To deal with any questions on notice from Members of the Council, in the order in which they have been received.
A period of up to 15 minutes is allocated for the asking and answering of questions. This may be extended at the discretion of the Chairman with the agreement of the majority of those present.
The Chairman explained that seven Questions on Notice had been received for the meeting and would be considered in the order in which they had been submitted. A maximum of 15 minutes was allocated to consideration of these questions and the answers provided and there were no supplementary questions.
Question submitted by Councillor A. English
“Many millions of pounds have been spent on the new Bromsgrove railway station. However, there has been a significant reduction in service running south since its construction and now recent timetable changes mean delays for those wanting to travel from Worcester to Barnt Green, Alvechurch and Redditch. Does the Leader share my disappointment at the apparent downgrading of Bromsgrove station and what actions has the leader taken to improve services going south and to instigate a return of the timely Barnt Green and Alvechurch connection?”
The Leader responded by commenting that it was disappointing that the services mentioned had suffered reductions in recent timetable changes.
This was a matter for the West Midlands Rail Executive and the Train Operating Companies to address.
Council was asked to note that through the County Council, the matter of the timetable changes had been raised with the West Midlands Rail Executive. This included the matter of the connectivity with the services from Worcester through Bromsgrove onto the Redditch branch of the Cross City Line. It had also been raised by the Rail User Groups. Furthermore, the Leader was aware that Worcestershire County Council was actively engaged with promoting improved services in Worcestershire through various channels including the rail industry bodies on which they were represented.
Members could raise concerns regarding services directly with the Train Operating Companies and, where appropriate, the West Midlands Rail Executive.
Question submitted by Councillor H. Rone-Clarke
“Many residents are concerned about the number of cases reported to the RSPCA each year of pets being given as prizes via fairgrounds, social media and other channels in England. This issue, we know, predominantly concerns goldfish. Further, many cases of pets being given as prizes may go unreported each year.
Will the leader commit to banning outright, the giving of live animals as prizes, in any form, on Bromsgrove District Council land and write to the UK Government, urging an outright ban on the giving of live animals as prizes on both public and private land?”
The Portfolio Holder for Leisure, Cultural Services and Climate Change responded by explaining that he had raised a similar issue in a Motion considered at a Council meeting in 2016. This Motion, which had proposed that pets should be banned as prizes, had been agreed by Council. This approach had subsequently been enshrined in the Council’s Animal Welfare Policy. At paragraph 4.0 of this policy, it was stated that the Council prohibited circuses or events who hired Council land or used the authority’s premises as a venue, to use animals, birds or fish as prizes.
Question submitted by Councillor P. McDonald
"Will this Council abide by the Equalities Act making sure the less able can gain access to Council Meetings? In light of the fact the entrance to the building have large steps."
The Leader explained that Parkside was a listed building. When it was converted from a school to an office, provisions were added to satisfy accessibility under Approved Document Part M. The Building Control Officer had assessed the provision at Parkside and confirmed that:
· The main entrance to Parkside was via the library / customer service entrance. Once past the customer service area there was a lift for the change of levels which enabled people to access the offices and meeting rooms on the ground floor. There was also a lift to the first floor.
· There was disabled ramp access to the side of the Parkside Hall and this afforded access to the Council Chamber.
· The caretakers’ entrance was not a public entrance. However, those using this entrance for the ceremony room with walking aids would be directed to the main entrance, or the next door along (towards the car park entrance on Stourbridge Road), which had a level approach. Anyone attending the ceremony room could access this from the rear elevation where the ceremony garden and the accessible car park spaces were located.
· The caretakers’ entrance was not allowed a permanent ramp access due to the listed building status. Although a moveable ramp could be installed, this was deemed not to be necessary as the main access and the other two doors on the front and rear elevation provided a level access approach. The caretakers’ door was for staff and deliveries only.
· The remaining doors with steps on the elevations were fire escapes or doors to offices, which the public could not access.
Question submitted by Councillor R. Hunter
“As the local authority with responsibility for the provision of leisure services, will Bromsgrove District Council do everything in its power to ensure leisure facilities are maintained continuously at the Ryland Centre?”
