Agenda item

Leader's Question Time

To receive any pre-notified questions addressed to the Leader / Member of the Cabinet / Committee Chairman.

 

(The maximum time allowed for Leader’s question time is 40 minutes.)

Minutes:

1.

Question asked by Mrs. C. Richardson to the Leader of the Council, T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

‘There have been rumours circulating on social media regarding Sunday parking charges and the Saturday Drewitts Court free parking being removed. Can the Leader confirm that there is absolutely no intention to introduce Sunday parking charges in any Elmbridge car parks and clarify the Saturday free parking at Drewitts Court car park?’

 

 

 

Response given by T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

Thank you Madam Mayor and thank you Councillor Mrs. Richardson.

 

In response to your question, all of the Administration’s parking proposals are clearly laid out in the report that was agreed by Cabinet on 14 November and of course that is on the agenda later on this evening.  I am happy to confirm that there are no proposals and indeed there never were any proposals to introduce any form of charging on Sundays.

 

 

 

In terms of the Saturday free parking scheme in Walton, the scheme was agreed by this Council on 19 July 2017 on the basis that it would end when the Drewitts Court refurbishment works were completed, or by 31 December 2018 whichever was the later.  This position, recommended by the previous Administration, is still the Council’s position although Councillor Dearlove will clarify that position later when he deals with the amendment to the Cabinet report on parking charges.

 

 

2.

Question asked by S.J. Selleck to the Leader of the Council, T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

‘What is the Administration‘s view on whether there should be any restrictions on how and to whom the space in the Civic Centre is leased?’

 

 

 

Response given by T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

Thank you Madam Mayor and I thank Councillor Selleck for his question. 

 

The Civic Centre space is currently used by Elmbridge Borough Council, Surrey County Council, Surrey Police and Voluntary Action Elmbridge and there are some external organisations on the ground floor.

 

In 2018/19, the rental income from lettings was nearly £350,000 which is the equivalent of about 3% of the Elmbridge element of the Council Tax.

 

From January 2019, Surrey Police will be taking on more space in the Civic Centre and Surrey County Council have also expressed an interest for further space.  Officers have been in discussion with Esher Citizens Advice Bureau who are keen to find space in the Civic Centre and those discussions continue and will be relevant when their lease on their current building expires next year.

 

 

 

Supplementary Question by S.J. Selleck

 

 

 

I thank the Leader for those facts and his answer.  Would he agree with me that priority should be given to make the Civic Centre a hub for services for the community including third sector community services when space is available?

 

 

 

Response given by T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

I would certainly agree that a creation of a hub is absolutely consistent with what this Council seeks to achieve.  I think in terms of who occupies that hub and on what terms is a matter for detail.  At the end of the day, it is imperative that we seek best value on behalf of our residents but absolutely in terms of looking at co-sharing space with other organisations, that is very much in our minds.

 

 

3.

Question asked by S. Bax to the Portfolio Holder for Resources, Mrs. R. Mitchell

 

 

 

‘Most Members of this Council have at one time or another had cause to call on Street Smart to undertake work around the Borough.

 

Many of these tasks are small, but make a big difference to residents and improve our local environment immensely. I am therefore concerned to hear that Surrey County Council is considering reducing or removing altogether its funding contribution for this essential service, due to the not inconsiderable financial pressures it is under.

 

Madam Mayor, through you, could the Portfolio Holder for Resources confirm whether Elmbridge will seek to fill any gap in funding for Street Smart that might arise? And If I may make a suggestion - our 3-year protective injunction against unauthorised encampments ought to ensure a saving in next year's budget, of money we might otherwise have spent clearing up after incursions. Might we use some of that money to plug the funding shortfall and continue this highly regarded and much needed service?’

 

 

 

Response given by Mrs. R. Mitchell

 

 

 

Thank you Madam Mayor and thank you Councillor Bax.

 

I too was concerned to hear at last week’s Local Committee meeting about this proposal.

 

I agree with Councillor Bax that the Street-Smart service is a highly regarded and responsive service that benefits our residents. The service is currently jointly funded by Elmbridge Borough Council and the County with the County providing £40,000 a year to provide a service to County Councillor requests.  This equates to about two days per week.

