To receive any statements by the Leader of the Council, Executive Members, and Deputy Executive Members.
In accordance with Procedure Rule 4.2.23 the total time allocated to this item shall not exceed 20 minutes, and no Member shall speak for more than 5 minutes
Charlotte Haitham Taylor, Leader of the Council
Before going on to the main topic of my speech this evening, I need to inform Council that Councillor Alison Swaddle decided to step down as Deputy Executive Member for Children’s Services in June. I want to thank her for her work since she accepted the appointment when I became Leader. I can announce that Councillor Clark has accepted the position as the new Deputy Executive Member for Children’s Services.
I spoke at some length at the last full Council meeting about Andy Couldrick, but I would also like to give my thanks to him for all the work he has done for this authority and wish him the very best of luck in his new role at Birmingham.
In May, I talked about engaging better with local businesses and finding more ways to generate income. We have made clear also that the Council needs to change, using technology and early intervention to provide services that respond to the needs of our residents. Phase 1 of the 21st Century Council programme, dealing with internal services staff, is now complete. We have taken on board important lessons for the implementation of Phase 2.
However, we completely disagree with Unison’s conclusions in last week’s press. Affected staff have been consulted throughout, and the programme was raised with residents at last year’s Budget Engagement sessions. Unison’s comments about the impact on vulnerable people simply do not match the changes being implemented: improved availability and access to our services, whilst ensuring those who need or want to speak to someone still can. Councillor Whittle will speak a bit more about the implementation of this programme later.
It is disappointing that Councillor Croy used the Unison article to say “The Council is struggling to provide services residents expect”. Our proud record of making this Council more efficient whilst protecting frontline services has seen other Councils visit Wokingham to learn about our innovation.
We have maintained weekly waste collection, unlike Labour in neighbouring Reading. We continue to invest in infrastructure, providing houses, roads, new schools, new car parks, community centres and leisure centres.
Only two weeks ago, Members visited the finished Bohunt School and were there to witness the handing over of the keys to the school. I think that this is a real accomplishment.
Optalis leads in providing adult social care, and our housing companies go from strength to strength in providing more affordable homes. Indeed, last year we built more affordable homes than any year since the financial crash, and this year we are set to double that number.
We are implementing Civil Parking Enforcement this autumn, making parking in the Borough fairer whilst stopping illegal and anti-social parking. We have built a new car park in Wokingham, we are regenerating the town centre at pace and we are renovating and building new leisure centres.
Our library service is seeing an increase in usage, against the national trend. And our Borough continues to be one of the best places to live in the country.
“Struggling to provide services”… I am not sure which planet you live on Councillor Croy? Just compare this to Reading, run by your party. Children’s Services in crisis, swingeing cuts to services, Council Tax and fee rises through the roof, multiple swimming pools closing, and an administration incapable of getting its spending under control, despite receiving three times as much money per head from the Government as Wokingham.
We have serious challenges ahead, some of which I have set out tonight. When I was elected Leader of my Group and this Council, I set out a plan for what we need to meet these challenges head on.
But when I look at how Labour runs Councils, and compare them to our successes, the strength and high-quality of our services, our dedicated and skilled officers, our sound financial management and our high quality of life, I reach a stark conclusion: you only get these things with the Conservatives.
Mark Ashwell, Executive Member for Children’s Services
This week, the secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, announced an extra £1.3bn in Central Government funding for schools over the next two years. At the same time a new minimum per pupil funding limit will be set in secondary schools, meaning that all secondary schools will receive at least £4,800 for each student. This is a real breakthrough for the schools in Wokingham Borough.
As we know, up to now, our schools have received less money per pupil than anywhere else in England. My predecessor and now Leader, Charlotte Haitham Taylor, worked with Councillor Richard Dolinski, her deputy, and Councillor Keith Baker, when he was Leader, to press the Government on the issue of fairer funding for schools. We raised the issue with Ministers in Whitehall. We met the Schools Minister along with former Reading East MP Rob Wilson. This was to set out the case for our schools and, since gaining this role, I have continued to keep fairer funding on the agenda.
The announcement of extra funding is a triumph for Wokingham Borough. I want to thank all those who have helped us to argue for fairer funding for schools, including Councillors, our local MPs, schools, voluntary organisations, local residents and those who prompted our debates in this very chamber. You all made that difference.
I am glad that it is a Conservative Government that has not only recognised the problem, but started to address it. But there is still so much more to do. It is important that we continue to press the Government to increase the level of funding and, in particular, to recognise the base levels of funding for our primary schools and early years providers in our Borough. These are simply inadequate. I pledge to lead the charge to get more money for our pupils and I know that I have the Council’s support which will be vital to ensure that the schools in Wokingham Borough remain some of the best in the country and every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential.
