Agenda item

Public Question Time (15 Minutes)

The opportunity is given to members of the public to put questions to Cabinet Members or Committee Chairs. Questions mays provided that questions do not contravene the provisions set out Council Procedure Rule 10(2).


To ask a question at this meeting, please submit it to by 12 noon on Friday 19 January 2024 or telephone 01452 396203 for support.


57.1    A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


In 2004 Natural England awarded Saintbridge Pond and Nature Reserve, “Nature Reserve Status” giving it protection, Natural England  suggested a 5 year cycle for desilting the pond. Saintbridge Pond and Nature Reserve was last de-silted 14 years ago. The area now shows a large build-up of silt in the pond, with its tributaries overflowing over the pedestrian paths.  Whilst we appreciate that finances for all local authorities are tight, the residents have expressed concern about the level of the silt, especially the foul smell during the summer. Does the leader agree that this local amenity is worth protecting and enhancing and will he give us a guarantee that he will keep the Saintbridge Pond and Nature reserve on his radar, especially when funds are available?


57.2    Councillor Cook, Cabinet Member for Environment responded:


Saintbridge Pond is a much-loved green space which provides leisure opportunities for residents and a valuable habitat for wildlife.  The Council will strive to maintain and enhance this facility in order that it continues to fulfil its function as a flood alleviation feature, wildlife site and recreation area.  It is the view of the Council, following discussions with the Environment gency, that the level of silt in the pond does not represent a flooding risk.  Historically desilting of the pond has taken place on an approximately 20-year cycle (1990, 2009).  As the result of the deposition of silt, wildlife habitats will continue to evolve and change whilst continuing to support a range of plants, animals and insects.  If funding is made available by the Environment Agency, or can be secured from other sources, the Council will consider how best to manage the silt locally, and within the upstream river catchment.


57.3    A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


In the Saintbridge Balancing Pond & Allotments Management Plan 2023 - 2027, the scope of work detailed in section 2.2.1 and other parts of the document was created with the help and support from the Friends of Saintbridge Pond. Can members tell us when Gloucester City council will produce an actual project plan detailing time frames, projected costs and a commitment of roles and responsibilities of its partners?


57.4    Councillor Cook responded:


The present Saintbridge Pond and Allotments management plan, which is submitted as part of the Green Flag application process, covers the period 2023 – 2028.  The management plan contains references to the costings obtained by the Council for the removal of silt which, at present, are prohibitive. The plan also contains a commitment by the Council to consider the desilting of the pond should resources become available.  The management plan also contains reference to the roles and responsibilities of the various stake holders involved with the site.


57.5    A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


The Saintbridge Pond and Nature Reserve provides a wonderful quiet space for families to take their toddlers, children, teenagers for time out. Time to look and learn about nature and feed the ducks and birds. Retired, elderly people, some with mobility issues, find this is the place they can go to meet people, talk to dog walkers and spend time away from their problems, giving them a sense of space.  But this space is quickly disappearing, becoming a wall of silt and mud.  Would members please let me know what they can do about making it better?


57.6    Councillor Cook responded:


The deposition of silt is a natural process and unavoidable in a stream fed water body.  Silt can be periodically removed, which is something that has been done on previous occasions.  Historically desilting of the pond has been taken place on an approximately 20-year cycle (1990, 2009).  It is the view of the Council, following discussions with the Environment Agency, that the silt does not represent a flood risk, and the cost of desilting at this point would be prohibitive.


57.7    A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


Gloucester residents are very concerned about the 5G telecommunications towers that are popping up outside their front doorsteps and where they haven't been consulted. Freedom of information requests sent to the council in 2023 confirmed 35 approved applications all of which showed no evidence of any meaningful consultation with the public.


There was a grand total of FIVE objections for the entire 35 applications all of which were submitted by email and one person specifically commenting that the application was unavailable on the planning portal.


Are you aware of your legal responsibilities to consult with the public? Are you aware of the Gunning principles? The government have made it very clear that a greater level of consultation is needed for ground based masts so why are you failing to do this?


57.8    Councillor S. Chambers, Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing Strategy, responded:


Gloucester City Council is aware of its legal obligations regarding public consultation and is satisfied that all requirements are met.  We are also aware that although there may be some objections by Gloucester residents, there are many residents that do not object and welcome the benefits of a 5G service.


