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.
Councillor L Anderson asked what the Council was doing to encourage companies to generate renewable energies in Cheshire East to help the Cheshire East residents move away from fossil fuels and become net zero. Councillor N Mannion, Chair of Economy and Growth Committee, responded that all were aware of support schemes for energy bills for households. The government had indicated, but not provided details of support for small and medium enterprises. Councillor Mannion undertook to provide a written response.
Councillor S Brookfield on behalf of Councillor L Smith stated that Children’s Services, along with other essential services, had been operating in a context of significantly reduced funding from central government for over a decade whilst demand had continued to rise. She stated that the government were failing to support children as early as needed which could lead to greater problems in the future. She asked if it was about time that every single member of the Council called upon the richest in society to pay their tax which they could well afford and stop expecting everyone else to foot the bill. In response Councillor K Flavell, Chair of Children and Families Committee stated the reduction year on year of funding for the council has caused tremendous pressures in children’s services and adults etc. and yet many of these services were statutory so there was no choice but to provide these services, - 70% of council tax was spent on services for adults and children. The government had continually cut funding, and many Councils were facing financial difficulties because of the lack of funding in areas of high needs. so yes, I would agree we need to call for better funding for children’s services from the government.
Councillor S Gardiner stated he wanted the committee system to work and that if it was going to be effective, councillors’ needed to be properly prepared in advance of those meetings by reading the papers and attending the briefing meeting. However, agenda papers were not always received in time to do this. Cllr Gardiner asked if consideration could be given to this matter. Councillor S Corcoran, Chair of Corporate Policy Committee, responded that, ideally, agenda papers should arrive in time to allow member to read them before the briefings but due to issues with the postal service this was not always happening. He reminded Members that agenda papers were always available online and, for climate change reasons, he encouraged members to access their agenda papers this way to save on paper and printing costs.
Councillor A Gage stated he have visited Delamere House - a multi-use Cheshire East office block in Crewe. When he had reached the floor of his destination, he found that 50 desks were occupied by roughly 4 individuals and on visiting the floor above had found this to be a similar experience. He asked what percentage of usual desk staff were currently not at their desks and what methods were being used to monitor and measure the performance and productivity of those working at home. Councillor S Corcoran, Chair of Corporate Policy Committee, stated that some of the matters raised were staffing matters and should be dealt with by officers rather than membersand that a written response would be provided. Councillor Corcoran indicated that there were benefits of people working at home for climate change reasons in terms of travel time, and that home working could also be more productive. He accepted that, as the Council moved to more of a hybrid model, there would be spare office space which was being looked into y officers.
Councillor M Houston asked about progress with the Crewe NW package works.She and Councillor Naismith during recent ward walks and during traffic monitoring exercises undertaken with local PCSOs had been able to see for themselves one of the problems that has arisen from the closure of Middlewich Road and this was that motorists were choosing to use residential side streets as ‘rat runs’ and local residents were worried that they were unable to cross the road safely outside their own homes.
Cllr C Brown, Chair of Highways and Transport Committee respondedthat the Project was being delivered in 3 phases: -
Phase 1 – included the Leighton Hall roundabout and the Smithy Lane roundabout, which should be completed by Jan 23
Phase 2 – included the Flowers Lane roundabout and Minshull new road roundabout and the East West link – and this should be completed by March 2023
Phase 3 – included the Fairfield roundabout, north south spine road and Smith New Lane and these should be completed by March 2024.
He reported that the current target was to have the road completed and fully opened to traffic by April 2024 but advised that there had already been delays caused by various utilities companies not turning up on site when booked to carry out essential works. The A530 was scheduled to be reopened in January 2023 but having said that the principal contractors were working extremely hard including working at weekends to get that section re-open earlier if possible.
Councillor L Jeuda asked what were the implications for the Council of the expected massive cuts on public spending the government was about to announce at the end of the month and, what if anything, could the Council do to try and mitigate the suffering caused for our most vulnerable residents? Councillor A Stott, Chair of the Finance Sub Committee, responded that all service committees would consider a report on how each section of the Council would deal with overspends that were being reported due to inflation, pay awards utility bills.
