Agenda item


In accordance the Council Procedure Rules, opportunity is provided for Members of the Council to ask the Mayor or the Chair of a Committee any question about a matter which the Council, or the Committee has powers, duties or responsibilities.


At Council meeting, there will be a maximum question time period of 30 minutes. A period of two minutes will be allowed for each Councillor wishing to ask a question.  The Mayor will have the discretion to vary this requirement where they consider it appropriate.


Cllr L Smetham referred to the recent planning training session for Councillors which included an informative session regarding enforcement, and asked how this work could be strengthened to curtail the lengths people went to, to try to contravene the planning system and how the Council could increase protection for residents and our environment.


In response Cllr M Warren, Chair of Environment and Communities Committee, stated that a balance had to be achieved between such protection, the amount of resources dedicated to the Planning Enforcement Team, and the many other competing pressures across not just the Planning Service but also the Council as a whole.  Enforcement cases were prioritised as to their level of harm and some minor cases would be deemed not sufficient to warrant any further action. It was also notable that well over 50% of enforcement complaints investigated were found not to involve any breach of planning control.   Certain notable enforcement cases required a significant amount of time and resource from the Enforcement Team to achieve the desired outcomes.  Some cases would also get resolved more quickly than others as negotiated solutions were always deemed to be the most appropriate course of action, even though they can take considerable time.   Cllr Warren reported that the Enforcement Team had recently recruited two more enforcement officers and that the number of notices served over the last 12 months had been the highest for some time including the servicing of 21 Enforcement Notices, 1 Stop Notice and 5 Temporary Stop Notices, which he hoped sent out a clear message that the Council did take enforcement action where appropriate.


Cllr B Puddicombe stated that the entrance and exit for cars going to the retail park at Barracks Mill in Macclesfield came straight off, and goes on, to the Silk Road where the national speed limit applied. Macclesfield Councillors had been contacted by local residents concerned that this was an accident waiting to happen due to the speed of cars along this road. He asked if the Chair of the Highways and Transport Committee could use his officers to ensure a speed review as conducted as a matter of urgency to ensure that restrictions were put in place so that an accident did not take place.


In response Cllr C Browne, Chair of Highways and Transport Committee, stated that perception did not always necessarily reflect reality.  Cllr Browne confirmed that a road safety audit stage 4 had been completed back in September, and that audit did review the operational safety of the junction. As a result, some additional warning signs were due to be installed early in the new year at the junction and Highways would continue to monitor the performance of the junction to assess whether any further action was necessary to improve road safety.


Cllr S Gardiner asked, following the decision to progress with the closure of the Stanley Centre, what work has been undertaken to liaise with the current clients of that Centre and how far had the Council progressed in securing them with alternative service provision, and whether or not Councillors would be receiving an update on that matter at the Adults and Health Committee in the New Year?


In response Cllr J Rhodes, Chair of Adults and Health Committee, stated that as dealing with individuals created elements of confidentiality, so a written response would be more appropriate. Cllr Rhodes stated that as far as she understood a report would not be brought back to the Committee but was sure that the Executive Director for Adults, Health and Integration could provide Cllr Gardiner with any details necessary.


Cllr R Moreton asked if residents in Congleton and the surrounding areas could be assured that the consultation regarding car parking charges was listened to. In Congleton there were over 600 responses, with more than half mentioning the Roe Street car park which was mainly used by residents visiting Lawton House Surgery. He stated that increases of over 150% on our car park charges was unacceptable, an increase in line with inflation would be more acceptable. Resident views were important so please listen to them.


In response Cllr C Browne, Chair of Highways and Transport Committee, stated that officers were currently collating the responses to the consultation, and these would then be shared with the Highways and Transport Committee members ahead of the meeting in January. The feedback would be used to help inform the Committee’s views, not only in relation to proposed charging but also in relation to potential mitigations as well as the extension of initiatives such as ‘Free after 3’ but this did not mean that the Council would necessarily be able to implement or not implement every suggestion made by members of the public.


Cllr C Chapman asked for an update on the North-West Crewe package and completion timescales.


In response Cllr C Browne, Chair of Highways and Transport Committee, stated that the North-West Crewe Package highway scheme was due to complete in mid-2024. The scheme would enable the delivery of large strategic housing sites near Leighton hospital. The site would close on Friday 22 December 2023 at 4.00pm and then re-open on Monday 8 January 2024. All traffic management that relates to the scheme would be removed over the Christmas period. Early in the New Year there would be some daytime closures of the A530 Middlewich Road from the entrance of the hospital to the Eardswick junction and these would apply from Monday 8 January 2024 through to Friday 9 February 2024. The daytime closures of the A530 were needed in order to install the permanent road signage, to plant the landscaping, to install the boundary fences and to carry out remedial work to bring the junction up to the Council’s required standards.