57.9    A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:

From the very rare occasions where letters have been sent out, usually only 6-9 households are sent a letter (according to Gloucester City Council) Do you think this is sufficient to fulfil your statutory obligations to properly consult?


57.10  Councillor S. Chambers responded:


Gloucester City Council is satisfied that it meets its statutory obligations when consulting on proposals to install telecommunication infrastructure.


57.11  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


Why aren't the planning applications going onto the Gloucester Planning Portal as soon as you receive them? We regularly check the planning portal and can see no evidence that any of these have been uploaded.


57.12  Councillor S. Chambers responded:


When a planning application is made valid, it is loaded onto the council’s website and is available for public view. The process of receiving, registering and validating a planning application can take up to 3 days depending on the number of applications being received in any given week. Some applications take longer to validate, for instance if the applicant fails to submit all the required information and we then have to contact the applicant to request further information.


57.13  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


Are you aware that you have breached human rights by failing to consult Gloucester households who live in proximity to 5G masts?


57.14  Councillor S. Chambers responded:


The Council absolutely refutes this allegation, and recommends that if you believe otherwise, then this should be raised with the relevant authorities.


57.15  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


What will happen to the masts that have been illegally installed in Gloucester?


57.16  Councillor S. Chambers responded:


The council is not aware of any masts that have been installed in the city without the requisite approval. Should masts have been installed without approval, appropriate enforcement action can be undertaken.


57.17  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:

How are Gloucester fulfilling their duties as a competent authority under EECC law?


57.18 Councillor S. Chambers responded:


The European Electronic Communications Code directive (2018) included a flexibility for certain radio spectrum management powers and duties to be assigned to a competent body other than OFCOM, the national regulatory authority. 


The EECC was transposed into UK law via the Electronic Communications and Wireless Telegraphy (Amendment) (European Electronic Communication Code and EU Exit) Regulations 2020 and the Council has not been made a competent body under these regulations.


57.19  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


Why are there no disabled taxis available on the weekends in Gloucester, when they run in Cheltenham?


57.20  Councillor Norman, Cabinet Member for Performance and Resources, responded:


Gloucester City Council has licensed 5 Hackney Carriage and 4 Private Hire vehicles that are wheelchair accessible. There is no legislation which requires wheelchair accessible vehicles to be operational 24/7 and hence the Council cannot stipulate the hours licensed vehicles work.


57.21  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


Why does it state on the council website there are available disabled taxis when there aren’t?


57.22  Councillor Norman responded:


If a Local Authority licences wheelchair accessible vehicles then it is a requirement that those vehicles are placed on the authority’s website as a public register, as is the case for all other licensed vehicles, drivers and operators. There are 5 Hackney Carriage and 4 Private Hire wheelchair accessible vehicles licensed with Gloucester City Council. The Council cannot stipulate the hours these licensed vehicles work.


57.23  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


Do you think this is fair, why young disabled people cannot get a taxi home on a Saturday evening safely, like their peers? Don’t you think this is discriminatory?


57.24  Councillor Norman responded:


To maximise the number of wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAV’s) registered to operate by Gloucester City Council, in September 2023 the Licensing and Enforcement Committee approved a policy exempting WAV’s from the age and euro omission standards that apply to saloon vehicles. The reason for this decision was to encourage operators to invest in wheelchair accessible vehicles. Additionally, any new Hackney Carriage vehicle licences have to be wheelchair accessible.


57.25  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


What are the government requirements in connection with disabled taxis?


57.26  Councillor Norman responded:


There are no national requirements regarding the number of wheelchair accessible vehicles or the hours that the licensed driver has to work.


57.27  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


Do you think it is fair a young disabled man in the city of Gloucester cannot live an equal life as he is unable to get around with his friends and often misses out of fun on Saturday evenings sociably because there is no disabled taxis available?


57.28  Councillor Norman responded:


To maximise the number of wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAV’s) registered to operate by Gloucester City Council, in September 2023 the Licensing and Enforcement Committee approved a policy exempting WAV’s from the age and euro omission standards that apply to saloon vehicles. The reason for this decision was to encourage operators to invest in wheelchair accessible vehicles. Additionally, any new Hackney Carriage vehicle licences have to be wheelchair accessible. The Council cannot mandate the operational hours of when the vehicles work.


57.29  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


How much of tax payers money did the city council lose from The club at Tuffley fiasco? And how are they trying to recover the money?


