Agenda item

Questions under Standing Order 8

To answer questions asked under Standing Order 8 by Councillors (30 Minutes)

Minutes:

Councillor Cole to Councillor Rolf, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Stronger and Safer Communities

“With the higher than normal numbers of deaths we are experiencing can you advise me on how many new burial plots (per cemetery) are left in the Councils cemeteries with an estimated time of when these plots will be exhausted.”

 

The Cabinet Member confirmed that there had been an increased number of cremation services and burials compared to the previous year. The primary focus of Solihull’s burial offer had been at Widney Manor and Woodlands. There were 200 spaces which remained at Widney Manor as well as 220 spaces at Woodlands these would both provide capacity for three years. In both cemeteries, options were being considered to significantly extend the life of the cemetery.

 

Councillor Ade Adeyemo to Councillor Alison Rolf, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Stronger and Safer Communities

“In recent weeks, the residents of Campden Green have suffered repeated anti-social behaviour by 4x4 drivers and quad bikers driving across the Green, doing doughnuts in mud and snow and generally making a mess of what is normally a nice peaceful area of Lyndon ward.

 

On one recent occasion, quad bikers doing doughnuts on wet grass covered houses in so much grass and mud that local volunteers had to help jet wash the houses to get it all off.  The week before last, it was the turn of 4x4s driving at high speed across the snow-covered Green.

 

Similar incidents have also happened on the green areas next to St Mary’s Hobs Moat Church.

 

Despite several reports to Solihull Police and the Council, nothing has happened and I am concerned that sooner or later, someone will be seriously hurt.

 

Will the Cabinet Member please tell me what is being done to prevent similar incidents from happening again and to protect local residents and our green spaces in Lyndon ward from irresponsible drivers and quad bikers?”

 

The Cabinet Member explained that they could not speak on behalf of the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner or West Midlands Police, but was aware that multiple agencies were focused on the issue of irresponsible drivers and off-road bikes. The North Locality Group had created a revised Off-Road Bike Action Plan which enabled a partnership response to emerging issues. Members of the public were encouraged to report off-road bikes to Solihull Community Housing who had a dedicated contact telephone and email address for reports of vehicles on parks and open spaces – Tel: 0121 717 1500; email: bikeissues@solihullcommunityhousing.org.uk.  Vehicle related nuisance should be reported to the Police via 101 or 999.

 

Councillor Brain to Councillor K Grinsell, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Adult Social Care and Health

“I welcome the increased allocation of the Homelessness Prevention Grant for 2021/22 to help to deliver the Council's Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy (2020-23) but I am concerned about how far this funding will go to address the shortage of suitable accommodation in Solihull including emergency and temporary accommodation. How many units do we actually need in Solihull and how much will it deliver for Solihull's homeless?

 

The Council's report stated that the number of rough sleepers is less than 5*. Is this figure based on the Government's 'Rough Sleeping Snapshot in England - autumn 2019' which was just a count on a single night in autumn 2019? If not how has the number of rough sleepers been calculated?

 

Did the Council’s very laudable action in ensuring that during the first lockdown rough sleepers were accommodated, manage to ensure the figure for the majority of 2020 was nil.  The perception is that this figure is much higher.

 

The figure of 5* is on page 2 of the Council's Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy (2020-23).”

 

The Cabinet Member explained that Solihull Council had worked to increase the portfolio of temporary accommodation to meet the heightened demand as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of March 2020 there were 149 units of accommodation, which had been increased to 168 units by the end of December 2020. There remained a need to use hotel accommodation during the pandemic for short term placements. All of the costs of COVID-19 pandemic placements were met through government funding streams, which included £85,000 of additional funds to meet additional costs.

 

The Cabinet Member also highlighted that the number of people who were sleeping rough at any one time in Solihull remained low at between one and six. The Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy referenced five people in this report, which was the average number and was informed by the annual rough sleeper count. Between 2016 and 2019, this figure ranged by two and six. There was additional work undertaken by the Council which informed the intelligence that they gathered.

 

Furthermore, the Cabinet Member noted that the rough sleeper count which took place in November 2020 identified one rough sleeper. This showed the focussed work to provide accommodation and ongoing support over the course of the pandemic had been successful. The individual included in the count was known to services and had been offered accommodation.

 

Councillor Brain asked how the reports of 125 rough sleepers, of which 46 people who were new to the service, aligned with the information presented. The Cabinet Member confirmed that between April and December 2020, there were 37 reports of rough sleepers, which included 14 individuals who were new to rough sleeping in Solihull. All of these people were offered accommodation, but it was a very complex situation. Pilots such as the Housing First scheme (in conjunction with the WMCA) aimed to house 24 people. The Cabinet Member requested that anyone who came across a person who was sleeping rough, to report this to StreetLink.