Cllr C Naismith referred to the Government talking about discontinuing the Household Support fund from March and asked what impact would that decision have on struggling families in Cheshire East and where in Cheshire East this support was currently going?


In response Cllr C Bulman, Chair of Children and Families Committee, stated that the Household Support fund was really useful at the moment with the cost-of-living crisis and there was a big demand for it. People could self-refer or be referred by others.  The Council had not yet heard whether it would be continued as of March 2024. This year the Council had £4.4 million in funding, and supported 20,000 residents altogether, distributed across 12,000 children, usually those who receive free school meals but also 8,000 pensioners and within that there are also some other vulnerable groups. Of the inquiry forms, there had been 4632 referrals and mostly cash for energy support but also 3167 for food poverty. The way it was distributed was through a tranche of release of vouchers and whenever that happened, it was known that the foodbanks see fewer visitors, so people were not relying on charity so much as they’ve got income support.


Cllr S Bennett-Wake asked if it was right that residents who were older or used wheelchairs were prevented from leaving their homes in Nicholson Close, Macclesfield, because of the mess made by inconsiderate developers? Large vehicles had systematically driven over verges for a whole year, damaging dropped kerbs, knocking down road signs, damaging manholes in the road and blocking gullies with mud. One lady had fallen out of her wheelchair trying to get off the kerb. Despite the Highways team making several fixes to the roads, pavements and kerbs, the whole area was now impassable because of the amount of mud and damage caused by lorries going to and from the Hollins Homes development. Hollins Homes had agreed to put boards down earlier in the year but that had never happened, so Highways made a temporary fix. Cllr Bennett-Wake asked if the Council could use the various sections of the Highways Act 1980 to make sure the developers cleaned up their mess.


In response Cllr C Browne, Chair of Highways and Transport Committee stated that it was not right and not fair either. However, as the issue would appear to cross not only the Highways service area but also Planning Enforcement as well, and that some of the questions were quite complex, Cllr Browne feel it would be appropriate for the two service areas to work together and provide a collective written response.


Cllr L Buchanan asked if the Chair of the Environment and Communities Committee could provide an update on the Everybody Health and Leisure recycling initiative being trialled at Nantwich Leisure Centre?


In response, Cllr Warren, Chair of Environment and Communities Committee, stated he did not know the granular detail around the scheme but did know there was a trial scheme being run at Nantwich pool which he also understood was part of a national scheme for the 3668 pools that was estimated to send 220 tonnes of rubbish to landfill each year. The rubbish being made up of items such as arm bands, goggles, flip flops, plastic toys etc – these items were currently discarded at the Centres. These items were being recycled to produce flip flops which the pools would then be able to sell back to customers to recover the cost of the scheme, and the additional benefit of encouraging more hygiene around the pool side and changing areas at their sites.


Cllr R Kain stated that in Liverpool in pre-Covid times an increase in car parking charges resulted in a 20% drop in trade for small and medium businesses and in Asthon-under-Lyne a report from the BBC 14 days ago highlighted a 150% increase in car park charges, similar to Congleton, resulted in a 22% drop in car park time, causing a 20% drop in footfall, and in some cases a 50% drop in takings. Cllr Kain stated that no two towns were the same and the proposals would not deliver the predicted income. He asked how could the car parking policy reconciled with the Council’s revitalisation plans for town centres?


In response Cllr C Browne, Chair of Highways and Transport Committee, stated that he was not familiar with the statistics stated but would repeat something that he had said earlier in the meeting during the public questions which was that car parking and parking charges are one of 237 factors in town centre vitality. He did not wish to prejudice the Committee’s decision. Cllr Browne stated that officers were currently collating the feedback from the consultation and members of the Committee would need to consider the feedback, key points made and strength of feeling, and balance those against the Council’s financial responsibilities. Cllr Browne stated that he was a strong believer in fairness and equity and therefore the status quo, the legacy issue whereby certain places in Cheshire East pay for parking whilst other parts of the Borough did not pay was neither fair nor equitable. Either everybody had to pay, or nobody had to pay and that the nobody having to pay was not a sustainable option financially therefore the Council had to look at charging.


Cllr A Gage referred to a report recently published by the Tax Payers Alliance which showed that in the last financial year, Cheshire East Council was in the top 5% of local authorities granting permission for employees to so called ‘work from beach’ – that is working from abroad. Cllr Gage asked if the Leader of the Council was aware of the practice happening in Cheshire East and whether the Leader personally authorised staff to work from abroad?