 

Elmbridge Borough Council too has financial pressures as reported in the Budget proposals with a budget gap of £400,000 to find and although the provisional allocation for the traveller encampments costs can now be reduced given the three-year injunction, this is required to reduce the current budget gap.  We are in discussions with Surrey County Council to come up with a solution which will protect the service, for example match funding i.e. £20,000 by Surrey County Council and £20,000 by Elmbridge Borough Council.  We don’t want to lose this service.

 

 

 

Supplementary Question by M.J. Bennison

 

 

 

Thank you Madam Mayor.  There is possible another source of revenue and that was some money that was being put aside I think from parking in order to do water fountains.  So could we use some of that money?

 

And just to confirm as a question, do you agree that, you refer to Surrey County Council putting £40,000 in, it was actually the Surrey County Council Local Committee want to support it and are 100% behind it but it comes out of their £7,500 which they can give to good causes.  You were there on the day, do you agree that Surrey County Councillors are really in favour of continuing this under any circumstance?

 

 

 

Response given by Mrs. R. Mitchell

 

 

 

Thank you Councillor Bennison.  Yes, I was there at the meeting and I noticed that quite a few of our Councillors were very keen.  They all want to keep the service and they were very keen to forego part of their allowance.  So, I would very much welcome that.

 

 

4.

Question asked by A. Davis to the Leader of the Council, T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

‘Elmbridge voted remain in 2016. The leave option was undefined. Now that we have seen the leave deal would you agree that the British people should now vote on whether they would prefer to the European Union leave on that basis of that deal or to remain? Would you write to the national government on Elmbridge’s behalf to demand a People’s Vote on the deal because it is in Elmbridge’s interest to do so?’

 

 

 

Response given by T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

Whilst I and I am sure Councillor Davis would like to think that Elmbridge Borough Council is the epicentre for political decision making, I am not sure that our national politicians who are toiling away at Parliament currently would necessarily agree.  I think probably in fairness, we should await the outcome of the vote on 11 December and then this Council and indeed all of us can take a view on the best way forward.  In practical terms, the officers are working on a Brexit strategy, a plan around that, which we will continue with.  But I don’t think it would be appropriate at this stage to write to the Government whilst they debate the issues.

 

 

 

Supplementary Question by A. Davis

 

 

 

Thank you very much for that longer answer than I was expecting.  I know it’s not constitutionally something that Councils usually do.  However, a lot of Councils across the country have done so, 40 Councils so far and many others.  The timing of our meetings compared to the timings of what’s happening in Parliament are different so after that date we don’t have an opportunity to do this until February which might be too late.  That is why I ask again is there any chance that you could, or your successor, choose to write on the Council’s behalf to remind the Government that Elmbridge not only voted in the way it did but our economy is 90% services and we will be affected very heavily.  And the major thing is as with other Referendum around Europe and the Good Friday Agreement, the people saw the deal first and then they voted it wasn’t the other way round.  Now we have seen the deal, I think we should all encourage the Government to give us the choice if it would.  Can I again ask you, would you consider at any moment, not at this time, would you consider at any moment of doing it?

 

 

 

Response given by T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

I don’t think I will or should get into a debate with you.  I think the idea of a People’s Vote might not necessarily in any event give us the clarification that people seek.  I am happy to write to the Government on any issue which directly affects this Council and where I think that we can lobby them for extra funding or things that directly affect our residents.  I appreciate that Brexit does but I am not prepared to write as the Leader of this Council on behalf of our residents but I am very happy Councillor Davis if you wish to send your own letter.

 

 

 

Supplementary Question by J.W. Browne

 

 

 

Thank you very much Madam Mayor.  My supplementary question to the Leader is this.  Would he agree with me that the one thing we can all agree on about the outcome of the Referendum is that it has unleashed an unprecedented pouring out of vitriol which has rather poisoned our political discourse and that it would be highly regrettable if that were brought into this Council Chamber.  Would he also agree perhaps that the use of the word ‘People’s Vote’ is unfortunate.  It does make one wonder who was voting in 2016.  Perhaps would he agree with me that it would be better to be called a second thoughts vote.  And finally, would he also agree with me that the people of Elmbridge are more likely to be keen to see the Government getting on with sorting this out, and our national politicians getting on with sorting this out.  And finally, would he agree with me if there were a serious proposal from Parliament that there should be a second Referendum that perhaps we should ask to see what Brenda from Bristol might say in those circumstances.

