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
Under Rule 5.4.16 of the Constitution, I just need to inform Council that an urgent decision was made at Executive on 26th October to introduce temporary free car parking in Wokingham town council car parks from 3pm in order help mitigate some of the issues raised around the Market Place refurbishments and other regeneration works in and around the town. This measure has been taken to assist businesses during the most important trading period of the year from November to the end of January. Local businesses have also produced a number of promotional videos to share, so please find out more about these and share them with your friends and family.
This week was the closing date for submissions for applications for the new Chief Executive for this authority. I’m pleased to advise there has been a significant level of interest and there will be a full selection day in early January, with the proposed candidate being put forward for Full Council’s approval on 19th January.
There is an opportunity for a cross section of Councillors to participate in a facilitated session with the short-listed candidates. We are seeking expressions of interest for those who would like to participate in the Member Panel in January; you will have received an email about this.
The Chairman of the Personnel Board and I have been working hard to ensure that the processes in place for the Chief Executive recruitment are transparent, objective and aligned with the Constitution in order to identify and secure the very best candidate for our authority’s future ambitions.
When I was elected Leader of the Council, I made a commitment to make representations to the Government on the big issues that are affecting Wokingham Borough Council. I highlighted two in particular – housing and our financing. Last week, Councillor Lee and I met with Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to raise our concerns around these issues. On housing in particular, we were offered the opportunity to put forward proposals for schemes that could be piloted in Wokingham to help address some of these issues. We especially raised our concern about ‘landbanking’ – that even though this Council has more than 10,500 granted planning permissions, developers are only building around 1,000 houses per year. As a result, the Planning Inspectors tell us that we are not building houses fast enough! Hard to believe.
We told the Secretary of State that this was unacceptable and needed to change. So yesterday, I was pleased see that the Chancellor directly addressed this issue in his Budget speech, with an urgent review promised to look into the gap, which is due to report in 2018.
Other parties moan and gripe, but the Conservatives deliver.
As this is the last Full Council meeting before the Christmas break. I just wanted to thank the many staff in our authority and companies who have worked incredibly hard this year and will continue to do so over the Christmas period to provide the services that residents need.
I also want to convey our continuing gratitude to the volunteers in our community who will be taking time away from their families over the festive period, for no gain to themselves whatsoever, to work tirelessly across society, including with some of our most vulnerable people. Our community is built on these people – they are the foundation stones of our Borough. On behalf of all Councillors, I want to sincerely thank all these people for everything they do to make Wokingham Borough a great place to live.
Stuart Munro – Executive Member for Business and Economic Development and Regeneration
In the interests of brevity I would like to say two things. Firstly, a good news item. The Thames Valley Science Park Gateway building is now open for business, with 20 businesses preparing to move into the building, with lots of people working there. This is a great milestone for the Borough. Secondly, a new hotel is to be built in Winnersh by Whitbread, the parent company of Premier Inns. This will create another 76 jobs which is good news for the Borough.
Simon Weeks – Executive Member for Planning and Enforcement
A couple of announcements. Hot off the press this afternoon, I am pleased to confirm that the Hogwood or Marino site, as it is known in Finchampstead, which is an integral part of the Arborfield SDL and has been dormant since planning permission was granted for 1,500 houses two years ago, has been sold to Legal and General Homes. I am very confident that this will soon start contributing towards our housing numbers which will help with our 5 year land supply. This has been a long running saga, but the deal was struck this afternoon.
Secondly, in the absence of David Lee, who handles strategic planning matters, we have been having a series of meetings during November with the Towns and Parishes to discuss all the sites that were submitted in each of those Towns and Parishes for the current Local Plan Update process. We have had the majority of those meetings with three left to go tomorrow and early next week. I am pleased to report that the Towns and Parishes have participated well. There have been representatives from the Borough and the Town and Parish Councils at those meetings and I think that they have broadly agreed with our initial assessments.
