To consider any questions which may have been received from Elected Members and which are asked pursuant to Standing Order No. 11.
The Chief Executive reported that she had received the following questions from Councillor Kitching in accordance with Standing Order No. 11.
1. Many residents purchasing new build houses in the Borough have been affected by the scandal of leasehold ground rents increasing annually at a rate ahead of inflation The adoption of the local plan means we will be seeing many new housing developments over the next few years. Can the Leader provide an assurance that no new house buyer will have to purchase a house on a leasehold basis?
The Leader responded by stating that the council has no legal powers to intervene in a private transaction between a housebuilder and a purchaser. It is acknowledged that this is becoming more of a problem and the Council would support a change in the law if that became a reality. The Council will continue to talk to developers to discourage this practice but has no powers through the planning process to prevent it from happening.
Councillor Kitching asked a supplementary question: One particular developer in Barnsley is known for carrying out this practice. Through the planning process does the Council have any powers to intervene?
The Leader responded by reiterating that the Council does not have any legal powers to intervene but will support the Government in bringing in any legal changes to prevent this practice in order to support local residents.
2. In light of much publicised austerity and cuts to local government budgets, how can the Leader continue to justify failing to agree with the other South Yorkshire council leaders to access £30million per year of devolution monies?
The Leader responded by stating that the money around devolution details nationally is not to provide basic local council services. Barnsley has taken the largest ‘hit’ in terms of austerity measures, which is shocking given the social and economic challenges which Barnsley faces. Councils across the North have suffered the most in terms of austerity and it is essential that Councils across Yorkshire stand together with one voice to protest against the Government undivided. By standing back from a deal at the moment, the Council is protecting its residents from potentially suffering increased costs or cuts to services, which has happened in other areas in conjunction with a devolution deal.
Councillor Kitching asked a supplementary question: How can the Leader justify that he spent precious money on a meaningless community poll, the point of which was to give the Council permission to fail to access £30 million for the benefit of residents?
The Leader responded by stating that the views of the British people and the Barnsley community are never meaningless. All politicians need to remember that they are here to represent the views of the people and not what they may personally think is right or wrong. It is only right that if we are to change governance arrangements which will affect Barnsley for the next 30 to 40 years that the community has a say in those arrangements. This Council will always put Barnsley and the people of Barnsley first. Devolution is about local people making local decisions. The people of Barnsley have made that decision and this should be respected.
3. Now that a number of Labour MPs have backed the Government by failing to take no deal off the table, what are the Council’s contingency plans for mitigating the worst impacts of a No Deal Brexit for the local area?
The Leader responded by stating that it is difficult to predict the future and forecast the impact and outcome of any type of deal. However, Barnsley is a responsible Council and will always make contingency plans as part of a risk register of the Council’s work which may be affected by any significant changes. That work has been done by a working group of professional officers and has been replicated in other areas. Financial provision has been made to cover any contingencies which may occur when we leave the EU at the end of March.
Councillor Kitching asked a supplementary question: Will the Council be following in the footsteps of others and publishing a Brexit Risk Assessment to offset some of those concerns?
The Leader responded by stating that Barnsley is more than happy to share this work with partners and other interested parties.
4. How does the Council plan to fulfil its statutory duty of informing EU citizens to apply for settled status?
Councillor Platts responded by stating that the Council plans to fulfil this obligation in a number of different ways including: participating in a nationwide public awareness campaign, engaging with large employers in the borough, engaging with local community groups used by EU nationals including the Polish library. Pending approval from the Home Office an ID verification service will be established within the registrars section and a digital assist service at libraries, using data from the electoral register to contact EU nationals, working directly to apply for settled status on behalf of all looked after children who require it. All Council employees who are EU nationals will be supported to apply for settled status.
5. Recent press reports have highlighted a shortage of secondary school places in Barnsley. This is something that I have seen in my own ward. How will the council reassure parents that when the new Local Plan is implemented appropriate school infrastructure is put in place before the population increases?
Councillor Cheetham responded by saying that the Local Plan includes a policy requiring developers to contribute towards any infrastructure needs arising as a result of their developments. This is something which is always raised with developers and over the years Barnsley has been successful in obtaining substantial contributions towards school infrastructure from developers. We will shortly be consulting on a new Supplementary Planning Document that will set out what developers will need to contribute where their proposal will result in a shortage of school places. Any required payment would have to be made on commencement of development so that we have time to utilise the contributions in advance of the new homes being occupied.
