To deal with any questions on notice from Members of the Council, in the order in which they have been received.
The Chairman opened the item by explaining that 7 questions had been submitted for consideration at the meeting. For 2 of these questions, as permitted in the constitution, the questions would be asked by Members on behalf of those Councillors who had submitted the questions. There would be no subsidiary questions but the group leaders had agreed on this occasion that a maximum of 30 minutes would be allocated to consideration of Questions on Notice.
Question submitted by Councillor J. King
Councillor R. Hunter asked the following question on behalf of Councillor J. King:
“In January 2020, this council resolved to develop a new open spaces and Section 106 policy to a establish a presumption that BDC will adopt land on new estates where it meets the adoptable standard as agreed by the Council. Could the Portfolio Holder for Planning please update council on progress made and advise when this policy will be published and implemented?”
The Portfolio Holder for Planning and Regulatory Services responded by commenting that Council had debated this issue at some length and determined that its ability to influence the matter was limited. That said, in accordance with Council’s wishes, Officers had written to the Government requesting that they revisit the primary legislation that governed developers and third-party providers in respect of open space maintenance provisions. In addition, the work being undertaken by the Council in enabling the adoption of open spaces more generally, when and where appropriate, was on the Cabinet and Overview and Scrutiny Board’s work programmes and would be considered in September 2021.
Question Submitted by Councillor R. Hunter
“The rapid growth in house prices in rural areas during the pandemic has been widely reported in the media. One analysis suggested that house prices had rocketed by an average of 27% in Bromsgrove over the last twelve months. Has the time come to rethink our approach to new housing development in this district, focussing more on affordability for local residents?”
The Portfolio Holder for Planning and Regulatory Services responded by explaining that the current Bromsgrove District Plan had an Affordable Housing Policy (BDP8), which aimed to secure up to 40% affordable housing on greenfield sites and up to 30% on brownfield sites, for sites of 11 or more dwellings. These percentages secured homes to meet the needs of local residents on the authority’s Housing Waiting List. These percentages were set during the preparation of the current Bromsgrove District Plan and were subject to a Viability Assessment to ensure that what was required in terms of affordable housing provision was financially viable and therefore deliverable.
Since the start of the Plan period (1st April 2011), 665 affordable homes had been built, predominantly on sites allocated in the Plan. As of 1st April 2021, there were 280 affordable homes that had secured planning permission, some of which were under construction. This figure included 202 affordable homes at Whitford Road. The Perryfields site would secure an additional 394 affordable homes.
In addition to this, the current Bromsgrove District Plan had a Rural Exception Sites policy (BDP9), which could be implemented immediately if the policy criteria could be met. This policy was specifically in place to meet any housing needs in the District’s smaller rural settlements in green belt areas which would, under any other circumstances, mean that development would be inappropriate in these locations. The Council was not aware of any development proposals that had drawn on this policy to date, but the mechanism was in place to facilitate meeting the affordability issues of the authority’s local residents who lived in these locations.
As the Council progressed with the Bromsgrove District Plan Review, the supporting evidence base would include a piece of work called a Housing and Economic Development Needs Assessment (HEDNA). This assessment would help to identify what the housing needs were across the District for the next Plan period, taking account of affordability and the wider range of affordable housing products that the Council would need to provide to open more avenues to home ownership. This was wider than just meeting the needs of local residents on the Council’s Housing Waiting List and included initiatives such as ‘starter homes’, ‘discounted market sales housing’ and ‘other affordable routes to home ownership.
Question submitted by Councillor S. Robinson
“Can the leader please give an update to the council regarding the progress being made with regenerating the old Library and Fire Station which have now been empty for six and seven years respectively?”
The Leader responded by explaining that the Council had secured £100,000 from the One Public Estate scheme for a feasibility study and financial viability report, which would assess the regeneration options for the two sites. However, the Council did not have control over the sites, as they were owned by the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Fire and Rescue Service and Worcestershire County Council, but Council officers were working with colleagues at the 2 organisations to explore the regeneration options for these sites. The feasibility and viability reports would be completed by November/December 2021.
Question submitted by Councillor P. McDonald
“Would the Leader do all she can to try and stop the 'West Mercia Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre' from closing because of a lack of funding? It is the only specialist Sexual Violence Support Service in Worcestershire.”
The Leader responded by commenting that while the funding of this service was not a District Council function, the authority was aware that issues regarding the financial sustainability of this service had been raised at county level. These issues were being explored by the Director of Public Health on behalf of the region. The Leader had asked to be kept abreast of this matter and would keep Bromsgrove Members appraised of any developments.