57.30  Councillor Norman responded:


Rent arrears were £43,388.15  at the time of the Club closing. Covid legislation meant we were unable to take action on rent arrears for some time and we explored all avenues available to us throughout. We are waiting for the liquidation process to take place and we will be seeking recovery of money due to us through that process.


57.31  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


How much of tax payers money has the city council lost to date at Longsmith Carpark and how much are the safety repairs costing?


57.31  Councillor Norman responded:


Approximately £49,000 income has been lost to date. Investigations into ongoing repairs are still taking place and final costs are not yet known.

This is pure revenue income, operating costs for that car park over the same period are £35k whilst the remaining £14k would have been reinvested across the car parks portfolio.


57.32  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


How much of tax payers money has the city council lost to date on the cyber attack including any other lost revenue?


57.33  Councillor Norman responded:


£1.14m has been spent to date, £870k related to recovery from the cyber incident, £272k cloud migration costs as part of the build back better strategy. Recovery costs were offset by £250k of government grants and £380k of earmarked reserves.


57.34  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


How much of tax payers money has the city council lost on repairs at Eastgate market/ Kings walk and Eastgate shopping centre bringing them up to spec plus all the empty shops there in lost rental income?


57.35  Councillor Norman responded:


Repairs in the shopping centres are funded through the service charges that the tenants pay. Rental income on void premises is not measurable in this way as the rents paid by each tenant are negotiated individually. Eastgate market repairs budget is around £85,000 per annum but there is income from the tenants which goes towards this also.


57.36  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


How much of tax payers money has the city council lost on the Black friars priory in non hire of the venue/ works undertaken? Please provide costs for: Money spent for building work Money on workers / employees All other output costs any management costs. Any other facilities management costs. Any other hidden costs And then any income. Please list all costs Showing the balance.


57.37  Councillor Norman responded:


As the question does not specify a time frame, it is difficult to provide an answer to this question. The Blackfriars Business Plan 2023-2028 can be found on the City Council website and provides a 5-year financial forecast for the service. The City Council publishes its Statement of Accounts online where historical information can be found.


57.38  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


Why was no body informed that SWEP was starting up again as there was vulnerable people left out in the cold and there is still now in the city why is this?


57.39  Councillor S. Chambers responded:


It is not correct to suggest that rough sleepers were not informed when SWEP has been implemented. The Council has long-established methods of communicating SWEP to rough sleepers through the countywide rough sleeper outreach and support service as well as to relevant partner organisations. We can confirm that rough sleepers have taken up the offer of recent SWEP provision however it is often the case that when rough sleepers are contacted during periods of severe weather, they choose not to take up the offer of SWEP accommodation. And on occasion, individuals may choose to leave the SWEP accommodation while SWEP remains operative. Unfortunately, during the recent periods of SWEP this has been the case, and not all individuals have chosen to access SWEP accommodation, and some have also left the SWEP accommodation by choice.


57.40  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


It has been revealed that Gloucester City Council and Gloucestershire County Council have both signed up to UK 100, for a rapid pathway to Net Zero: This is an unelected NGO advancing a Net Zero agenda set by the World Economic Forum and United Nations. The local authorities have a duty to act fairly in the exercise of their functions and their statutory provisions are a legal requirement, please confirm what consultations took place with the people and businesses who will be impacted by this decision? Under local authority consultation principles 2018 the consultation should facilitate scrutiny, please advise where the records of the consultation can be viewed.


57.41  Councillor Cook responded:


Gloucester City Council became a member of UK100 following a unanimous vote of Council Members at Full Council on 23 September 2021.


As noted in the publicly available papers of that meeting, UK100 is the only network for UK locally elected leaders who have pledged to avoid the worst impacts of climate change by achieving Net Zero emissions as soon as possible, and by 2045 at the latest, in-line with the higher confidence thresholds of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report into the impacts of breaching 1.5C of warming above the pre-industrial level.


Membership of UK100 brings many benefits to district local authorities like Gloucester City Council, through the sharing of best practice approaches to decarbonisation. This saves officer time and places fewer cash costs on the Council and, therefore, local residents.


There is no requirement for the Council to conduct a public consultation on membership of local government networks. Appropriate democratic oversight of the decision to join UK100 was undertaken by the elected Members of Gloucester City Council at both 23.09.21 Full Council and Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 06.09.21.


