken with Enterprise Cars.

 

Question No. 4

Question From:

Councillor Piotrowski

Question To:

Councillor Marc Bayliss, Joint Leader of the Council

 

Question:

Could the Joint Leader seek urgent clarification from West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner who recently stated on BBC Hereford and Worcester Radio that low numbers of police officers, i.e. understaffing is irrelevant to solving crime and putting victims of crime first?

Answer:

I don’t know why he might be asking me this question, but just by chance I happen to have found out the information for him. I don't believe the Commissioner was, I think he was disputing the premise of the question that there was a low number of police officers. I’m delighted to report that the total number of police officers in West Mercia is 2,456, which is 524 up on when the Commissioner took office in 2016. It is also approximately 100 more than when Labour was last in charge in 2010, when the number was 2,364. So, I think he was disputing the premise of the question that there was a low number of police officers in West Mercia.

 

Supplementary Question:

I think people who come along to the PACT meetings, residents in Battenhall, who suffered this series of burglaries, would be appreciative of understanding why the police numbers on the beat are irrelevant to solving crime? I think they deserve this explanation.

Answer:

I don't think they are irrelevant. I don't think the Commissioner was saying that either. It’s just the numbers have risen. There has been a significant - one of the 2019 manifesto commitments was an additional 20,000 additional police officers - there has been a massive uplift in officers across the country and as I said we are now at 2,456 officers, which is 524 more than when the Commissioner took office, and is as I said greater than at any level in the period up to 2010. So, this is very good news and hopefully will reassure the people of Worcester, Worcestershire and West Mercia that there are significant numbers of police officers available to support the policing initiatives in those areas.

 

 

Question No. 5

Question From:

Councillor Lawrance

Question To:

Councillor Chris Mitchell, Chair of Planning

 

Question:

The City recently hosted a Sustainability Summit, I attended a Workshop with a panel of local people including the RSPB, WWT and the Environment Agency.  At the workshop the Environment Agency said that the laws had changed to support increasing wildlife numbers by 10%.  Further I received assurance that the City was in the process of reviewing its local planning regulations in support of this endeavour. In light of the recent change of PM will the City be continuing with its pledged commitment to increasing wildlife numbers and protect habitat within our beautiful City?

 

Answer:

The City Council will stand by its commitment that has been given to increasing wildlife numbers and protect habitat within our beautiful City.

 

As many of you will already be aware, Biodiversity Net Gain is an approach to development and land management that aims to leave the natural environment in a measurably better way than it was beforehand. Under the Environment Act 2021, all planning permissions granted in England, with a few exemptions, will have to deliver at least 10% biodiversity net gain, but as yet a date has not been confirmed for implementation of the requirement. It is expected to be November 2023.

 

Biodiversity Net Gain is about more than just planning, it will impact a range of Council services and it is important that we approach its introduction in a joined-up way. Biodiversity Net Gain links a range of agendas including:

 

         addressing the climate emergency

         place-making

         green infrastructure

         access to greenspace and nature

         mental and physical health and wellbeing

         flood resilience; and

         improving air quality

 

It is likely that Local Nature Recovery Strategies will be produced at county level and there will be other opportunities to achieve Biodiversity Net Gain by working with neighbouring authorities, local communities, landowners and farmers.

 

Defra and Natural England are developing policy and secondary legislation on BNG and we shouldn’t be surprised to see BNG given even greater emphasis in the next iteration of the National Planning Policy Framework.

 

I’m pleased to note that the review of the SWDP includes a revised policy SWDPR27 on Biodiversity and Geodiversity – this includes specific reference to BNG.

 

Although currently SWDPR27 doesn’t specify a 10% requirement, a percentage may be added to the policy once secondary legislation has been passed, this could be a proposed modification when the draft plan is submitted to the Inspectorate for examination, or an amendment recommended by the Inspector during the examination itself. It is all matter of timing that we will need to see what secondary legislation is passed and what the next version of the NPPF says about the implementation of BNG.

 

I do apologise for the all the abbreviations, but I did read them out first.

Supplementary Question:

None.