In accordance with Standing Orders, written answers to the following questions will be circulated on a supplementary agenda.
(A) Question from Councillor Bret Facey
‘Do you believe that SBC offers sufficient information about properties (such as their amenities and layout) to residents bidding for Council properties, to allow them to make an appropriate bid for a property which meets their needs?’
(B) Question from Councillor Adam Mitchell
‘Do you think the current SBC approach to Police Priority setting is still fit for purpose?’
(C) Question from Councillor Julie Ashley-Wren
‘Since the changes to the carriageway of Lytton Way earlier this year, there continue to be many complaints and reports about regular, long traffic jams for vehicles exiting from the Town Centre onto Lytton Way. Acknowledging that HCC is the Highway authority, nevertheless this issue is causing huge inconvenience to Stevenage shoppers and should be of concern to SBC. What actions (with HCC) are SBC taking to put right this apparently erroneous new traffic flow design?’
(D) Question from Councillor Stephen Booth
‘What method does the Council use to track and monitor absenteeism amongst its employees?
How does absenteeism compare with surrounding authorities?’
(E) Question from Councillor Andy McGuinness
‘What steps are the Council taking, in conjunction with the Highway authority HCC, to ensure that the proposed redesigning of Lytton Way (Station Gateway Area Action Plan) will not result in a clogged up town?’
(F) Question from Councillor Robin Parker CC
‘Following the partial collapse of Swingate House earlier this year, several reports were due from a number of sources (e.g. SBC, HSE, the demolition contractor and maybe others) on the causes and blame for the incident – which could have so easily proved fatal.
Have any of these reports yet been received and, if not, when do we anticipate them? Will they be made public?’
(G) Question from Graham Snell
‘Has working WiFi yet been installed in the new Bus Interchange, so that passengers can receive real time information on bus services? If not, when will it be installed?’
(H) Question from Councillor Tom Wren
‘Not only did the SBC housing development at Tabor Close result in trees being felled without permission but, although the dwellings were complete months ago, the houses (as of October 2022) are still not occupied because – we are told – a short length of highway was not complete. What exactly was the problem with allowing occupation? And why is it taking so long to resolve the issue, thereby leaving 13 badly needed Council housing units standing empty for many months?’
(I) Question from Councillor Alex Farquharson
‘Is SBC satisfied that our grass cutting program is thorough enough?’
The Council received nine questions from Members to Committee Chairs/Portfolio Holders. The responses to the seven questions had been published in the supplementary agenda for the meeting.
(A) Question from Councillor Bret Facey re: bidding for Council properties
Supplementary question – “When bidding on two bedroom houses, disabled applicants need to know that there are toilets on both floors. He was surprised to hear from Housing Officers that SBC did not record such information, nor did they know the level of access to flat block gardens. As a result, disabled residents were forced to bid on unsuitable properties, wasting their and officers’ time. Please could the Council start to record such basic information on the housing list to help residents bid on appropriate homes?”
In reply, the Portfolio Holder for Housing & Housing Development stated that, if the Housing IT system could hold the information requested then she would see what could be done. Otherwise, there may be a need for funding to be identified to upgrade the system so that such information could be held. She was also waiting for the work of the Community Select Committee on the Voids review to conclude, which may identify other suggestions and recommendations for action. In terms of the example quoted by Councillor Facey, the disabled applicant could ask officers to do the bidding for them.
(B) Question from Councillor Adam Mitchell re: Police Priority Setting
Supplementary question – “The Council put a lot of time and resource into Police Priority meetings, but Members were not getting as much out of them as they used to. He felt that in-person only meetings would help, but could the Portfolio Holder offer Members some form of platform (cross-Party) so that they could put forward some constructive suggestions in order to sharpen up the process and get more out of it?”
The Portfolio Holder for Community Safety, Equalities, Health & Older People replied that the Council was always looking at ways of improving communication with the Police. The meetings were dependent on the Police Officers and calls on their time, especially if major incidents or events were taking place. She would ask officers to look at a form of platform for Members’ suggestions, and she acknowledged the point about in-person only meetings, accepting that hybrid meetings were not always the easiest to administer.
(C) Question from Councillor Julie Ashley-Wren re: the Swingate/Lytton Way road junction
Supplementary question – “Can the Portfolio Holder give an indication of the timescale for a resolution of this frustrating situation, in view of the fact that the Police have been required to intervene on a number of occasions?”
In reply, the Portfolio Holder for Economy, Enterprise & Transport replied that the issue was in the main the responsibility of Hertfordshire County Council (HCC), as Highways Authority. SBC officers were monitoring the situation and reporting back to HCC.
(D) Question from Councillor Stephen Booth re: employee absenteeism
Supplementary question – “Does the service the Council uses from Good Shape provide sickness data not just on the crude basis of days lost, but discriminates between regular short periods of absence and lengthier periods of sickness (why does the Council not use the Bradford formula, as used by the NHS and other large organisations)?”
The Portfolio Holder for Resources, Transformation & ICT replied that the information referred to in the supplementary question was available and provided. She was not aware of the Bradford formula (and there would no doubt be cost implications should it be introduced), but she asked Councillor Booth to provide her with information about it so she could ask officers to investigate that system and come back to him.
(E) Question from Councillor Andy McGuinness re: the Station gateway Area Action Plan (redesigning of Lytton Way)
Supplementary question – “Whilst welcoming the Station Gateway project and its associated highway mitigation, there were still some vulnerabilities about a achieving a modal transport shift to ensure the town does not get clogged up with traffic as a result of any changes to Lytton Way. Given that the proposed changes were so comprehensive and permanent, would the Portfolio Holder and HCC Highways consider the introduction of a pilot scheme/trial (possibly temporary barriers) which would mirror the consequence of some of the options explored to ascertain some of the impacts on the town for the future?”
In reply, the Portfolio Holder for Environment & Climate Change replied that the matter would at some point in the future come before the Planning & Development Committee. The number of options for Lytton Way were gradually being narrowed down. The traffic congestion modelling was not a precise science, but was a fairly accurate tool. SBC officers would pick up whether or not the modelling would be sensitive enough to pick up modal shifts in behaviour. He asked the Strategic Director (TP) to request the Assistant Director (planning & Regulation) to provide a fuller answer to the question.
(F) Question from Councillor Robin Parker re: the partial collapse/demolition of Swingate House
Supplementary question – “Various report about the incident were expected from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), SBC, the demolition contractor and maybe others. When those reports were made public, please could he be assured that Members would receive these before they were sent to The Comet newspaper or other external media?”
The Leader of the Council replied that the main report would be from the HSE. She/SBC had no control over when the HSE would be publishing their report. Any reports prepared by SBC would be published and Members would see them first, although no report would be prepared and published until information had been received from the HSE.
(G) Question from Councillor Graham Snell re: Wi-fi at the new Bus Interchange
Supplementary question – “Can the answer to the original answer be checked, as the bus service information provided could only be accessed via the Arriva app, but there were no public wi-fi facilities in the Bus Interchange building?”
In reply, the Leader of the Council stated that the Council would endeavour to arrange for the installation of a public wi-fi system in the Bus Interchange. She would ask officers to provide Councillor Snell with a written answer as soon as a timescale was agreed for this installation.
(H) Question from Councillor Tom Wren re: the Tabor Close development
Supplementary question – “Why was this project claimed as a successful SBC initiative when nearly 12 months ago Members of the Executive posed for a photo opportunity in front of it, but when its faced by continual delays does the Council look to deflect the blame onto others?”
The Portfolio Holder for Housing & Housing Development replied that the Council had worked in conjunction with Keepmoat and Origin Housing Association to get houses built for tenants for nomination by SBC. The fact that HCC Highways approval had to be granted before the new properties could be occupied was beyond SBC control. What may or may not be common practice in most private developments regarding completed homes being occupied prior to Highway Authority approval was not the case in respect of the Tabor Close scheme. Highways Authority approval had now been given, and it was hoped that tenants would be moving into the new homes in November 2022.
(I) Question from Councillor Alex Farquharson re: the SBC grass cutting programme
Supplementary question – “Along the A602 road in the Broadwater area of the town, a number of overgrown patches were present in the banks which formed part of the grass verge. Could these areas be mowed when the Grass Cutting Team were next in this vicinity, in order to tidy up the area?”
In reply, the Portfolio Holder for Environment & Climate Change stated that it would depend on whether the areas in question had been left for re-wilding, but he noted that the A602 was an amenity corridor. He suggested that if Councillor Farquharson and local residents had a scheme in mind they could seek to roll it into the work on Climate Change, in terms of whether or not certain grass verge areas needed to be cut, or that he accompanied the Portfolio Holder on a site visit to the areas in question so that they could be identified and referred back to the Grass Cutting Team for appropriate action.