In the supplementary paper on UK100 funding provided to 23.09.21 Full Council, the UK100 Secretariat notes that “our funders also do not dictate our strategy or advocacy on behalf of members as this is kept separate.”


57.42  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


On what basis did Gloucester declare a climate emergency? Why are you pushing net zero when this trace gas is essential for life on earth.


Plants need CO2 for photosynthesis and without CO2 the plants will die. This threatens all life on earth if CO2 is reduced further - we are at dangerously low levels. Furthermore, CO2 is only 0.04% of the atmosphere and humans contribute 4% of that amount, meaning that the net "man-made" CO2 equates to a miniscule 0.0016%. I ask you again, what is the scientific basis for declaring a climate emergency? Please do not quote the IPCC as this is propagandised science pushed by the United Nations and World Economic Forum which has been scientifically debunked by thousands of other scientists, many of whom have signed the World Climate Declaration, stating that there is no climate emergency:


57.43  Councillor Cook responded:


The role of human emitted greenhouse gases – of which Carbon Dioxide is merely one – has been established in the scientific literature with increasing confidence, for almost half a century, with the eminent late climatologist Wally Broeker publishing his seminal paper on the role of atmospheric CO2 – Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming? – in 1975.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 1.5C report comprises the findings of more than 6,000 peer-reviewed studies and includes dedicated contributions from thousands of experts in their fields. This report provides extensive, detailed, and verifiable scientific data on human-induced global warming and its impacts.


In the past five years alone, the U.K has experienced the following climatic signals of global warming:


* Joint hottest summer

* Two of its driest summers

* Two of its driest springs

* Record drought

* First winter day above 20C

* Hottest day record exceeded on three occasions

* First 40C+ day

* Longest continuous series of ‘tropical nights’ (temperatures failing to fall below 20C)


While the U.K is very much part of the United Nations process of achieving Net Zero emissions, we are also able to draw on rich domestic sources of data, such as the Central England Temperature series – which has been recorded daily since 1659, making it the longest instrumental temperature record in the world – as well the findings of institutions such as the 363 year-old Royal Society, one of the oldest and most respected scientific institutions in the world, and whose past members include, amongst other scientific luminaries, Sir Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking.


Helpfully, the Royal Society has produced a short guide on The Basics of Climate Change, including a highly accessible 60 second introduction video, which I commend to both the Members of this Chamber and the public alike.


The extensive, and increasing, scientific evidence for the role of atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions from human activity in recent global temperature increases forms the bedrock of Gloucester City Council’s Climate Emergency declaration.


57.44  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


          In this year’s budget proposals, what budget has been allocated for Gloucester Transport hub?


57.45  Councillor Cook responded:


          The net 2024/25 budget for the transport hub is £66k.


57.46  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


          What provision is being made to urgently repair the door to the city centre, Railway station and to the bus and coach departure bays, to repair and repaint the roof and walls following water leaks through the roof and the maintenance the Toilets including disabled facilities?


57.47  Councillor Cook responded:


          Door repairs are scheduled for 5th February to repair the loop system. Roof repairs have been carried out and a full condition survey is due week commencing 22nd January to scope the works for the redecoration.


57.48  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


          What revenue income has the council set for rental of the Cafe and Kiosk being reopened at the Transport Hub and leased to Transport catering company?


57.49  Councillor Cook responded:


          This will be negotiated with a new tenant so a forecast income level is not currently available.


57.50  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


          How many shops are empty in the city centre and what are you doing to overcome a ghost city?


57.51  Councillor Cook responded:


The Council monitors vacancy rates amongst shops in the city centre twice per year. In December 2022 there were 77 empty ground floor units; 7 months later, in July 2023 there were 73 empty units, and most recently in November 2023 there were 71 empty units. This represents a steady but slow reduction from 20% vacancy to 19% in vacant shop units in the city centre.


Across the UK the British Retail Consortium reports similarly high levels within high streets and shopping centres, reporting that the past five years saw Britain lose 6,000 retail outlets.


The Gloucester City Centre Vision, produced by the Gloucester City Centre Commission and endorsed by the Council in 2023, acknowledges the transformation of the city centre.  Where shops previously underpinned the economy of the high street, Gloucester needs to adapt and become more flexible, hosting a range of different employment and experiential uses as well as providing more residential accommodation. The new developments in King’s Quarter recognise this shift, with the new Forum and City Campus developments both bringing forward office, educational, leisure and residential space.  Elsewhere in the city centre, the Council is facilitating the growth of new and exciting eating and drinking establishments, such as The Food Dock, and Westgate Street in particular is becoming a new food quarter as a result of the recent High Street HAZ investment.