 

Councillor Brain to Councillor Courts, Leader of the Council.

“At one of our recent all member COVID-19 updates,  Cllr Courts noted the incidence of people who have rigorously shielded for many months but have become infected with COVID-19, such as those living  in Redwood House in Kingshurst. The Leader very reasonably questioned whether this may be due to transmission through the Postal Network or through paid deliveries, as is the practice of taxi firms and the like. Could I ask whether this observation is supported by current epidemiology and what actions can be taken to mitigate risk?”

 

The Leader explained that there were regular COVID-19 briefings for all Members, which provided an opportunity to ask questions of Officers. He was unaware of the comments that Councillor Brain referred to. He stressed that the epidemiology does not answer why the virus transmitted so quickly and was keen to highlight that more information was needed about transmission. Messages with information to help prevent the spread of infection continued to be circulated to the public. Councillor Brain apologised if he had misquoted Councillor Courts.

 

Councillor Wilson to Councillor Mackiewicz, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Climate Change, Planning and Housing

“Has the Cabinet Member liaised yet with Warwickshire Wildlife Trust regarding securing land fit for wildlife Conservation?”

 

The Cabinet Member stated that the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust were a key partner, and the Council aimed to work closely with them to generate benefits for the natural environment, such as through a new enhancement project in the Borough. The Council had been in touch with the Wildlife Trust to discuss plans to improve conservation and biodiversity enhancement in the Borough.

 

Councillor Wilson noted the Dasgupta Review and asked what projected percentage of land would be committed for wildlife recovery and what strategy would be used to achieve this. The Cabinet Member explained it would be difficult to confirm the percentage of land, and the benefits offered by the Arden Forest for biodiversity in the Borough, such as Site 13 and that the Local Plan had a 10% biodiversity net gain.

 

Councillor Caudwell to Councillor Hawkins, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Environment and Highways

“Whilst we can't predict when the worst weather will hit, we do know that this is likely to be a problem, so like many residents I was dismayed to hear that there would be no catch-up of the recycling services that were cancelled last week, and that I'd have to wait another fortnight before my recycling would be collected. For so many of us who try to recycle as much as possible, our brown bins are already full and we have nowhere to put another two weeks’ worth of recycling. Why has it not been possible to put on additional collections?”

 

The Cabinet Member explained that the current contract mechanism ensured that if a collection service had been suspended, then all material presented at the next collection day would be collected. COVID-19 had impacted on resources and staffing levels, which had meant it was not possible to put on two additional collections to catch up on recycling collections.

 

Councillor Caudwell highlighted that staff shortages was not provided as a reason on communications channels and asked that if the Council continued to contract out essential services to the private sector, could there be assurances that the contract would prevent the problems of missed collections.

 

The Cabinet Member responded that under the current circumstances additional collections would not be possible, especially given the challenges of staff who were self-isolating, sickness levels and HGV driver statutory rest periods. It was regretful that the service had caused inconvenience to local residents and kept this area under consideration in the new contract.

 

Councillor Caudwell to Councillor Courts, Leader of the Council

“I am sure the Leader is aware of the concerning footage that was recently shared on social media of two West Midlands Police officers who stopped a young man on his way to work by Dorridge railway station, in the Leader’s own ward.

 

We acknowledge the police have a vital role to play in ensuring public safety, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and my Group thanks them for their service; but it's equally important that policing in this borough remains demonstrably 'by consent', and that the public can feel safe and unthreatened in police presence.

 

Will the Leader echo the wishes of this Group - and, I hope, the entire Council - that the policing response to the pandemic continues to follow the four Es of Engagement, Education, Encouragement and then - and only when necessary - Enforcement?”

 

The Leader of the Council thanked the police for their work throughout the pandemic and recognised that the police had apologised for the behaviour of the Officer. The Council and Police had worked together throughout the pandemic to engage and where appropriate enforce, with the four E’s as the foundation of the approach.

 

Councillor McLoughlin to Councillor Courts, Leader of the Council

“Having seen the Leader viewing Scrutiny via WebEx, can I check he is aware that viewing of meetings is also possible from YouTube?”

 

The Leader explained that he attended the Economic Development and Managed Growth Scrutiny Board to respond to questions and offer clarification, and that the problem in question had been fixed.

 

Councillor McLoughlin asked for the Leader to confirm his support for the independence of the Scrutiny function within the Council. The Leader explained that it was important for Scrutiny Boards to retain their independence.