The Portfolio Holder for Leisure, Cultural Services and Climate Change advised that this was an important issue that needed to be resolved to the benefit of the local community. However, Members were asked to note that the Council did not have any power in this regard.
Question submitted by Councillor J. King
“Will you consider the feasibility of demanding Passivhaus or zero carbon homes on all major new developments?”
The Portfolio Holder for Planning and Regulatory Services advised that the Local Plan Review would include a strategic policy on addressing Climate Change through new developments in the District. This would require residential developments to be built to higher environmental standards than the current Local Plan. This policy would be presented to the SPSG in due course.
The Government’s Future Homes Standard would require all new build homes to be future proofed with low carbon heating and increased levels of energy efficiency, including higher standards of insulation. The Government also proposed an interim uplift to Building Regulations to make sure homes emitted less carbon, protected against over-heating and improved ventilation. This came into force in June 2022.
It was important to note that the draft policy requirements would need to be subject to viability assessments to ensure that they were deliverable. The aim of viability assessments was to test all of the plan’s policy requirements, such as renewables and energy efficiency; affordable housing; and physical and social infrastructure. This testing ensured that new developments would remain viable and therefore deliver the plan’s proposals. Because of the need to balance policy requirements with viability and deliverability considerations as well as the Government’s proposals for the mandatory Future Homes Standards, the Council was not looking to test the specific criteria of Passivhaus. However. Officers were testing significantly higher environmental standards than those which were currently required and many of these standards featured in Passivhaus developments.
Question submitted by Councillor S. Robinson
“What steps is this council taking to phase out the use of harmful weedkillers containing Glyphosate?”
The Portfolio Holder for Environmental Services and Community Safety explained that in the UK, Glyphosate was fully licenced for use and the Council utilised it in accordance with the relevant recommendations and guidance. The authority also ensured that all operatives were trained in its application and that there were sufficient processes in place to ensure that the Council did not contravene the manufacturer’s instructions.
There was a considerable amount of debate and claim/counter claim regarding the chemical properties of glyphosate, notably in the USA, where the legal system and litigation process was different to that which operated in the UK. The current UK licence was due to be reviewed at the end of 2022, and the Council was waiting to see if that licence would be reissued, amended or revoked. The Council would work in accordance with any decision that was made.
As an authority, the Council had to adapt to change as information or new products became available and the authority would always look at what was appropriate in terms of managing the environment. This might lead to a review of future maintenance regimes and to consideration of the use of different chemicals or methodologies for vegetative management should they be appropriate, given the extensive green landscape that the Council maintained each year.
To enable this, officers were in the process of drafting a herbicide policy that would aim to set out what the Council would do, what different methodologies the Council could utilise, and would ensure that the authority could adapt to any changes in legislation and the need to protect and enhance biodiversity. There was a need to set out what customers could expect as a reasonable and cost-effective vegetative management approach in accordance with the financial and physical resources that the Council had available.
Councillors were informed that Bromsgrove District Council only applied herbicides to land that was in its ownership and had used a very small amount so far in 2022. The application of herbicides along the road/footpath system was carried out by Worcestershire County Council (via their contractor) as the highways authority.
Question submitted by Councillor C. Hotham
“Please could this council be updated on the progress being made on one of the most significant potential green projects; the district wide geothermal heating scheme?”
The Portfolio Holder for Leisure, Cultural Services and Climate Change responded by commenting that he was delighted that the Council took the initiative to pursue a Heat Network for the District, particularly in light of the ever-increasing fuel costs.
Following approval by the Council to seek funding from the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Heat Network Delivery Unit (HNDU), the Council had secured £227,500. This funding was towards the Detailed Project Development (DPD) phase of the project from BEIS HNDU. It was matched with £112,500 from the Council that included contributions from Bromsgrove School and Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust.
(During consideration of this item a point of order was raised that Councillor M. Thompson worked for Bromsgrove School. In this context, no further response was provided at the meeting to this question and Councillor Hotham was advised that he would receive a more detailed response after the meeting.)