This is an opportunity for Members of Council to ask the Mayor, Members of the Executive or the Chairs of any Committee or Sub-Committee a question on notice under Procedure Rule 10.2.
The Mayor reported that 9 questions had been received under Procedure Rule 10.2. Due to the amount of business to be considered at the meeting the Mayor informed questioners that their questions would be taken as read.
Question 1 - Submitted by Councillor Thompson
“Could the Executive Member for Finance and Governance set out what in-year action officers are taking to mitigate the impact of growing inflationary pressures on our budget?”
Councillor Ross, Executive Member for Finance and Governance, thanked Cllr Thompson for the question and stated that from previous exchanges they had he knew she had followed the impact inflation was having on council finances closely. After a long period of stability, inflation had become an issue for the first time in a generation, particularly with respect to rising fuel and energy prices.
Councillor Ross added that without support from central government, the year’s pay award would have an impact on the budget. From a financial perspective, and in response to pressures emerging during this year’s budget, he had announced the creation of an Inflation Risk Reserve in June, which held £6m. In respect of energy, which cost the Council £1.6m in a normal year, it was expected that the cost would double and an energy saving scheme was about to be launched across council buildings. The Council were pre-purchasing materials where possible to maintain supply and avoid increasing costs. The Council were promoting green travel and electric bikes were starting to be used by social workers.
Councillor Thompson asked a supplementary question of what assistance the Council could expect from Central Government. Councillor Ross responded that there was no indication of support to be provided by Central Government as of the time of the meeting and he would write to the Government expressing his concerns.
Question 2 - Submitted by Councillor Chalkin
“The recent record temperatures have reinforced the need to change how we impact the environment. In the UK, the built environment is one of the sectors that has the biggest impact, but the way Landlord and Tenant law is currently written means that landowners, more often than not, do not have the ability to influence change on their buildings or within their portfolios. Will the Executive Member for Economy and Regeneration commit to having Green Leases at all properties owned and rented out by Trafford, inserting clauses that give Trafford the ability, as a property owner, to influence the necessary changes needed during the term of a lease wherever possible?"
Councillor Patel, Executive Member for Economy and Regeneration, responded that the Council was committed to including green clauses within new leases and lease renewals that were appropriate/proportionate to each property, where possible. For existing leases, the Council was committed to holding discussions with tenants, where possible, and at the appropriate time noting that any changes to existing leases would have to be by mutual agreement.
Councillor Patel added that the Council was reviewing its estate and decarbonisation programme to look at all elements of its property portfolio to identify where green measures could be applied. The Council was preparing a 10-year Estates Strategy which would incorporate plans and include a programme for decarbonisation/green measures across the whole estate.
Question 3 - Submitted by Councillor Brophy
“Please can I ask the relevant Executive Member about the issue of hedge cutting and the Amey contract. Residents in my ward are fed up with hedges that grow into the pavements in Timperley. A particular example is on Grove Lane, where the pavement is no longer safe to walk on due to a hedge that expands year by year. The hedge is cut in the appropriate season, only always leaving it slightly wider than it was the previous year.
My newly elected colleague Councillor Will Frass has persuaded Amey to do a site visit to see how dangerous this stretch of hedge has become and now they are going to “flail” the hedge to reduce its width so residents can use the pavement safely once again. I am certain that similar hedge issues impact on pavements all over Trafford causing a safety hazard and inconvenience for our residents.
Can I ask why the trimming back to maintain the line of the hedge at the original width isn’t part of the regular contract with Amey? And why this “flailing” of hedges is such a difficult ask (since I have had no response from Amey after raising this issue over many years and only the site visit after weeks of Councillor Frass asking has got the issue addressed)?”
Councillor Adshead, Executive Member for Environmental Services, responded that the task of maintaining hedges could be challenging, with over 200 individual sites across Trafford which required hedge cutting each season. Some of the hedges in the borough surrounded council land but many other hedges across the Borough were privately owned and it was the responsibility of the adjacent landowner to prune. Where private hedges were overhanging Trafford via One Trafford (Amey) as the Highway Authority served notice on owners to ensure that they did not cause obstruction to the highway. Sometimes the time that the owners took to prune was longer than anticipated.
