Agenda item

Member Question Time (Standing Order 7)

A period of up to 40 minutes is allocated for questions to the Leader, Cabinet    Portfolio Holders and Chairs of Overview and Scrutiny Committees.



a)       Question from Councillor Tracey Drew to Councillor Jan Matecki


“Land acquisition was stated, by Cllr Butlin during last February’s AGM, as a, or even the, major hurdle to advancing K2L. Please could you provide a general update on progress on this, one of the Council's flagship cycle schemes? And have leaps or stumbles been achieved in acquiring the necessary land in the last 6 months?”


Councillor Matecki responded that the Council was actively negotiating with the impacted landowners for section 1b of the K2L route between north Leamington and Blackdown roundabout with specialist Bruton Knowles to facilitate construction of the new footway/cycleway.  This would require the dedication of existing school playing fields which were Council owned and, at the time of the meeting, leased to North Leamington School and subject to a Department for Education Secretary of State legal process, as well as the acquisition of the adjacent school playing field land owned privately by Kingsley School and the Warwick School Foundation.  In addition, easements needed to be established with private landowners both north and south of Blackdown roundabout, to facilitate the installation of the two hybrid retaining structures that would safely support the existing highway embankment once the new footway/cycleway was cut into it.  To date, the Council had shared relevant land plans, project drawings, information and held very positive onsite meetings with all parties and negotiations were continuing.  The Council had commissioned a specialist engineer for the retaining structures and once the detailed designs were available, the scope of the easements could be confirmed to allow those negotiations to continue. Should negotiations fail, the use of the Compulsory Purchase Order process would need to be considered in order to progress. The land acquisition for the rest of the K2L route remained on hold while the detailed designs for section 3b were finalised and the preferred design for the main bridge crossing for the River Avon was assessed against pre planning conditions, eg flood modelling and ecological impact, etc.


b)       Question from Councillor Jonathan Chilvers to Councillor Jan Matecki


“The aim of the Bermuda project was to speed up journey times for motor vehicles and an estimated number of seconds gain is part of the modelling. However, construction is causing long delays to journeys in some cases for years which currently makes journeys slower.


How many years will it take for the project to 'break even' in terms of journey times for vehicles?”


Councillor Matecki replied that the Bermuda project had a number of aims when originally planned, with improved journey times being just one of them.  Other key benefits that the scheme was envisaged to generate were reduced congestion in parts of the town centre, thus improving links on to the A444 in Nuneaton and other parts of the town, enhanced accessibility to local businesses, amenities and residential areas, particularly in Bermuda and adjoining areas, improved connectivity to Bermuda Park Rail Station for trains to Coventry, to provide an improved environment for cyclists and pedestrians and support further economic growth in Nuneaton through delivery of the Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council Local Plan Infrastructure Delivery Plan Scheme which served to enhance access to employment sites and residential areas for all modes.  


Councillor Matecki went on to say that the Bermuda Project had been regularly reappraised through traffic modelling on anticipated benefits and presented a strong and positive benefit:cost ratio based on the improved outcomes it would generate.  The Bermuda Connectivity Scheme would offer a wide range of benefits to people from the scheme opening over a prolonged period which it was believed would far outweigh the unfortunate temporary traffic disruption created during the construction programme.


Councillor Chilvers stated that it was good to hear that the reappraisal was happening, especially given increased project costs and he asked if Councillor Matecki could commit to making that reappraisal of the cost:benefits available to councillors in order to provide reassurance that it was still a good value project.


Councillor Matecki responded that the scope of the scheme was very different and it was not a like for like comparison.  Costs had risen, not least due to inflation and uncharted utilities, but the benefit:cost ratio still represented good value for money.


c)        Question from Councillor Sarah Feeney to Councillor Jan Matecki


““Please could you give council an update on how long residents are waiting on the call line for the residents parking scheme.  We have reports of numerous residents waiting for up to 40 minutes on the phone and also that they are being advised to go online when they do get through.  What is the council doing to address the issues?””