With this in mind, as Councillor Haitham Taylor has just stated, last week I had the honour of organising a cross-party tour of our new secondary school, Bohunt, in Arborfield Green. While we were there we officially handed over the keys to Ben Godber, the headteacher. This project, which I know is dear to your heart Mr Mayor, was delivered on time and on budget. Huge congratulations to all involved.
I have made it my personal mission to visit every one of the 70 plus education establishments in our Borough over the next 12 months. Today I visited Foundry College in Norreys which is a pupil referral unit to provide or support the education needs of vulnerable and permanently excluded pupils. Their strap line is “It takes commitment to change lives”.
In chairing the recent Corporate Parenting Board meeting we had a great interaction with the Chair and representatives of the Children in Care Council. This Council is made up of and represents our children in care. After their presentation I said to Julia, Lily and Jackson that they could leave the meeting because they might be bored. They insisted that they wanted to stay as they found great comfort in hearing the meeting talking about them and their care. So please don’t forget that we are all corporate parents for our children in care. I will continue to report back to full Council on Children’s Services as it will take all our commitment to change lives.
Oliver Whittle – Executive Member for Finance, 21st Century Council, Internal Services and Human Resources
The first phase of the major project to improve efficiency and reduce costs within the Council has completed in line with the programme and targets set. Phase one focused on internal areas, and our residents and Councillors will not have noticed any changes.
A much enhanced IT system has been introduced and all internal functions have been redesigned to ensure the operations are streamlined, that is to say lean processes.
The next stage will see a similar approach applied to outward facing services. The intention is to offer our residents greater and easier access to information through the Council website which is being redesigned. The website is also available now as an app for mobile phones, and again this will be improved. Residents unable to access the web will still be able to telephone the Council or visit Shute End.
Julian McGhee-Sumner – Executive Member for Adults’ Services, Health, Wellbeing and Housing
I would like to share two good news items with Members.
The first relates to Fosters Care Home in Woodley. As Members will remember, we agreed to have Fosters rebuilt to 21st century standards. The building is due to be handed over in October and is fully on schedule and on budget. I know my colleagues in Optalis are excited to be taking over this brand new, state of the art, building and I am advised that residents will begin moving in towards the end of the year.
The other area I wanted to mention is Phoenix Avenue in Norreys Ward. A number of houses have been handed over and I was delighted to be able to meet two new residents who were delighted with their new homes which offer greater family indoor and outdoor space. I look forward to seeing the remaining units completed in the coming months.
I would also like to update Members on the recruitment of a new Chief Executive Officer for Optalis. Recent applications have been whittled down to 27, of which four have been shortlisted for interview, due to take place in the first week in August. I will report back once a decision has been made.
Norman Jorgensen – Executive Member for Environment, Sports, Environmental Health, Leisure and Libraries
Following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower and our subsequent reviews, I provide this statement about the fire safety status of the Council’s buildings.
• For the buildings where we have a duty to provide a Fire Risk Assessment these are fully compliant.
• All maintained Schools have been re-surveyed this year and are being assessed for any works that are required.
• All Corporate buildings were Fire Risk Assessed last year and, of the three sites identified as moderate risk, we have completed the necessary works to take them to low risk.
• As part of the Council’s policy, all new educational properties completed since 2012 have sprinklers installed. These include Waingels, Bulmershe, St Crispins, Charvil Primary, Wheatfield Primary, Windmill Primary and the New Arborfield School
• Our buildings are not high rise and none are over 5 storeys.
• Two new buildings have been constructed recently with cladding, Shinfield Infants Hall and the new Bulmershe Administration block. Both buildings are only single storey in height and have used cement fibreboard cladding.
• Windmill and Wheatfield Primary schools (both Academies) are clad with plastic composite decorative planks. Both are single storey and have multiple escape routes and sprinkler protection.
• The cladding in all these cases meets building regulations.
Properties under Construction by our Housing Companies
• Fosters and 52 Reading Road both include a sprinkler system within the design and as part of the build specification due to the more vulnerable nature of the expected future tenants.
• The apartment blocks under construction at Phoenix Avenue are of traditional brick construction with no sprinkler system.
The Grenfell Tower fire provides a reminder that we cannot become complacent with the security and safety of our buildings and accommodation. Although our records show we are diligent in fire risk assessments and that we are relatively low-risk in terms of the nature of our buildings, we will continue our reviews and apply any learning from this fire as the Inquiry develops.