Councillor Kitching asked a supplementary question: It is evident that this is not working through the planning process. Are we seeing similar pressures on primary school places in the Borough and what plans are being made to tackle or prevent them?
Councillor Cheetham responded by saying that there is no evidence other than anecdotal that this is not working. The national average for parents receiving their first choice of secondary school is 82%. In Barnsley this is 96%. Barnsley is one of the best performing areas in the country for providing secondary school places of choice. Indeed, only 0.2% (1 in 500) are given an offer of their third choice place, which indicates that the system is indeed working. The pressure on primary school places is slightly different in that for secondary schools we do have the primary school figures to work from, which gives an indication of what the pressures will be, whereas planning for children who are not yet born is more problematic. Nonetheless, the capacity in both secondary and primary schools is good and schools continue to perform well.
6. What representations did the Council make to the passenger transport executive regarding recent bus fare increases?
Councillor Roy Miller responded by stating that BMBC recognises that bus services are provided commercially and, therefore, fare levels are outside the control and influence of the Council, with operators entitled to set their fares as they see fit.
Councillor Kitching asked a supplementary question: Does the Cabinet Member find it acceptable that it is currently cheaper for my family of four to drive in to town than to use public transport. What further representations will he make to ensure that bus travel becomes more affordable and to alleviate congestion that is affecting our local parks?
Councillor Miller responded by stating that whilst on-going discussions with bus operators via the Barnsley Bus Partnership seek to ensure that services are maintained and that fares offer good value for money to passengers, fare rises are commercial decisions taken solely within that operator’s group. As such, no Local Authority nor Passenger Transport Executive is able to set fares for bus services in a commercial environment. The Barnsley Bus Partnership is open to all Members to attend and make representations, should they wish to do so.
7. Is the development of site MU1 as proposed by the Local Plan dependent on the scheme to build a gyratory road junction on Penny Pie Park going ahead and what effect would the failure to build the gyratory have on the future development of site MU1?
Councillor Miller responded by stating that it is very difficult and inappropriate to answer this question at this moment in time, given that we are awaiting the result of a call-in notice from the Secretary of State.
Councillor Kitching asked a supplementary question: Why was the link between these two developmental proposals not referred to in the evidence provided to support the recent planning application relating to the Penny Pie Park gyratory?
Councillor Miller referred to his previous response, commenting that wherever possible he will always seek to make his views known.
8. Is the cabinet member aware of the proposals from Berneslai Homes to dissolve the Federation of Tenants and Residents, an organisation created by this very Council to provide an independent voice for tenants and residents in Barnsley
Councillor Miller responded in the affirmative.
Councillor Kitching asked a supplementary question: As a long time loyal supporter of the Federation of Tenants and Residents Associations (TARAs), what do you intend to do about the attempted silencing of the independent voice of tenants and residents in Barnsley?
Councillor Miller responded by stating that this is quite a detailed response, which will be sent to Members after the meeting. He proceeded to explain that last Autumn, Berneslai Homes asked the Tenants Participation and Advisory Service (TPAS) to undertake an independent review of our engagement services. The aim of the review was to ensure they were fulfilling their duties and were effective in doing so; involving tenants in running, monitoring and shaping services; providing opportunities for community based issues to be raised and responding to and supporting and developing communities and volunteers in communities to enhance their neighbourhoods and the lives of residents. This was also a timely review for the following reasons: The Green Paper ‘A New Deal for Social Housing’ is looking to offer major reform to improve families’ quality of life and safety for residents living in social housing; in April 2019 Berneslai Homes is changing its management structure to align with BMBC areas and finally, the Federation of Tenants and Residents Association has reduced membership, and is no longer representative of the tenant population as more and more tenants engage online.
The review report, published in November, made several recommendations to strengthen the tenant voice. Berneslai Homes has gained approval from the Council to implement the recommendations, which include setting up a new tenant body with a much wider remit than the current Federation of Tenants and Residents Association. The proposals recognise the experience, commitment and track record of the current small numbers of the Federation. The proposals maintain all that is good and representative and will further extend these, including a better digital consultation. Berneslai Homes are fully committed to a strong and influential tenants voice and the Cabinet Member supports Berneslai Homes in its aim of strengthening the tenants voice, pushing it more into the localities and ensuring it is fully representative of all tenants.