Agenda item

Discussion with Councillor Ross - Executive Member for Environment

To question Councillor Ross, Executive Member for Environment on Council activities within his portfolio and upcoming issues.  


A list of the Executive Member for Environment’s specific portfolio responsibilities is attached.


The Chairman commented that as part of its role of holding the Executive to account for the delivery of Council services it had decided to invite Councillor Ross to speak to the activities within his portfolio and take questions from the Committee. 


The Committee was referred to the list of Councillor Ross’s responsibilities on Agenda page 23. Councillor Ross provided the Committee with a brief update on each area of responsibility and answered the Committee’s questions in turn.  A summary of the key points arising from this discussion is set out below:


·  (Environmental Services) – Councillor Ross commented that work was in place to develop a plan for the Countryside Service to become self-funding.  In addition the Council’s Tree Service had been reorganised and work undertaken at Southlake lake;


·           Prue Bray suggested that in her opinion the heading of environmental services logically included areas of Council services including environmental health functions related to air quality.  Councillor Ross responded that consideration had been given to this point as part of the process of determining Executive Member portfolios, but a decision made that issues such as air quality would fall within the remit of Executive Member for Resident Services, Councillor Pauline Jorgensen;


·  (Flooding and Production of a Flooding Strategy) – Councillor Ross informed the Committee that a joint Officer/Cross Party Task and Finish Group was working on the production of the Local Flood Management Strategy although production of the strategy had been impacted by a shortage of Officer resources. With regards to flood alleviation, work had been completed along the A327, ditches cleared and Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems, (SUDS) installed;   


·           Members queried whether the Flooding Strategy included proposed measures to mitigate against existing flooding problems or if it was focussed towards addressing future issues.  Councillor Ross responded that the strategy included recorded problems and incidents as well as anticipated ones.  Whilst the Council would never be able to give the assurance that flooding risks could always be mitigated and finance would remain constrained, the issue was considered to be adequately managed. In terms of future development in the Borough the Council was doing everything within its power to prevent development increasing the risk of flooding.  An example of this was the embedding of an Officer from the flooding team within the Development Management Service. However, it also had to act on the advice of statutory agencies such as the Environment Agency;


·           Members queried Officer recruitment and Councillor Ross accepted that Officer recruitment within the Flooding Team was a recognised issue, but when necessary expertise was accessed from the Council’s contractor WSP;


·  (Waste Collection and Recycling/Re3) – Councillor Ross informed the Committee that the existing waste collection contract was due to expire at the end 2017.  He commented that the Borough’s rate of recycling was good whereas sometimes the recycling rates of some local authorities reporting higher rates of recycling did not prove to be accurate on closer examination.  The Council was working with Reading Borough Council and Bracknell Forest Borough Council through the Re3 Joint Partnership Board to further improve rates of recycling and where markets existed, expand the range of materials that could be recycled;


·           Referring to the possible expansion of the range of materials that could be recycled through kerb side collection, Members asked if there were any plans being considered to collect glass, a wider range of plastics, food waste and small electrical appliances as they were aware of neighbouring authorities whose kerbside schemes included these items.  With regard to glass recycling, Councillor Ross responded that the present arrangement of bottle banks with glass being sorted by colour represented the best option as this glass had a bigger market.  The issue with kerbside glass collection was that the glass was mixed together and the market for this was limited to road building aggregate.  Given the Re3 partnership arrangement the Council had to engage with the other Councils and could no act unilaterally.  Expansion of the range of materials would involve alterations at the Smallmead Household Waste Recycling Centre and would also involve changes as part of the new waste collection contract.  In order to collect food waste the collection vehicles used would need to have separate compartments or dedicated vehicles would need to be provided by the contractor;     


·  (Development of a Carbon Reduction Plan) – The Committee was informed by Councillor Ross that the Council was considering the implications of the Government’s recent national policy changes to the rates of renewable subsidies on the development of the Carbon Reduction Plan.  Councillor Prue Bray suggested that the Council should make representations to the Government in opposition to the changes;


·  (Playground Provision) – Councillor Ross informed the Committee that the Council was undertaking a critical review of playground provision looking at the issues of size, location and modernisation, being especially mindful of future provision within the SDLs and the most effective use of Section 106 funding;


·           The Chairman referred to the development of the Country Parks Vision and queried progress as he felt it had been delayed for a significant time.  Councillor Ross indicated options for future income generation were being considered as well as potential works and improvements at California Country Park;


·  (Partnerships) – Councillor Ross referred to the update he had given earlier regarding measures to alleviate against flooding and the partnership working that this involved.  A flood catchment area group had been established for the River Loddon.  In addition, the Council was active within the Mid and West Berks Local Countryside Access Forum and had as had been commented upon earlier, worked with the Royal Borough Windsor and Maidenhead on open space maintenance procurement.  With regards to Minerals and Waste joint work with other Councils was also in progress.  Finally, the Council was working with Hampshire County Council regarding the retention of a contractors bridge across the River Blackwater which would allow public rights of way access on both sides of the river and county boundary;


·  (Sports Development Strategy) – Members of the Committee were informed of progress in the development of a new Sports Hub at Ryeish Green and that this project would involve a significant amount of consultation to move forward.  The Committee also had plans to reopen the Ryeish Green Leisure Centre;


·           With regards to health, the Council was also making a significant contribution towards the improvement of health and wellbeing through greater exercise.  Two long term condition gyms had been opened and a Multi-Use Games Area, (MUGA) planned for Finchampstead.  The Committee was informed that new flood lighting was being installed at Cantely Park;


·           Members of the Committee asked a number of questions regarding specific sports facilities and also asked if partnership working was taking place with Towns and Parish Councils regarding sports. Councillor Ross responded that the Council was working on an ongoing basis with Towns and Parish Councils relating to sports and Laurel Park in Earley was a good example of such a partnership arrangement.  Other potential opportunities for partnership working were also being explored with Charvil Parish Council;


·  (Public Rights of Way) – Councillor Ross referred to the work of the West and Mid-Berks Local Access and commented that unlike many local authorities who were having to cope with the challenge of simply seeking to maintain their existing public rights of way network within reduced resources, Wokingham was in the fortunate position currently of extending its network of public rights of way. The Council had also worked with other local authorities on issues such as the implications of the widening of the M4 on rights of way including footbridges. The Council was working to put in place ‘Greenways’ in and out of the SDL locations through working with the local landowners and local interest groups;


·           Councillor Prue Bray referred to issues for horse riders when bridleways crossed roads and Councillor Ross commented upon the installation of Pegasus Crossings which were specifically designed for horse riders. 


·           Councillor Ken Miall referred to instances of public rights of way access not being adhered to following development and highlighted an example of this.  Councillor Ross acknowledged that there could be difficulties in that the legislation around public rights of way could be complex and often there were land ownership legal issues to overcome as well.


In a response to a question, Councillor Ross commented that the numbers of indicators relating to his portfolio shown within the Council’s Performance Plan Report reflected the indicators that had been considered to be most helpful, but if the Committee was minded to suggest other indicators for inclusion it was welcome to do so.




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