Question submitted by Councillor A. English
“£250K was ringfenced from last year’s budget to provide a new electric community shuttle bus service linking Bromsgrove Railway station with the town centre and residential areas. A firm commitment was also made at Full Council that it would be rolled out to other areas, particularly areas such as Alvechurch and Beoley Parishes that do not have any bus services at all. I would like to ask the Portfolio Holder for Planning and Regeneration if he could give the council a progress report on how the £250K has been utilised so far and dates of when we can expect to see the services up and running.”
The Portfolio Holder for Planning and Regulatory Services explained that there had been a launch of the electric bus service on the day of the Council meeting. This launch had been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There were 2 smaller buses that would form part of the service initially.
The £250,000 ring fenced funding remained ring fenced for the purpose that had been agreed at Council in February 2021. The service had been launched using the most energy efficient smaller buses available, but the aim was to invest in electric vehicles in due course.
The Portfolio Holder for Planning and Regulatory Services urged Members and the public to utilise the bus service. The greater the demand for use of the service the wider the area in which it would be possible to operate the service. Consequently, there was the potential in the medium to long-term for the new bus service to provide public transport to people living in rural areas which were not otherwise served by alternative bus routes.
Question submitted by Councillor C. Hotham
“It is now some five and a half years since this council vacated the old council house in Burcot Lane. A key aspect of the business case for the costly move to Parkside was the value to be released from the future development of the site. The council is now the owner of a demolished council house. Disappointingly, as of the 29th June 2021 work has once again ceased. Bromsgrove is short of housing and in particular affordable housing. This is the one site where the council can have a direct impact on this shortage. Please could the cabinet member responsible give the council an undertaking that despite this so far lack lustre performance, this site will now be developed at pace and also provide a timeline for its completion and occupation?”
The Portfolio Holder for Housing and Health and Well Being responded by explaining that work had not ceased on the development following the demolition of the Old Council House and Burcot Hostel. There were several elements being completed as part of a normal development process, such as second phase ground inspections for foundation design, which could not be undertaken with the building in situ. The Council’s contractor was coordinating the utility services diversion works that needed to be undertaken before construction could be started. There were a number of diversion works to be undertaken but all the utilities providers had been engaged and works would be aligned to the on-site utility provision. There were several enabling works to be undertaken, such as roads, drainage and sewers before the actual houses and flats would be constructed. The current development programmes had a 44 week build programme for the dwellings and a practical completion and handover of the development in August 2022.
Question submitted by Councillor K. Van Der Plank
Councillor S. Baxter asked the following question on Councillor Van Der Plank’s behalf:
“Litter, including bagged dog waste, seems to be an increasing problem in our district. It blights our countryside and is a safety risk for animals and people.
Please could the leader tell me what measures are being put in place to address and whether there are plans to install more litter bins. Could the leader also tell me how many fines have been issued, for litter offences, over the last 3 years?”
The Portfolio Holder for Environmental Services responded to this question. Members were advised that the number of complaints from the public about Litter and dog waste had actually been reducing over the previous 3 years (by nearly half from what was received in 2018), and the experience of the Council’s Place Teams was that, although litter was still an issue across the District, the authority’s cleansing arrangements were preventing this from becoming a significant issue and the Council was maintaining a good standard for residents.
The Council would consider additional bins when necessary, and staff did highlight locations where they identified a need, though requests were also received from the public and Members. However, these would be monitored to evidence the need for an additional bin before installation, and the Council also needed to consider adjustments to cleansing arrangements to reflect usage of areas. There was a good coverage of litter bins across the District, but they were often not a solution in isolation, and needed to be planned alongside the wider cleansing operation.
Members were urged to let the Place Team know if they believed there was an area that would benefit from a litter bin, and to provide any information on how regularly there was a problem there.
No fines had been issued for litter or dog fouling offences in the previous 3 years. However, the Council had signed up to a new Dog Fouling Waste campaign through Keep Britain Tidy for 2021 and had been using the campaign signs across the District, where issues with irresponsible dog owners were being highlighted. In addition, officers were reviewing all of the Council’s enforcement options for environmental crime to improve the authority’s ability to hold people accountable for their actions, both via the in-house team and through partnerships with third parties, and littering was part of that review. The Council would be in a position to share details for consideration on the future of environmental enforcement later in the financial year.