To answer questions asked under Standing Order 8 by Councillors (30 Minutes)
Councillor Parker to Councillor Mackiewicz, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Climate Change, Planning and Housing
“In light of a number of extra care/retirement facilities being proposed and already built in Shirley can the Cabinet Member explain what the planning policy of the Council is regarding this type of facility?”
The Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Planning and Housing responded that the Solihull Local Plan from 2013 did not have a specific policy on housing accommodation for older and disabled people as national policy did not require this. Therefore plans needed to be assessed on their own merits and in more general terms against the policies of the Plan, and national guidance. As Solihull had an older population and assessments undertaken considered there would be a need for more retirement and extra care housing. This would be through the existing supply and the new approach laid out in the draft Local Plan.
Councillor Parker asked how the Council Planning policy was proposed to change in the draft local plan and how it would manage the growth of the retirement facilities.
The Cabinet Member outlined that the draft Local Plan included policy P4E which specifically focused on housing for older and disabled people. This would enable proposals to be considered against a specific policy basis, and enable suitable accommodation to be approved and reject unsuitable proposals.
Councillor McLoughlin to Councillor Mackiewicz, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Climate Change, Planning and Housing
“Can the Cabinet Member advise when the further evidence for the Local Plan Review, dated from October 2020, was made publicly accessible on the Council’s website?”
The Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Planning and Housing replied that there were 150 documents available online on 30th October when the plan was published, four documents had been subsequently added which were all supplementary information. Adjustments to published documents with minor amendments had also taken place, which was common practice.
Councillor McLoughlin asked for clarification about how this information was publicised.
The Cabinet Member confirmed that changes would not be publicised as they were minor changes to ensure problems that had been identified were rectified.
Councillor K Thomas to Councillor Hawkins, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Environment and Highways
“Whilst I am delighted that Solihull Council is planting 250,000 trees, why are we not maximising the benefit of our tree planting by planting as many as possible lining streets and car parks? I was told many of the trees being planted are quite small trees - saplings which are not suitable for street locations. We need trees lining our streets and car parks to provide the shade we need as temperatures continue to rise.”
The Cabinet Member for Environment and Highways confirmed all planting options available had been explored. The Council was on target to plant 250,000 trees over the next 10 years as well as the shorter target of 25,000 trees in the winter planting season.
Councillor Thomas asked what could be done to plant these on car parks or roads in the future.
The Cabinet Member explained that there were challenges with planting trees in residential locations as there were underground utilities which restricted planting locations. However, there were plans to plant 350 larger trees throughout residential and tree lined urban areas as part of this year’s programme.
Councillor Wilson to Councillor Mackiewicz, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Climate Change, Planning and Housing
“The UK is one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries; last month the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust published a report highlighting the crisis, with 1 in 10 species under threat. This is the reality of the sixth mass extinction - can the Cabinet Member set out what SMBC is doing to help avert this natural disaster?”
The Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Planning and Housing outlined that the Council recognised the importance of a healthy natural environment, identified within the Climate Change Declaration made last year, the Council Plan and the draft Local Plan, which had measureable net gains in biodiversity.
Councillor Wilson noted that the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust report explained that the land contributions for wildlife recovery was 6% for Solihull, compared to the regional average of 11% and 16% for Stratford-upon-Avon. Councillor Wilson asked for a commitment from the Cabinet Member to work with the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust to allocate more land to nature recovery.
The Cabinet Member confirmed that this could be explored but noted that the Borough’s land base was quite high. The draft Local Plan did allocate land for the purpose of nature recovery, and sought to work with developers to make a net biodiversity gain.
Councillor McCarthy to Councillor K Grinsell, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Adult Social Care and Housing
“DWP statistics as of May 2020 showed the 4,400 people across Solihull and Meriden are entitled to Carer’s Allowance. The last ONS Census also showed that there are 24,113 unpaid carers in our borough. Many of these carers are struggling financially and a National survey by Carers UK showed that more than one third are struggling to make ends meet - many have had to use a food bank. Will the Cabinet Member write to the government to support calls for an increase of Carer’s Allowance by £20 a week, in line with the recent increase of Universal Credit, to recognise the work of our wonderful carers?”
The Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Housing recognised the work that had been undertaken by carers in the Borough. The Cabinet Member explained that the carers allowance was determined nationally, and was means tested. During the COVID-19 pandemic, further steps had been provided locally to support carers such as the carers direct payment was no longer means tested, carers were called to check on their wellbeing and the Carers Trust were involved in the administration of the hardship fund.
Councillor T Hodgson to Councillor Mackiewicz, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Climate Change, Planning and Housing
“The Covid pandemic has meant lots of people have needed to work from home, which is often reliant on good broadband connectivity to be feasible. My residents on the Berry Maud Lane development are still struggling with broadband access due to planning process failures, and are now having to raise £30,000 to resolve this. In view of this and other well-documented challenges these residents have faced through no fault of their own, will the council consider supporting them with the costs of appropriate broadband installation?”
The Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Planning and Housing acknowledged the requirement for superfast broadband and outlined the steps the Council had taken to improve coverage in the Borough. He sympathised with residents but explained that there were a number of properties in the Borough which faced similar problems. The Council would not be able to provide the necessary funding for these properties. It was suggested that a reason that the road may be unable to have the superfast internet was because the road was unadopted.
Councillor T Hodgson requested that the Cabinet Member consider the option of funding the necessary work.
The Cabinet Member reaffirmed that it was not a planning system failure and highlighted that steps had been taken since the application to improve the planning policy process.