Councillor Matecki explained that improvements continued to be made to the phone line support service for the residents parking scheme and call numbers and average wait times were monitored.  The latest showed that the average wait time for the NSL permit line in the week commencing 18 September 2023 was 47 seconds.  This was down from 73 seconds in week commencing 11 September 2023.  Calls were averaged at 50 per day commencing 18 September 2023 which was down from an average of 68 per day throughout August 2023 and, when these figures were considered against the increasing number of passes issued weekly, this was a move forward. In August 2023, a call back feature was introduced which enabled individuals to request a call back from the service when an operator was free, removing the need for residents to remain on hold. The Council continued to review and improve the wider service.  These improvements included:


  • Additional resources to be allocated to the phone line service in anticipation of increased call volumes to deal positively and proactively with problems being faced by residents
  • Revised postcards with a QR code and instructions of how to log-on to be sent to all residents with a permit due for renewal in the three months following the meeting
  • Postcards were also being placed on windscreens displaying permits due for renewal
  • Enforcement officers were issuing warning notices to vehicles with newly expired permits rather than issuing a penalty charge notice
  • A step by step guide would be available in the form of a crib sheet and a new YouTube video how to guide was being developed.  These would be available on the Council’s parking webpage and would be circulated
  • NSL were setting up online accounts on behalf of customers unable to access a computer and documents were being provided to the customer in their chosen method, which could be by post, email or by hand to local Post Offices.
  • Development upgrades, streamlining the visitor permit customer journey, was being launched in the week of the meeting which would introduce a favourites option to toggle between saved vehicles such as “Mum”, “Gardener”, etc. 


Weekly meetings with NSL would continue, monitoring feedback and taking action as required.


d)       Question from Councillor Sarah Feeney to Councillor Heather Timms


“Recently fly tipping is on the increase in Warwickshire.  A number of residents have raised concerns that they are still having to book for taking items to the recycling facilities operated by the County Council and several have commented that they believe that the increase in fly tipping is because of the booking system.   Many other local authorities have now removed the booking system so is there any consideration being given to removing the booking system for Warwickshire now?”


In response, Councillor Heather Timms stated that in common with approximately 43% of other Councils, Warwickshire operated a booking system at recycling centres.  The booking system had reduced queuing and therefore given environment benefits and an improved customer experience as previously at peak times – weekends and bank holidays – cars would be queuing and people would be spending an inordinate amount of time to be able to recycle their materials.  The booking system spread visits out during the day meaning that people could get in and out to recycle items more quickly and easily.  In January 2023, the government published a paper entitled Research into the possible links between household waste recycling centre booking systems and the incidence of fly tipping.   The conclusion of the research was that there was no demonstrable link between the introduction of recycling centre booking systems and either an increase or a decrease in fly tipping.  Monitoring fly tipping trends in Warwickshire over the past ten years, showed that the number of incidents was on a gradual upward trend that was in common with the rest of the UK but that there was no obvious link between changes to Council waste services and incidents.  A link between the type of waste being tipped and local changes was also not demonstrated.  It was noted that much fly tipping appeared to be related to business and traders.  Councillor Timms noted Police success in closing down a number of cannabis farms in Warwickshire which had reduced fly tipping incidents since these were people who were unlikely to visit a household waste recycling centre.  She also noted that in the local area, four of the Council’s neighbours - Birmingham, Coventry, Solihull and Gloucestershire Councils – retained booking systems.  Nationally, both Essex and Bristol had introduced a booking system in 2023.  The booking system used at household waste recycling centres was well liked, had a number of customer services benefits and environmental benefits, and had not led to any demonstrable increase in fly tipping.  However, the Council believed in continual improvement and to this end a further customer satisfaction survey would be carried out to ensure that services continued to meet the needs and expectations of customers across the county.


e)       Question from Councillor Brett Beetham to Councillor Kam Kaur


“As the portfolio holder for Education knows WCC and partners have been shortlisted for a NASEN SEND Award. This shows that we are on the right path with SEND, so can the Education Portfolio Holder, please put on record my thanks and congratulations to the SEND team and partners. Furthermore, can the Portfolio holder please confirm this Conservative council is going to continue focusing on transforming and improving SEND services across the County for residents?”


