Agenda item

Public Question Time

Questions are invited from members of the public about the work of the Council and the Council’s services.

 

Notice of any question must be given to Democratic Services by midday on Monday, 19 July 2021. Approximately 30 minutes will be set aside for Public Question Time, if required.

Minutes:

The following question was submitted in advance of the meeting by a member of the public, Krisila O’Neill:

 

How do you see closing another home to make savings in the long term this will affect other services? What happens to the social care portion of council tax because it keeps going up but this sector has more and more cuts year after year.

 

Responding, Councillor Andrea Simpson reported that Council tax does increase each year and so does the cost of caring for adults in the borough. Each year the cost of supporting adults goes up more than the council tax so in the absence of government funding each year we have to make savings to balance the budget.

 

The Council’s overall aim is to keep providing current level of service but find less expensive and better ways of doing this. Data has shown that demand for both day care and short stay/ respite service has been on the decline since 2018 and we cannot continue to pay for provision that is not fully utilised.

 

Decommissioning capacity that is not used means savings can be delivered without reducing the amount of care and support we provide.

 

 

The following question was submitted in advance of the meeting by a member of the public, FrancineMillar:

 

I am paying 1.99% more for council tax along with everyone else for social care. Can you explain where this money is going to? Plus you do have reserve money for rainy days this is surely a rainy day and needs to be released. People whom I have spoken to don’t understand why social care is being treated in this way to close down an important home. Plus they didn’t hear about this until I shared this with them.

 

Responding, Councillor Andrea Simpson reported that each year we spend £80m supporting vulnerable adults with care and support. Every 1% added to council tax for adult social care raises £860,000.

 

To ensure our care providers could pay the National Living Wage increases as mandated by Central Government and manage other inflationary pressures we need at least an extra £2.5m.

 

Therefore, you can see the adult social care precept does not keep pace with the cost of care and therefore each year we find savings to balance the budget.

This has been the case each year for many years and we await the long-awaited central government plan to rescue Adult Social Care. Until we see this then our need to deliver savings will likely continue and depending upon what the plan says may need to continue even longer.

 

The council does have some reserves and is using them to reduce the amount of savings made already.

 

Considerable effort was made to advertise the consultation, this included:

·         A detailed letter and survey, sent to 701 Persona customers.

·         Information published on the Council’s Consultation and Engagement site One Community.

·         A Council press release issued on the 24th May.

·         Published the consultation on Council social media platforms.

·         Information on the consultation launch was shared with local councillors, social care workforce, care providers, a range of stakeholders and via various networks, encouraging them to share the information.

 

The proposal to reduce the unused beds in short stay/ respite was built on data indicating there is an over-supply of beds. Data for the period 2018/19 and 2019/20 shows a trend of declining occupancy at both buildings.

 

 

The following question was submitted in advance of the meeting by a member of the public, Laura Faulkner:

 

Public consultation report has been issued and the outcome is that 77% of the public voted against the closure and yet the proposal is still going ahead. What is the point of a public consultation if the public’s voice isn’t being listened too? Basically it sounds like the decision had already been made before the public consultation and this was just a process that the council had to go through!

 

A further supplementary question was submitted: The building was left/donated by former counsellor Fred Spurr on the provision that it stays as an older adults’ hostel. Apparently bury council can have this lifted which is going to cost money! Where Fred’s loyalty in this?

 

Responding, Councillor Andrea Simpson reported that yes, the feedback to the ‘yes/no’ question is negative. We know that this question was answered multiple times by a small number of individuals, and we must take this into account when considering it.

The proposal is to decommission beds that are not fully used which the council pays for. The council cannot afford to pay for services it does not need and are not fully used therefore the recommendation is still to decommission these services.

 

In response to the supplementary question, she reported that the council would take into account the land covenant when it identifies a future use for the land.

 

 

The following question was submitted in advance of the meeting by a member of the public, SeanHall-Moore:

 

What gives you the right to dismiss a 10,000 strong petition to save the greenbelt?

 

A further supplementary question was submitted: When will this council listen to the people of the borough?

 

Responding, Councillor Eamonn O’Brien reported that, for clarification, the Council has not received a petition with 10,000 signatures on this issue, but we do take listening to people seriously and this is exactly why this plan has been consulted on, on a number of occasions, and will be again following decision tonight.

 

There is opportunity for members of the public to have their say. Not only do they have their say through the consultation, but there is a robust public examination of this plan as part of the process whereby evidence is brought forward, listened to by the planning inspectors who are experts and independent of the council, and make a judgement ultimately on the soundness of the plan. Representations of the public can be made through that forum as well.

 

Ultimately, we do need a plan, primarily because if we don’t have one, we are at the whim of the government intervening in our planning authority and we’re at the whim of developers who would have the opportunity for a free-for-all on not just some parts of the borough and its greenbelt, but all of it. And that’s why this report proposes to meet the requirement of having a plan and why it’s so important. We’ve tried, twice, in 2011 and 2014, to produce a local plan that did not release any greenbelt but this did not meet housing targets set at that time and would not have been accepted.

 

So it’s clear that while public can continue to have their say on this, we have a job in hand, one that must be continued.

 

 

The following question was submitted in advance of the meeting by a member of the public, Julie Halliwell:

 

Bradshaw Road has no footpaths, cottages directly adjacent to the road, blind and sharp bends, single track sections and is unsuitable for HGVs. It has been described as ‘dangerous’ by Bury MBC officers and as ‘notorious’ by a senior fire officer. It is however used as a main route from the Walshaw direction towards north Bolton, Edgeworth, Blackburn etc and is a route sat navs advise. Despite the growing list of issues nothing within the proposed PfE has any form of relief for traffic heading in this direction despite a proposed additional c5000 houses. The only mention of Bradshaw Road, despite the concerns, is the designation of the road as a ‘cycle route’. What assurances can members provide that the concerns of residents, officers and the fire service have/will be taken into account should any housing developments be proposed?

 

Responding, Councillor Eamonn O’Brien reported that in considering the proposals and formal planning applications for new housing developments, the planning and highways officers are required and compelled to consider highway and fire safety issues.  Developments will be required to ensure that appropriate mitigation will be put in place where required. 

 

With specific reference to the Bradshaw Road area, the Council is aware of the incidents referenced and Highway Officers have already met with residents to discuss plans and potential mitigations.

 

We are looking at our current road safety programme, which we hope to deliver over the next few years and consideration will be given to all of these sites of concern. 

 

Additional measures and mitigation will further be developed and implemented as required. 

 

The Council can therefore give the assurance that the concerns of residents and other stakeholders will be given full regard if and when future developments come forward.

 

 

The following question was submitted in advance of the meeting by a member of the public, Stephen Cluer:

 

Back in 2018 Bury Council put together a local housing topic paper using the 2016 ONS housing projection figures which outlined 6500 homes would be required between 2017 to 2037. Since then even more up to date figures have been released by the office of national statistics which now project 5,949 homes between 2022 to 2037 in a 15 year plan. I am fully aware that the national planning policy framework is based upon 2014 projections which are now 7 years out of date but as stated numerous times they are not mandatory and are just a starting point for councils to work from. Where constraints exist like greenbelt land that prevent a council from meeting their targets these should be considered and accepted by a housing inspector. Why does this council cabinet continue to support a plan to release vast areas of greenbelt land to accommodate excessive development unnecessarily?

 

A further supplementary question was submitted: Does the council cabinet consider the places for everyone plan to be positively prepared, justified, effective over the period of the plan and in accordance with national planning policy?

 

Responding, Councillor Eamonn O’Brien reported that with regards to the housing figures we are expected to be used and through which the government has set us the target of, it’s true that in the 2018 topic paper we were looking at more recent figures than those initially at 2016, however, that topic paper was prepared prior to the introduction of the government’s standard method for assessing housing need. It was overridden by changes from the government.

 

Since then, the government has introduced the standard method for assessing housing need and that comes are part of their commitment that can be found in the government’s manifesto to deliver 300,000 homes nationally. Development plans, including those like the one before us this evening, must be prepared in accordance with national planning policies which are what the plan will be tested on at the examination stage.

 

The Government’s policy is therefore clear that local planning authorities are expected to follow the standard method, based on the 2014 household projections and should only depart from this in exceptional circumstances. The suggestion from the questioner that these are not mandatory sadly is not the case. In fact, a letter in April from the Senior Planning Officer from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, who are essentially the people who determine these policies and who would effectively determine the fate of these plans, says, in relation to a letter of concern about their housing targets: “to get enough homes built in the places where people and communities need them, a crucial first step is to plan for the right number of homes. The standard method for assessing housing need was introduced to simplify the process of assessing housing need. The current standard method provides a minimum number of homes, not a maximum.” And so we can debate the nuances of language, but it’s clear when the Senior Planning Officer from  MHCLG says this is a minimum, that this is a target.

 

The letter goes on to say, in relation to concerns about the figures specifically: “In relation to your points about the use of more recent household projections, the government has carefully considered whether to use the household figures from 2018 and has concluded that, in the interests of stability for local planning and for local communities, it will continue to expect only the use of the 2014 based projections.” So not only does this letter from April from the Senior Planning Officer from  MHCLG confirm they are minimum target it confirms the figures must be based on the 2014 set of household projections.

 

It would be wrong to work under the assumption that these are not mandatory and that these are not, at the very least, a minimum target. Therefore, whilst working with these projections and these targets, we do find ourselves with the constraints of releasing greenbelt. I understand Mr Cluer’s concerns because there is relatively strong language in some of what the government says about protecting the greenbelt and how that may be considered a method through which plans can be set without releasing it. However, recent evidence from a few weeks ago that would be of concern to anybody who thinks the government will protect the greenbelt by rejecting plans. The Senior Planning Inspector in the case of Hertfordshire Council, who are trying to set their own local plan, recently determined that housing need trumped the protection of greenbelt. These were his words in the debate he was having in that Council over their own local plan, in talking about the consideration of housing need he says: “the release of greenbelt does not negate the overarching consideration that the principal of greenbelt land release is justified by the scale of unmet housing need and this can only be fulfilled by this course of action.” In effect he’s saying ‘you can’t produce a plan, as this Council was seeking to do, that did not meet the housing need and hide behind reasons of the greenbelt. He says: “If the Council were to continue with this,” or [he] did not hear anything further about their plan, he would have to: “write a report confirming that the submitted plan is unsound and so cannot be adopted.”

 

This is not unfamiliar territory. This is precisely the position we were in back in 2011 and 2014 when the Council tried to set two different local plans both of which released no greenbelt, neither of which met the government’s housing target. So we cannot view the figures as not mandatory, owing to the evidence from the Senior Planning Officer, and we cannot say greenbelt is a reason not to meet our housing need, owing to the evidence from the Planning Inspector.

 

In response to the supplementary question, Councillor Eamonn O’Brien reported that yes, the places for everyone plan is considered to be positively prepared, justified, effective over the period of the plan and in accordance with national planning policy. It is this which will be tested at the public examination which is precisely why we should be continuing through this process, following the eight-week consultation, as it is only at that examination we will get the clarity, away from politics, from the independent planning inspectors who will make the determination as to whether or not this plan is sound.