Councillor S Corcoran, Chair of Corporate Policy Committee, referred to the report that went to the Corporate Policy Committee setting out the £11.6 million inflationary pressures on the Council this year. He stated to put this into context, the general reserve was £14 million. This illustrated the level of pressure the Council was under.
Councillor A Kolker stated that the Leader, in their 2019 election manifesto, promised the people of Cheshire East that the rubble charges would be abolished. He stated that this promise had been kept in Congleton by abolishing the entire tip, and asked when would the promise be honoured in the rest of the Borough? Councillor M Warren, Chair of Environment and Communities Committee, responded by stating that the Environment and Communities Committee had formed a cross party working group to look at the provisions for household waste and recycling centres across the borough in the medium to long term future. With regard to rubble charges, there was a question as to whether it should be mandatory for Councils not to be able to charge for disposal of rubble at household waste sites. Councillor Warren undertook to speak to officers and provide a written response.
Councillor S Akers Smith thanked Councillor Corcoran for his statement on providing warm banks such as libraries and community centres across the borough and asked if they would be available on Sundays, bank holidays, Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day? In response Councillor Corcoran stated he commended the work of Connected Communities Team in trying to look at what was available in the third sector. He stated that he did not believe there were any plans to open libraries on Sundays but there were other facilities available. He suggested that this was something that could be worked out best at a local level and should build on the success of the people helping people service.
Councillor C Bulman asked, given that the Council had agreed the virement of money for the Middlewich Eastern bypass, could it be confirmed if the work was on schedule to get it finished? Councillor C Brown, Chair of Highways and Transport Committee, responded that early works onsite had been completed including the ground investigations but there was a Compulsory Purchase Order process to go through. 7 objections had initially been received, 2 had been subsequently withdrawn but a public inquiry may need to be held, assuming the remaining 5 objections were not also withdrawn. That was estimated to be in November and would be followed by the submission of the final business case in Spring 2023 to the Department of Transport. Hopefully an award of funding would be made by September 2023 to allow the construction contract to be awarded by November 2023 and physical construction to begin on site by January 2024, with the final opening date targeted for Sept 2026.
Councillor P Redstone asked about Best4Business and stated that he had attended a governors meeting earlier in the week when the headteacher again reported that Best4Business had failed to deliver. The business system was 100% over budget and was still failing to deliver. In response Councillor S Corcoran, Chair of Corporate Policy Committee, stated that the matter had been debated at the Corporate Policy Committee. He was aware of some of the problems experienced by schools and that there was a special care package put in place to assist schools. He referred Councillor Redstone to the report considered by the Corporate Policy Committee.
Councillor M Beanland stated that he had been reminded that there was a draft bio-diversity net gain SPD that was published for consultation by Cheshire East in the period May 2021 – June 2021, and asked when the final version of the document would be published. Councillor M Warren, Chair of Environment and Communities Committee, undertook to provide a written response.
Councillor S Handley asked what was the status of Great British Railways bid? Councillor C Browne, Chair of Highways and Transport Committee, responded that during the meeting a statement had been received to the effect that the legislation would not be enacted in the current parliament. He expressed his disappointment on this news.
Councillor C Naismith stated that hewelcomed the prospect of Cheshire Archives being co-hosted in Crewe in the History Centre; however, he had been approached by a number of residents who would have preferred to see the existing building repurposed rather than demolition and a complete rebuild.He asked whether a full options appraisal had been carried out at the outset of this project and on what basis had it been decided that repurposing was not the preferred option. He asked whether cost of the demolition had changed because of recent inflationary pressures. Councillor N Mannion, Chair of the Economy and Growth Committee, responded to the effect that theoption of repurposing it was originally included in the appraisal but that it was found not have been fit for purpose in both economic and practical terms. The building had been assessed in a practical sense as not being capable of carrying the weight of the archives, that would be moving to Crewe. That was why the repurposing option was not accepted. The project was within budget estimate because of the National Lottery funding, as match funding, enabled the Council to deliver this with Cheshire West and Chester Council.