By way of reply, Councillor Kam Kaur stated that she was extremely proud that Warwickshire County Council, in collaboration with Warwickshire Parent Carer Voice and IMPACT, the young people's forum, had been named a finalist in 'Co-Production Initiative of the Year' category at the 2023 prestigious 'nasen' SEND Awards.  The nomination recognised the work on the Warwickshire Schools Inclusion Charter which had laid the groundwork for inclusivity and equality within educational settings, fostering a more accessible and supportive environment for learners with special educational needs and/or disabilities. The nomination was a testament to the dedication and hard work of everyone involved in the partnership and she wished all those shortlisted for the awards the very best of luck.


f)        Question from Councillor Brett Beetham to Councillor Jan Matecki


There has been a lot of talk from a former Green County Councillor at the Borough Council about wanting to implement a ULEZ where needed in Warwickshire and this included some roads into Nuneaton Town Centres. Can the portfolio holder please confirm that as long as Warwickshire County Council is Conservative Led that we will not implement a further tax on residents by implementing the anti-motorist Ultra-Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) in Warwickshire.


Councillor Jan Matecki stated that there were no plans to implement any form of ULEZ in Warwickshire where the focus was on working to tackle climate change and improve air quality through other transport interventions.


Monica Fogarty, Chief Executive, read a statement that she had received from the former Green Party County Councillor at Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council which announced that he had never campaigned for a ULEZ in Warwickshire.


g)       Question from Councillor Brett Beetham to Councillor Sue Markham


Families in Camp Hill have been using this Council’s Holidays Activity and Food commonly called HAF, that allows children to have 16 Activities during the Summer Holiday paid for. I am aware the HAF team is currently refreshing the programmes for the new academic year. Can the Portfolio holder ask officers to make sure that we continue providing activities in Super Low Output Areas such as Camp Hill, Kingswood and Stockingford within reasonable distances and can officers continue to expand sessions that are available and suitable for various SEND needs.


In response, Councillor Sue Markham noted that the HAF Programme was funded by the Department for Education who provided £1.7m funding to provide activities and a meal for school age children in full time education who received benefit related free school meals from Reception to Year 11 inclusive.  The programme offered valuable support to families on lower incomes, giving young people the opportunity to access activities with a healthy meal provision over the main school holidays: Christmas, Easter and Summer.  A maximum of four sessions per eligible young person with a valid Warwickshire HAF code could be attended during Christmas and Easter holidays, increasing to 16 in the longer summer holiday.  All the data and outcomes for children demonstrated that the HAF programme team was working hard to increase the number of locations that were offering funded activities as part of the HAF programme.  This included areas where there were high rates of young people accessing benefit related free school meals, alongside rural areas where transport barriers were significant.  The Council was keen to engage further with schools, either to use premises as a venue for activities or for the schools to run their own HAF activities for young people. 


Councillor Markham explained that specific sessions for children with special educational needs who met the core criteria were also provided to 196 families.  The HAF Programme Team had been trialling new activities over the summer to look to  increase the support for families looking to access the programme with SEND needs. These included family experiences at six sites across Warwickshire where eligibility was met alongside supporting inclusive community activities with a food provision.  The Council was working to expand the listed SEND activities as part of the offering and support activity providers in additional funds with bookings that required one to one support.  Funding was limited for this, however, it had been possible to support 41 provider requests for staffing support in the summer. 


Councillor Markham stated that a full analysis of the programme would shortly be published on the website. Across the summer, HAF provided support to a record number of children, with HAF codes issued to 5,819 families. There were 135 registered providers who served 35,148 meals to children over the summer. There were 36,248 places available and bookings were made for 34,500 activity sessions.   The next provision would take place from 2-5 January 2024 and if any councillors wished to visit any of the sessions, they should contact John Coleman for details.


h)       Question from Councillor Sarah Millar to Councillor Kam Kaur


Are free school meals for all Primary School children now being provided as recommended by Director of Public Health and supported by Council in March?


Councillor Kaur replied that the Director of Public Health annual report did not recommend that free school meals were provided for all primary school children in Warwickshire. The recommendation was “to support children to have the best start in life, Health and Wellbeing Board explores the feasibility of free school meals for all primary school children in Warwickshire, as research shows that children are able to learn better in school if they have a full stomach.”  In March 2023, the Council agreed to support the Director of Health Annual Report and as recommended, work was underway to explore the feasibility of providing free school meals for all primary school children. This included the logistics of doing so (in terms of whether school kitchens, dining rooms etc would have the capacity); the cost and whether a non-targeted approach would be appropriate as it would channel funding towards the wealthiest as well as those in greatest need. There was also work going on to explore auto-enrolment for free school meals for those who were eligible in order to increase take up.


i)         Question from Councillor John Holland to Councillor Peter Butlin


In the past, Portfolio Holders have fully involved Warwick town centre stakeholders in decisions about County Council property in Warwick town centre.  Will Councillor Butlin continue to do this for the future of the Barrack Street office block?


Councillor Peter Butlin explained that Barrack Street was an aging building of its time and the Council was exploring ways to repurpose the building, demolish it, etc. There was no Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) in the building and once a sensible proposal was achieved, the Council would undertake consultation with the Town Council and Warwick District Council. 


j)         Question from Councillor John Holland to Councillor Jan Matecki


Does the following reflect your understanding of our decision at July Council?  If so, what action has been taken?


"The ‘hierarchy of road users’ is a concept that places those road users most at risk in the event of a collision at the top of the hierarchy. The hierarchy does not remove the need for everyone to behave responsibly. The road users most likely to be injured in the event of a collision are pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders and motorcyclists, with children, older adults and disabled people being more at risk"


Councillor Matecki explained that the hierarchy of road users was a road safety concept embedded in the Highway Code by new regulations in 2022.  It was based on ensuring that all road users were aware of the Highway Code and that they were considerate to other users and understand their responsibility for the safety of others.  At its core, it placed greater emphasis and responsibility on those HGV drivers, for example, who could do  the most harm to other vulnerable road users. 


He stated that in Warwickshire, it had been the case for many years that vulnerable road users were given due consideration when developing new schemes and improvements to existing ones, in particular, through the Road Safety Audit process.  Nothing had changed in that regard in relation to the adoption of the Local Transport Plan (LTP4).  The central aim of the Safer Travel Strategy within LTP4 was for Warwickshire’s residents, visitors and commuters to live, work and move around the county in safety.  Everyone should be presented with travel choices that allowed them to reach their destination free from harm. Transport interventions would therefore continue to seek out solutions which provided the best safety outcomes for all network users as they moved through Warwickshire. 


Councillor Matecki explained that the hierarchy of road users was somewhat different to the travel choices hierarchy that was set out in LTP4. The decision taken by Council in July 2023 to ratify and adopt LTP4 established the guiding principles of the travel choices hierarchy contained with the new Local Transport Plan.  The hierarchy was intended to deliver on the Council’s aim for sustainable travel throughout Warwickshire without impacting on economic vitality.  It was, in essence, a recognition of the public’s desire for a transport system that protected the environment and their own wellbeing as priorities. Taken together, the Safer Travel Strategy, the travel choices hierarchy and the Council’s ongoing Road Safety Audit processes helped support modal shift where appropriate and protected the most vulnerable on the network.


k)        Question from Councillor Jonathan Chilvers to Councillor Isobel Seccombe


Would the leader agree with me that whatever our exact political relationship with the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), strong cooperation on issues like transport and retrofitting assets are essential to solve some of the challenges we face?


Councillor Isobel Seccombe stated that the Council’s relationship with WMCA continued as it had done for the last eight years or so and the Council had always sought to seek the best advantage for Warwickshire residents and businesses and, for those of the West Midlands Combined Authority and the Council would continue to play an active participating role.  The Combined Authority offered advantages in the area of travel and the Council continued dialogues in this regard.  There were some areas where full constituent membership provided an edge but the Council tried to ensure advantages if it could, not just on travel but on retrofitting of housing and the important work that the Combined Aurthority were doing in this respect and the Council would continue to work closely with them and to try achieve the best it could for Warwickshire businesses and residents.


l)         Question from Councillor Jonathan Chilvers to Councillor Heather Timms


Would the portfolio holder agree that a key part of a government's role should be to set a clear direction and framework which allows businesses, Councils and others to invest and innovate with confidence?