Hedge maintenance could be a time-consuming process which needed to consider ground conditions, wildlife and highway safety. Where road safety was not jeopardised, hedge maintenance would be carried out during January to March for the following reasons:
· It reduced the chance of disturbance to breeding birds.
· Nesting birds had legal protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
One Trafford / AMEY’s grounds maintenance teams were adapting their operations to accommodate and support wildlife within Trafford while taking account of the growing hedgerows that required regular maintenance. Part of the adaptation had been to introduce a Tractor side arm flail, which allowed for a firm cutting back on sites that were identified as potentially causing obstruction to the highway. Officers from the grounds maintenance team had met with Councillor Frass and Councillor Minis at the Grove Lane site and agreed a date for the hedge to be cut back using the new tractor mounted flail.
The challenge for the team was allowing for none cutting of these hedges during the months March – September (nesting season). The challenge was that hedges experienced their main growth during those months and striking the right balance and achieving sufficient cut back with handheld hedge cutters had caused problems, but with tractor mounted side arm flail the teams were confident they could deliver a better service.
Councillor Brophy asked a supplementary question of what the criteria was for flailing to be used and whether it would have widespread use across Trafford on a regular basis or if it was a one-off usage. Councillor Adshead responded that the device would be used regularly across the borough and that usage of the device would be decided following site visits by Amey. Councillor Adshead encouraged Members to contact him if they wished to arrange a site visit.
Question 4 - Submitted by Councillor Duncan
“Since the recent encouragement to residents in June 2021 to submit their requests for reduced speed limits in residential areas how many requests have been received and how many have been implemented and is there a plan to publish the proposed matrix of priorities?”
Councillor Adshead, Executive Member for Environmental Services responded that since June 2021 77 requests had been received for 20mph speed limits across Trafford. Investigation of the top 10 schemes that met the matrix of priorities was underway and suitable measures would be designed and consulted upon following assessment of speed surveys being undertaken by TfGM.
Design would be involved in the main lining and signing with potential physical measures if needed with consultation on the proposals and Traffic Regulation Order needed for each location thereafter. The process could take 6 – 9 months or longer to complete if there were objections.
The list of proposals was to be published on the web site following the completion of the speed survey assessments. It was likely that 4 or 5 smaller schemes would be undertaken each year depending upon the size of the scheme and design requirements and hence there will need to be a rolling programme of schemes going forward.
Councillor Duncan thanked the Councillor Adshead for his response and asked as supplementary question about a crossing on Norwich Road. Councillor Adshead suggested that this should be raised with officers to review whether a 20-mph zone would be the correct response to the issues on Norwich Road.
Question 5 - Submitted by Councillor Ennis
Councillor Wright, Executive Member for Housing and Neighbourhoods, responded that the number of people at the Housing Register for rehousing as of 30th June was 7,092.
Councillor Ennis asked Councillor Wright to answer in writing how many social housing properties had been sold through the policy of selling properties privately when a vacant property required structural work or if there were prohibitive costs in reletting the property within the last year.
Councillor Wright said he would be happy to provide a response in writing and added that he would also provide details of the empty homes strategy, which had made some significant progress, to Councillor Ennis.
Question 6 - Submitted by Councillor Whetton
“Given that we have just had national Cut the Clutter week where Councils have been asked to visit the whole issue of items such as A boards, overgrown hedges, pavement parking, etc which cause obstruction and unnecessary difficulties to pedestrians, wheelchairs users and the visually challenged will the Council consider implementing the six recommendations to Clear the Clutter published recently by Living Streets?”
Councillor Adshead, Executive Member for Environmental Services responded that with reference to the 6 recommendations offered by Living Streets, Trafford were currently supporting those priorities to assist with clearing clutter from the highway by applying the minimum clearway widths of 1.8m in footways.