In response Cllr Corcoran stated that he did not follow the Tax Payers Alliance and thought that all Councillors should look into who financed them before putting too much credence on what they suggested. In terms of the issue of working from home, the Council had moved to adopt working from home. It did save the Council money and saved the time of officers who did not need to travel and therefore saved carbon emissions in reducing travel. It was something he thought should continue. It expanded significantly during Covid. In terms of what the correct balance was, that was still being worked out – not just at Cheshire East Council but across the world.  Cllr Corcoran asked Cllr Gage to send him the details of the report and a written response would be provided.


Cllr J Snowball asked if the Leader could give the Council an assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of a Corporate Peer challenge?


In response, Cllr S Corcoran, stated that he was a great advocate for the Local Government Association peer challenge system where a team of council leaders and senior officers from other authorities visit a Council for 3 days and write a report on what they find. He had acted as a peer reviewer of other Councils and knew that Cllr Browne had as well. He believed it was better and easier to receive constructive criticism and challenge from your peers than from a central government inspectorate.  The LGA recommended a peer challenge at least once every 5 years, but Cheshire East did not have a peer challenge at all during the period from its formation in 2009 until after he became Leader.   He could understand the reason why a Leader may not want to have a peer challenge – some of the LGA reports were highly critical. Cheshire East did receive an independent LGA report in 2018 which exposed a bullying culture – that was not a full peer challenge but a very specific review by one person, Sarah Messenger. The Council could have requested a full peer challenge following that visit to show how much the Council had changed but that would have run the risk of a negative report just before an election. When he became Leader in 2019, the idea of a peer challenge was discussed and it was decided to wait until 2020 to have a peer challenge to give the new administration an opportunity to make a difference. It was with some trepidation that a peer challenge was requested, and he specifically requested Sarah Messenger to be part of the team. The peer challenge report in 2020 was glowing, reporting on a transformed culture. He recommended that Members read that report which was available on the Council website. He stated he was pleased that the former Conservative Leader, having not requested a peer review during her tenure as Leader, now recognised the value of the LGA peer reviews. As the last review was in 2020, he strongly supported the idea of a challenge in the next 2 years but would suggest this took place when the new Chief Executive had a chance to get their “feet under the table”. He looked forward to discussing the timing of a peer review with the new Chief Executive and working with him to help Cheshire East Council continue its improvement journey.


Cllr Clowes raised a point of personal explanation and stated she would like to take issue with some information. She stated that a peer review challenge had been requested by the last Administration. It had been delayed by the Chief Executive at that time due to officer availability and the belief that it would be better met by the new administration, whatever that might be. That Administration was also very clear of LGA availability and pressure on demand because they had a very high demand for peer reviews at that time. Cllr Clowes thought it was very unfair to say that the former Conservative Leader was not interested, as they did actually request it and had gone on to actually serve on the LGA peer service herself. So, in their absence Cllr Clowes wanted to make that very, very clear and that it was documented.


Cllr F Wilson referred to inclement weather coming forward and the festive season that was coming.  She asked if Cllr Mannion could outline what arrangements were in place for people who were homeless and people who were sleeping rough over Christmas?


In response Cllr N Mannion stated that final preparations were being made to a briefing note for all elected members for what the Council’s homelessness service would be over the Christmas and New Year period - there would be a 24/7 phone number for members of the public and elected members to use to contact if someone is homeless or threatened with homelessness. In addition to that there was a severe weather emergency protocol – if the weather turned colder the Council had an offer to anybody in Cheshire East who was living rough on the streets and would offer them accommodation for the duration of the severe weather. Elected Members were encouraged to inform the Team when they observed people sleeping rough so those individuals could be contacted and offered accommodation. All Elected Members would be given a briefing note in addition to the information available on the Council website.


Cllr N Cook stated that the use of the word ‘housewife’ was rightly no longer seen as a word which reflected the community and in the Chamber that word had been used in a debate around Agenda Item 9. She stated that to many of the Councillors across the Chamber this word was insulting, as not only did it define an occupation in terms of a woman’s relationship with her partner but implied that a woman’s primary role was to manage the household and support her partner. As councillors they had the requirement to be the very best version of themselves and to ensure represented the rich diversity of the community and to recognise that women still did not have equality. As councillors they had a responsibility to ensure that did all could to promote gender equality and the use of language was important. Cllr Cook asked as part of the very comprehensive induction programme what plans were there to expand the equality and diversity training to support councillors so that they could continue to promote and advocate for gender equality?


In response Cllr S Corcoran stated that he fully supported the comments that had been made and thought that it was wrong to refer to housewives in the way that was referred to.    In response Cllr J Rhodes stated that the point about gender equality training needed to be taken away by officers.

Supporting documents: