Agenda item

Questions from members of the Council

To receive any questions from members of the Council, of which due notice has been given in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 10, to be submitted and answered.


The Mayor advised that six questions from members of the council had been received under Council Procedure Rule 10.


1. Question from Councillor Rutland


“In June of this year, you told the Courier newspaper that you were pushing for a meeting with the owners of the former cinema site in the middle of Tunbridge Wells. In the latest edition of the council’s Local magazine, you stated that you wished ‘to see if there is anything we can do about the cinema site’. What actions, meetings and conversations have taken place with the owners or other relevant parties since you were elected leader of the council in June?”


Answer from Councillor Dawlings


“In July I met with the owner and their agents as I indicated I intended to do. I emphasised the importance of the site to the town, the impatience we all feel at the site remaining undeveloped and the need for a quality development in such a key central part of the town. This meeting had led to further meetings with our planners, but pre-application planning meetings are in confidence and I’m afraid we must respect the confidence of those pre-application meetings.”


[No supplementary question.]


2. Questions from Councillor Hayward


“The black bins were purchased via ESPO which is a public sector owned professional buying organisation. The cheapest on the price list was taken and the Craemer bins with no virgin material purchased. The price quoted on ESPO and paid was that for a single order of 780 bins. About 44,000 were actually purchased. There is no option for suppliers to offer reduced pricing for larger quantities on the ESPO platform. Given the scale of the order and the need to demonstrate Value for Money, did the administration seek a reduced rate which, under the framework and required by procurement rules, reopens the competition to all suppliers?”


Answer from Councillor Dawlings


“I think you’re mistaken. The black bins purchased are a blend of virgin material and recycled plastic. The Council utilised the ESPO – the Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation – framework which is a fully compliant and approved route to the market. A full supplier engagement process was undertaken to ensure manufacturing timescales were achievable and that Brexit would not cause any adverse supply issues – this procurement process was undertaken in late 2018 when Brexit at that time was a very imminent problem. The Council requested best and final pricing from framework providers following our supplier engagement event and then placed call-off orders via the framework. A mini-competition would not open competition to the wider market, only to those suppliers approved under the ESPO framework. The blended bins which included recycled material were slightly cheaper than those with no recycled material.”


Supplementary question from Councillor Hayward


How many [defective] bins have been refunded under warranty and will they be replaced by better-quality bins from a different supplier to avoid the repetition of the very expensive officer time in dealing with defective bins, of which there must be hundreds?


Answer from Councillor Dawlings


“I don’t know, this was a joint procurement process with Tonbridge and Malling. I will ask and reply when I have an answer.”


3. Question from Councillor Patterson


“Does the Leader of the Council realise the offence and hurt caused by his article, on page 7 of the Local Magazine entitled 'Local Plan', to residents of Capel Parish? Why does he regard the historic countryside and infrastructure of Capel Parish as less valuable and less worthy of protection than other parishes in the Borough?”


Answer from Councillor Dawlings


“It’s probably impossible to make a brief statement about a subject as sensitive as the Local Plan for anyone who lives near an area which is earmarked for significant development. Capel is one of those areas and I feel for anyone adversely affected by development near where they live and especially so when they love where they live. I think we are all aware there is a shortage of homes in our country and the pressure to provide more homes in the south east is unrelenting. The Pre-Submission Local Plan has wide cross-party support. I think just one member of your party opposed the Plan and I don’t suppose that in supporting the plan any member was making a judgement on the historic countryside and infrastructure of Capel Parish, I certainly was not. To me, the Local Plan recognises the need to protect the area of outstanding natural beauty, the need to minimise the loss of green belt and the need for housing to be supported by the necessary infrastructure. The Local Plan includes policies that address environmental concerns, notably the principal of net gains to biodiversity. I also recognise both the dangers associated with not having a sound Local Plan, and the attendant consequences of development by appeal, and the benefits there are with having robust and up to date policies which are used on a daily basis – for example, in relation to boosting social rented affordable housing and supporting higher standards of design, sustainable construction and renewable energy use. I am confident we have produced a sound and sustainable Local Plan which has strongly sought to maximise opportunities for brown-field development. The Plan has been worked on for a number of years and is shortly to be a matter to be addressed by the independent Planning Inspector.”


Supplementary question from Councillor Patterson


“Will Councillor Dawlings be making arrangements to visit Capel Parish to explain the ideas of his article?”


Answer from Councillor Dawlings


“I would be very happy to come and talk to members of Capel Parish.”


4. Question from Councillor Pope


“An increasing number of residents are complaining about the suspension of the garden waste collections and asking what they are expected to do with the garden waste that has been building up for 10 weeks. As the suspension of this paid-for service appears to be indefinite, what response can you provide for residents?”


Answer from Councillor Bailey


“The decision to temporarily suspend the garden waste service was taken due to the national shortage of HGV drivers. This is affecting crucial areas of the economy, including the distribution of food, fuel and medicine, as well as waste and recycling services around the country. Our contractor is taking urgent action to recruit the staff needed to resume the garden waste service. This has included substantially increasing pay, with the firm’s pay rates for waste service drivers amongst the highest in Kent. However, the labour market is extremely challenging and it is taking time to secure the required staff. But this continues to be a priority, both for us and for the contractor, and we will restore the service - in full or in part - as soon as we possibly can. In the meantime, the Council’s advice is that residents find other suitable ways to dispose of their garden waste, either by composting or by taking it to local Household Waste Recycling Centres. However, we fully accept that this is far from ideal and sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused. The Council is not charging while the garden waste service is suspended, and existing contracts will be extended to make up for missed collections. So, all subscribers will receive the 26 collections they paid for.”


Supplementary question from Councillor Pope


“A large number of other councils have suspended these services and also had similar issues with staff shortages but most of them have either restarted the collections or have published dates when they will restart the collection of garden waste. Is there any indication of when the service may restart?”


Answer from Councillor Bailey


“Councils have taken slightly different approaches to garden waste; some have tried to keep the services going despite suffering staff shortages and may have experienced delays to their main waste and recycling collections as a result. We decided to prioritise our waste and recycling collections by suspending the garden waste service and generally that has worked very well. In terms of timing, we are in constant discussions with Urbaser and we are monitoring their efforts to recruit the resources needed to restart the service but we have no date currently.”


5. Question from Councillor Rutland


“We are justifiably proud of the many creative businesses in Tunbridge Wells. However, in June, the contract for the redesign of the Amelia Scott website was awarded to Stunn Ltd, an agency based in Birmingham. Are steps being taken to review our procurement policy in order to create opportunities for local firms and suppliers?”


Answer from Councillor March


“This tender was run as an open procedure via the Kent business portal and contracts finder, meaning it was advertised to all companies local to the Borough Council but also across the UK. This process provided opportunities for local businesses to engage with the council and take part I the tender but it also allows us the opportunity to test the market fully and ensure value. The government is currently assessing the regulations surrounding public sector procurement in the UK and we have taken an active role in responding to consultations. We are awaiting the outcome of this process and – coupled with the recent procurement policy notice regarding reserved contracts – we will look to implement changes to our processes in line with any new regulatory framework.”


Supplementary question from Councillor Rutland


“Currently, is there anything to stop the council directly inviting local businesses to pitch for these kinds of contracts? If not, does it do so as a matter of course.”


Answer from Councillor March


“All Tunbridge Wells and UK businesses can go through the Kent business portal and contracts finder. They have the ability to do so if they wish to, nothing is stopping them at all. In fact, with the Amelia we have had a variety of local and national suppliers working on the project: we have local architects from Canterbury, we have a technical team from Tunbridge Wells and the café franchise has gone to a Tunbridge Wells company. They all had the same opportunities.”


6. Question 6 from Councillor Patterson


“Is Councillor McDermott aware of the recent report by eminent academics published by the Royal Academy of Engineering and supported by the Architects Journal, reported recently in the BBC on 24th September that says: ‘Cement production alone causes 8% of global emissions. The construction industry should re-use existing buildings and foundations, to recycle their embodied emissions, instead of building new ones. 51% of the lifecycle of carbon from residential development is emitted before the building is first used.’ With this in mind would he consider how the Pre-Submission Local Plan can be adapted to reuse existing buildings and reduce new build to further the Council's objective to be carbon neutral by 2030?”


Answer from Councillor McDermott


“You should be familiar with the fact that the embodied energy of existing buildings is a theme running through the Pre-Submission Local Plan including a presumption that unsustainable demolition will be avoided wherever possible. I am happy to email privately with further details but he might want to start with Strategic Policy STR7 on climate change, a strategic policy which guides the whole of the Local Plan, and policies EN1 and EN3 which encourages the use of low-carbon materials and sets out ambitious new standards for carbon reduction. If Councillor Patterson is serious about meeting the Council’s climate change ambitions he will recognise the vital importance of the Local Plan in delivering this and the fact that the policies in the new Local Plan are far stronger than the existing policies on such matters.”


Supplementary question from Councillor Patterson


“Given that TWBC target is to reduce annual carbon emissions 2,500 tonnes per annum to 750 tonnes per annum by 2030 and the foundations of 4,900 new houses alone will generate 17,000 tonnes, will the portfolio holder acknowledge that if the Local Plan, as it stands now, is implemented there is no chance of the borough being carbon neutral by 2030?”


Answer from Councillor McDermott


“Members have seen the extreme evidence base, topic papers and other supporting documents, such as the sustainability appraisal and infrastructure delivery plan, which have informed all the different aspects of the Local Plan. These are available on the Council’s website and I refer Councillor Patterson to that information and documentation. I would also like to point out that with the Amelia Scott – we have done quite a good job there – when we took the bricks down we cleaned them all and them replaced them, that was 18,000 bricks. Similarly, there was a lot of oak panelling and such things in the building, 800ft of it, and we’ve repurposed those. These are examples of how we are working to do this.”


In response to the Mayor’s intervention, Councillor McDermott undertook to respond in writing.


[Answer provided after the meeting –

“The metric tonne per annum figures you refer to are those from the carbon audit of the operations of TWBC. The July 2019 Full Council resolution was that there is an ambition to make the Council’s operations carbon neutral and these figures reflect this. Progress is starting on the Council’s change in operations in order to bring about this reduction in carbon output towards the ambition for 2030.


I am assuming that the figure of 4900 new homes refers to the number of new homes which are proposed to be allocated in the parish of Capel in the Pre-Submission Local Plan – I have heard you use that figure before. It is important to remember that it is expected that c.750 houses would be delivered in Tudeley and c.1050 in east Capel, by the end of March 2030.


I believe you are conflating two issues here: the carbon emissions from the operation of the Council and carbon embodied in the production of cement.  I have no reason at this time to think that the Council will not realise its ambitions of its operations being carbon neutral by 2030.


The Council’s 2019 resolution recognised that the combined work of the wider community, including businesses, organisations and individuals is needed to realise the goal of carbon neutrality for the borough by 2030. As I set out in my response to your first question, the Local Plan contains a number of policies that will work towards this, being far stronger and more stringent than current ones.


The construction of buildings will increase carbon emissions but this must be balanced against a variety of other improvements which are being made by society and businesses across the borough (and region), including in terms of vehicle efficiency, reduced commuting through increased working from home, extending tree cover, more active travel, changes in farming practices, etc and carbon offsetting through, for example the planting of additional trees.


Therefore, I will not and cannot agree to your request, and I remain optimistic that the goal of carbon neutrality for the borough will be reached by 2030.”]

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