This width was being used in design and placement of any new street furniture such as EV charge points, signs and street lighting columns. The guidance included in any licences for placement of any table and chairs also used the 1.8m minimum width.
E-Scooters were not currently within Trafford however, the Bike Hire Scheme and any future E-scooter agreements would have to work to a minimum of 1.8m but most areas chosen for bike hire were placed in locations that had more than 1.8m and avoided high footfall areas.
Trafford were also looking to declutter the highway at every opportunity during design and maintenance of the highway to ensure pedestrian access was prioritised and to reduce additional maintenance costs. Examples of practice included removal of redundant signs and the relocation of lamp columns to the rear of footways.
The trees and hedges that had the potential to overhang were monitored during routine highway safety inspections and enforcement action was taken where there was overhanging and encroachment onto pavements. Coupled with routine hedge pruning undertaken on council owned perimeters with the newly purchased flail ensured that the footways were clear from obstructions.
Banning of A boards would need to be considered as part of a policy agreement relating to obstructions. The use of A boards was a long-standing practice that was difficult to enforce in some locations due to shared land ownership in front of business premises. Within the highway the requirement was to ensure a minimum of 1.8m was available for pedestrians on public footways.
Councillor Whetton asked as supplementary question as to whether the Council would take steps to remove banners placed illegally on railings within the area. Councillor Adsheaed responded that Officers would act where appropriate and asked for people to report these incidents to enable enforcement.
Question 7 - Submitted by Councillor Holden
Councillor New, Lead Member for Education, responded that the Figures she had were obtained from Democratic services who supported appeals for schools who bought their services.
It was important to note that the figures provided did give a complete picture, as 11 of the 19 secondary schools in Trafford administered their own appeals.
Councillor New added that some of the numbers might have been duplicates as some pupils submitted appeals to multiple grammar schools and some of the grammar school appeals were for children that had not qualified and were appealing against the assessment outcome.
Numbers of appeals from September 1st, 2021, until the 27th of July were:
Appeals for year 7 places: 185
Appeals for in year places: 91 and these include applications for 6th form places.
Councillor Holden noted that 55 appeals were for one school in his ward. Councillor Holden spoke of the distress children in these appeals faced and asked what plans the Council had to improve the situation. Councillor New responded that she would provide a full response of the steps being taken to address the issues around the number of school places in writing on the following day.
Question 8 - Submitted by Councillor Holden
“When will the weed spraying programme, recently delayed for two weeks, be completed?”
Councillor Adshead, Executive Member for Environmental Services responded that the weed spray programme ordinarily took 8 weeks to complete, however, the contractor was looking to bring in additional resources to accelerate the programme to ensure it was on track to meet the original completion date. All being well with the weather the programme was due to be completed by the end of September.
Councillor Holden asked supplementary question as to whether there would be additional spraying across the borough. Councillor Adshead responded that the spraying programme had been delayed and that it was a priority for the Council’s partner organisation to complete the single spraying programme agreed by Council. Councillor Adshead assured Councillor Holden that the spraying programme would address the issues raised. Councillor Adshead added that the council were looking at many ways to deal with the issues across the borough and the spraying programme only formed part of the Council’s approach.
Question 9 - Submitted by Councillor Taylor
Councillor New, Lead Member for Education, responded that the Council had received further funding via the Household Support Fund (HSF) to support vulnerable families and had extended the £15 per week, per child, award over the summer holidays to families in receipt of free school meals and/or council tax support.
The funding had been extended to 31st of March 2023 and therefore, support was to continue during the October, December, and February holidays. In addition, there was a school holidays activities and food programme, also known as HAF, and this was shared through the family information service and Trafford directory.
For the DFE funded Holiday Activity Programme (HAF) 21 providers had been commissioned to deliver holiday activities for school age children, it was anticipated to provide approximately 2500 places, which included some SEND provision.
The provision was primarily for children in receipt of free school meals. The provision was free at the point of entry and all participants were to receive a meal as part of their attendance.