Thirdly, to echo what Charlotte Haitham Taylor has already said as Leader, we are continuing to lobby against the inequity that we are faced with in the Planning system, particularly the fact that it is being exploited by opportunist developers. As well as the meeting that David Lee and Charlotte Haitham Taylor had with Sajid Javid, David Lee and I had a meeting with Alok Sharma, the Housing and Planning Minister. Two weeks ago David Lee and I had a meeting with Theresa May here, at which we again put these points across strongly. So, again echoing what has already been said, I was particularly pleased to hear that the Chancellor in his Budget statement appears to have, at long last, got the message from a variety of different sources and is promising to look into this as an urgent matter, which I am thrilled about.
Finally, at 7pm next Wednesday there is a training session here for all Members and Town and Parish Members on the process of traffic modelling, which may appear initially to be a black art. I would encourage all of you to come along to gain some confidence that the traffic modelling we are doing, looking ahead, is pretty precise.
Chris Bowring - Executive Member for Highways and Transport
Last year, the Council was able to offer free parking on the three Saturdays before Christmas in our town-centre Council-owned car parks. This year, I am pleased to say I can go further and extend free parking to include Sunday as well giving free parking for the entire three weekends. Furthermore, with parking ‘free after three’ already adopted in Wokingham town, that means that parking there will be free from 3pm on Friday to 8am on the following Monday. I hope that this will be welcomed by Wokingham town retailers who are currently experiencing reduced footfall due to the town centre improvement works.
Mark Ashwell – Executive Member for Children’s Services
Firstly, I need to inform you and Council of an outbreak of diarrhoea and vomiting illness at Hawkedon Primary School. This is suspected, but not confirmed, as being caused by Norovirus. The school management formally reported the outbreak and sought advice from Public Health England, who managed the incident and a letter has been sent from the school to all parents, as befits best practice.
On Tuesday of this week Mr O’Shea, the Headteacher at Hawkedon, in conjunction with his Governors decided to close the school for 48 hours and has reopened today Thursday. This enabled a full deep clean of the premises. I can inform you that the school has managed the outbreak exceedingly well. The school did everything according to good practice and should be commended for their actions and for keeping a really positive face throughout. Information has been sent to all other schools in the Borough regarding preventive actions.
As a quick update on Children’s Services, my mission to visit every school in the Borough is going really well. I’ve asked for two hot topics at every school I’ve visited to enable me to connect and keep the conversation going. Unsurprisingly, a common theme is funding. Money is short and, with a view to always spending to support teaching, other parts of our schools’ priorities are potentially suffering. I’ve been able to reassure them that this Borough Council is pushing for fairer national funding and has a capital programme of repair and renewal that we will not shy away from.
In Children’s Care and Early Help we have launched our ‘Signs of Safety’ innovation programme for our social workers. Last week I chose to witness this first hand by attending their two day ‘Signs of Safety’ course. They are impressive, really dedicated people and I will be looking to showcase this trailblazing approach to you all early in the New Year.
Norman Jorgensen – Executive Member for Environment, Sports, Environmental Health, Leisure and Libraries
I have three items to bring to Members’ attention.
Firstly, Re3 has launched a scheme to encourage engagement by schools and voluntary bodies to promote further recycling of glass. We wish to capture in our recycling bring banks more of the glass that is currently put out with general waste. If successful this could push up our recycling rate by around 1% thus also decreasing the cost of waste disposal.
Secondly, we have developed a partnership with Buckinghamshire County Council to tap into their expertise in clamping down on fly-tipping. Since this relationship was formed the Council has secured two prosecutions and one simple caution. Fly-tipping is an anti-social behaviour and blights our environment, hence where evidence of perpetrators exists we will take action.
Thirdly, you will see from the agenda for the Executive meeting next week that there are three papers relating to Sport and Leisure. They cover:
· Leisure Management Contract;
· Bulmershe New Build;
· Emmbrook School 3G Pitch.
I am pleased to be bringing these to the Executive as they will, if approved, result in a major boost to our already excellent facilities for the enjoyment and wellbeing of residents. Investment is planned in all six leisure centres with new builds at Bulmershe and Carnival Pool. New and improved sports pitches and courts have been created in Earley, Ryeish Green, Arborfield and Wokingham and another is proposed at Emmbrook School.
We also expect to make a profit from the operation of these facilities. Contrast this to Reading where the Council seems to have lost the plot on managing their finances and is planning to close facilities.