Simon Weeks, Executive Member for Planning and Enforcement
I have several items to report. Members will be aware of the Hare Hatch Sheeplands issue, which has occupied the time of this Council in the past and also one of our Council meetings. I have an update following Court appearances. The High Court granted the Council an injunction in February 2017 which required Mr Scott and other retailers to comply with the Planning regulations at Hare Hatch Sheeplands by the 1st May. Officers visited on the 2nd May and found that neither Mr Scott nor Mr Parry, of Garden Trends, had complied.
A breach of a Court order is contempt of court and the Council made an application for committal. The first hearing took place on 30 June and Mr Scott and Mr Parry admitted that they had not complied and were, therefore, in contempt of court. The Judge adjourned the case until 19 July to give Mr Scott and Mr Parry the opportunity to purge their contempt by complying with the order. Officers visited again on Monday and Tuesday this week and found that, other than the complete removal of demolition debris, Mr Scott and Mr Parry had complied. Mr Scott and Mr Parry apologised unreservedly to the Court for their contempt. The Judge gave Mr Scott a two month custodial sentence, suspended for two years, subject to his continued compliance with the Planning regulations on site. Mr Scott and Mr Parry were also ordered to pay the Council’s full legal costs, totalling £19,477. Other legal issues are pending.
The second matter relates to the 5 Year Land Supply which many of you are aware is contentious and puts some of our longer term plans at risk. A decision was taken over a year ago, in relation to Stanbury House, where we refused an application which we then lost on appeal. We felt that the Inspector was erroneous in reaching his decision and we applied for a Judicial Review. We received the outcome of the Judicial Review at 4pm today. It is 68 pages long so I will just read out a couple of relevant paragraphs. “The Council has suffered a material prejudice as a result of the manner in which the Inspector dealt, unfairly in my judgement, with the application of a 10% lapse rate. It made the difference between whether or not the Council had demonstrated a 5 Year Supply of deliverable housing. For these reasons the Inspector’s decision is quashed”.
Finally, as some of you will be aware, we have had a matter ongoing for nine or ten years in Nine Mile Ride known as Pine Ridge Caravan Park and New Acres. These have been through a series of appeals, High Court reviews, Appeal Court reviews and eventually they have reached the end of the line. The final appeal decision has just been released. The latest appeal was a ten day public inquiry, held in November 2016 and March 2017. The relevant paragraph states that “For both sites, for the reasons given above, and having given account of all other matters raised, I conclude that the appeals should not succeed. I shall uphold the enforcement notice with variations and refuse to grant planning permission on the deemed application”. This is the culmination of 12 years’ work.
Chris Bowring – Executive Member for Highways and Transport
Civil Parking Enforcement begins in Wokingham Borough in early October. But this is much more than a transfer of responsibility for parking enforcement from the Police to the Council.
In recent years, the Police have not regarded enforcement as a top priority. The result is that parking has, in places, become a problem. Residents have been inconvenienced by people parking where they shouldn’t. Even worse, this can be a danger to road safety and a cause of road congestion.
Under the new regime we will be more active in dealing with bad parking. But our watchword will be “reasonableness”. We will not be clamping or towing vehicles away, at least not to begin with, and the traffic wardens (or “civil enforcement officers” as we are supposed to call them) will be polite and not over-zealous.
Our aim is to reduce the amount of bad parking in the Borough. The vast majority of drivers park sensibly. But those who don’t, the serial offenders, should know that we intend stop their anti-social behaviour.
Philip Mirfin – Deputy Executive Member for Business and Economic Development and Regeneration
2017 has seen Wokingham’s town centre regeneration moving firmly from the drawing board to delivery. Work started last June to build a brand new car park at the Carnival site and, a year later, this facility is now complete on budget and helping to meet local parking needs. It is a great facility and is something that Wokingham should be proud of.
It is also the perfect backdrop for the new Carnival Phase 2 proposals which will see the rest of the Carnival site redeveloped with a brand-new sports, leisure and community concert hall facility for Wokingham that will give residents lots to do right here in Wokingham. The planning application is in the process of being submitted and people will be able to see these exciting plans very shortly.
As can be seen in the town centre, work at Peach Place is progressing quickly with the old 1960’s parade long gone and the new units already beginning to take form along Peach Street as the steel frames are installed. Works will continue apace over the coming months with the remainder of the Rose Street façade stripped back and replaced, and buildings continuing to go up across the site.
The coming months will also see more work at Elms Field as the Council works with the preferred contractor, McLaughlin and Harvey, on essential works such as archaeological surveys and clearing the old Wellington House site in the run up to main construction works later this year. I’m also pleased to confirm we have agreed with McLaughlin and Harvey to minimise works around the main park this summer so the play area can remain open for families to use over the summer holidays.
I urge people to continue to support Wokingham Regeneration as we move forward with creating a better town for our existing residents and the many new residents that are moving into this area, along with the many new jobs.