          The Council is working closely with the BID and other partners to address empty retail units and to support new start ups.  In its two shopping centres the Council is actively supporting meanwhile uses in vacant shop units.  These enable businesses and social enterprises to take empty units on a short term basis, to test their market and remove a vacant shop front.  Several such meanwhile uses have moved on to take longer leases.


57.52  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


          When are they going to open the city council Gateway for city council face to face help. The county council are open all the time. So why does the city council col not have the same facility in such a critical cost of living time?


57.53  Councillor Norman responded:


In a trend that started prior to the pandemic and one that has accelerated since, the Council has seen a significant change in how our customers are choosing to contact us. These trends are an increase in online, phone and email communication and a drop in demand for face-to-face contact. There are many reasons for these changes, enhanced confidentiality, ease of access and convenience to name a few.


For those customers who need face-to-face appointments, pre-bookable appointments are available at the Gateway on a Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon where customers can see an officer. The demand for these appointments is very low and predominantly used by those in need of specialist housing support. Over the last 12 months, the number of appointments has averaged at 7.6 a month of which on average 6.6 are attended.


Further to this, in the lobby of the Gateway there is a free direct dial telephone so that customers can contact us to get support.


On 6 December 2023, the Cabinet approved the move of the council’s face to face pre-booked appointments from the Gateway to Eastgate Shopping Centre. This relocation will make life easier for residents by providing closer parking, lift access, and a central location. This move is scheduled to take place during 2024. During this period, demand will be reviewed to ensure the appropriate level of support is available.


          The council regularly reviews demand for face-to-face appointments and it is felt that the current provision is sufficient.


57.54  A Gloucester resident submitted following question:

          What is the city council going to do about the avalanche of rubbish in Westgate city centre area as well as Kingsholm?


57.55  Councillor Cook responded:


          Westgate Street is part of the city centre and has a designated street cleaning team every day.  Kingsholm ward will have various street cleaning frequencies, based upon footfall, for example Worcester Street forms part of the city centre area and is cleaned daily, likewise London Road and part of Oxford Street.  The terraced streets are more difficult to clean because of the parked cars there and these streets are cleaned thoroughly once a year as part of the deep clean programme of works, when we ask residents to remove their cars, to allow us access to drains and gutters.  All available resource is deployed to those streets on the day, gutters, back edges, weeds, litter, fly-tipping and graffiti are all cleaned.


          A multi team approach is in operation in some areas across the city where waste management is not as good as it should be.  Council officers from the waste team and Enviro Crime team carry out inspections twice a week, focussing on waste education and recycling, and enforcement action is taken on repeat offenders.  Areas with multi occupancy properties and flats where transient populations are common, including Kingsholm and Westgate, are part of the programme.


          We encourage residents to report any issues to us on, so we can investigate and take immediate action.


57.56  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


          How much has the city council lost of tax payers lost money from GL1 sports complex and tennis centre?


57.57  Councillor Cook responded:


          The Council was working with the previous operator and now the new interim operator within the management fee agreed.


57.58  A Gloucester resident submitted the following question:


          Are you Mr Cook going to step down as leader of the council as Gloucester City Council is drowning in millions of pounds of debt?


57.59  Councillor Cook responded:


Borrowing allows the City Council to invest in its future, such as investment in major regeneration projects, seen recently with the Transport Hub, Kings Square and the ongoing Kings Quarter project.


Borrowing also allows the Council to support its delivery of vital services such as investment in temporary accommodation property. The purchase of St Oswald retail park allowed the Council to open up land for housing development, the Council exchanged contracts with a housing developer in 2023 to deliver circa 300 homes on the site.  


A recent BBC article reported that Gloucester City Council was 206th in a list of Councils across the country with a debt of £102m. Most of the projects which have occasioned the take up of this funding have had the full support of Council.


The suggestion that Gloucester is “drowning” in debt is simply hyperbole.

          As for my position, elections will take place in 4 months where the electorate will have the opportunity to vote for those who they feel have done a good job of helping Gloucester become a better place to live.