If so, does she share my concern at the Prime Minister's recent announcements which moves the goalposts on a number of key Climate Change issues? 


Councillor Heather Timms stated that the Prime Minister’s announcements did not change the targets in the Sustainable Futures Strategy, which was being considered by all Overview and Scrutiny Committees and was open for comment by all Councillors in the Chamber.  The strategy remained consistent with national targets.  The action plans that supported the strategy described a range of activity to reduce the Council's own emissions, and a range of future action with more to come as funding became available, particularly focussing on external funding sources.

The Council was working with public sector partners, businesses and other Warwickshire stakeholders to innovate and invest, and importantly find intelligent and pragmatic solutions that would make sense to the communities across Warwickshire.


Councillor Chilvers asked whether Councillor Timms was concerned that some of the assumptions made in the Sustainable Futures Strategy which helped to estimate how big the gap was and how much retrofitting was needed were based on things like the ban on new petrol vehicles and that would need ot be changed with the result that the gap in emissions was going to be greater than predicted, and there were a number of other examples about the assumptions that had been made based on previous announcements. 


Councillor Timms restated that targets had not changed and, therefore, the Council would be looking at how actions plans may have to change but the Council was committed to the Sustainable Futures Strategy which would be presented to Cabinet later in the year. She noted that Jaguar Landrover, based in Warwickshire and which had a big impact on residents, had welcomed the Prime Minister’s comments so, on a local level, it was possible to move forward with the Sustainable Futures Strategy.


m)      Question from Councillor Bill Gifford to Councillor Jan Matecki


I am getting more and more people expressing concern about the sink hole in Park Road, Leamington Spa CV32 6LG.   This is a long-standing problem that goes back several months. I understand that there may have been disagreements between Severn-Trent and the County Council as to where the responsibility lies.  What are the current plans by the County Council to ensure this hole is filled and made safe.  When is the work expected to be completed?


Councillor Matecki responded that County Highways were working on a solution to repair the Park Road sinkhole that would likely involve an injection of foam concrete.  A high voltage cable had been located which needed to be secured before the work could commence.  Councillor Matecki stated that he was happy to instruct County Highways to provide Councillor Gifford with an update as soon as a date for the works could be confirmed and noted that works orders had been placed to expedite the repair.


Councillor Matecki took the opportunity to remind Members that Highways Officers were in the antechamber to answer questions and there was also a surgery on 27 September 2023 for highways questions.


n)       Question from Councillor Sarah Millar to Councillor Jan Matecki


Could you provide an update on the parking permit transition process? Residents in Leamington Clarendon have been in touch with me to express their ongoing difficulties with permit renewal and most notably with the visitors  permits, including access to the website and over the phone. One resident reported that they received a fine whilst on the phone trying to navigate the system. Will there be the option to allow paper permitting where residents are struggling?


Councillor Matecki referred Councillor Millar to his response to an earlier question but added that to date the Council had successfully issued over 3,000 new parking permits through the new digital based system which was just under a quarter of all resident permits in the county.  The process and communications systems had been reviewed and improved following feedback.  The Council remained committed to the utilisation of a digital permit system.  The measures already outlined in response to Councillor Feeney’s question above, were in place to support customers that could not use the digital system and if there was anything specific that residents had a problem with, he urged them to raise the issue so that it could be addressed.


o)       Question from Councillor Sarah Millar to Councillor Heather Timms


Please could the portfolio holder provide and update on the solar panel scheme. Residents are still reporting difficulties in finding resolutions to deposits and contracts that have not been delivered. What help is available to residents still encountering these problems?


In reply, Councillor Heather Timms explained that The Solar Together Warwickshire scheme was run by iChoosr who were contractually responsible for the selection of the supplier. The collapse of that supplier, GET UK, had unfortunately impacted some Warwickshire residents, which was regrettable. County Council officers had continued to work closely with iChoosr to find the best solutions for those residents, a process that had achieved satisfactory resolutions for a number of residents. She had been advised that iChoosr would shortly be contacting those still to achieve resolution to help establish next steps.  Council Timms stated she was happy to receive details of any residents experiencing difficulties and, if officers were not already involved, iChoosr would be asked to provide support.