 

 

 

Response given by T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

A very simple answer Madam Mayor.  I entirely agree with the Deputy Leader.

 

 

 

Supplementary Question by Mrs. C. Elmer

 

 

 

Thank you Madam Mayor.  I thank the Leader for the answer he gave to the Leader of the Liberal Democrats.  I would just like to ask another supplementary question which is around the disclosure of any advice that this Council might decide to give in contingency planning that you referred to in your question.  Could I ask you would it be our intention to publish that advice as I understand Surrey County Council have declined to do so.

 

 

 

Response given by T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

I am not aware that Surrey County Council did that.  I am not sure that advice would be the right word.  There are plans, practical plans, around what might happen and I am quite sure that the officers would be happy to share this with all Members.

 

 

 

Supplementary Question by V.G. Eldridge

 

 

 

Thank you Madam Mayor.  I am not quite sure whether we should have this sort of question put before the Council.  It tends to be political.  But we did have the vote in 2016 and that was a strong vote to come out.  And I will be quite honest I voted to come out.  Perhaps going against the trend and majority.  Therefore, would it not have been best to have kept this question until after at least the 11th of this month when perhaps we will be more informed of what is going on and certainly on the 29 March when I hope we come out with a hard Brexit.

 

 

 

Response given by T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

I think in fairness to Councillor Davis I think he did preface his question on the basis that things have moved on in the last 24 hours.  So I remain of the same view that we should wait until after the 11 December and then I am sure we can have the debate again.

 

 

5.

Question asked by A. Davis to the Leader of the Council, T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

‘There are essentially two ways of looking at parking charges:

 

·       Treating the parking charges as a service for the community, therefore lowering charges where possible whilst maximising the availability of parking spaces - as long as the car parks pay their way; or

·       Treating the parking charges as a tax, therefore increasing charges where possible and maximizing the amount raised – as long as people are prepared to pay.

 

As you are apparently not doing the former, are parking charges in Elmbridge now simply another tax burden on our town and village centres?’

 

 

 

Response given by T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

Thank you Madam Mayor and thank you Councillor Davis.  Uncharacteristically for you this is a very simplistic way of looking at what is a complex issue.  Both options are true in that we always look to ensure that the Village and Town Centre car parks serve the local economies and that car parking fees are an important income stream in truth as you know which has helped to keep the Council Tax down well below RPI over the recent years.

 

Now I acknowledge that when you Councillor Davis were the Portfolio Holder you made changes such as the introduction of the monthly season ticket and the introduction of limited Saturday free parking as a service for certain communities in the Borough.  Indeed, at that same time you were happy to see the annual increases, which had been built in, to continue and that of course has been a significant contribution to the budget.  So I think we will pick this issue up when we come on to the Cabinet paper itself and I hope that some of the recommendations that Councillor Dearlove will make will perhaps assist you.

 

 

 

Supplementary Question by A. Davis

 

 

 

This may come later on because you do have an amendment but I haven’t seen it so I can’t tell so I am going to ask you the question.  Council Objective ET2, Section 3 of the Borough Plan for 2018/19 says ‘Introduce a new plan for the ongoing management of parking demand in public car parks by appropriate parking controls and charges.  The new plan be developed in consultation with local Members and other agencies such as Surrey County Council by September 2018 and a plan to be considered by the Cabinet from that by December 2018’.  Unfortunately, this didn’t happen, was there any reason for that?

 

 

 

Response by T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

Thank you for that Councillor Davis.  In fact I will pre-empt a little of what Councillor Dearlove is going to say that there will be a review.  There hasn’t been a review in fairness.  I am not entirely sure why but there hasn’t been a review as at December 2018 but we will be proposing a thorough review of how all of the car parks operate and whether there is a better way of looking at some individual bespoke solutions.  It may well be if the Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee is happy to take that on, that his Committee can pick up that piece of work.  But a review there will be, and I hope that that will receive cross-party support and input.

 

 

 

Supplementary Question by C.R. Sadler

 

 

 

Thank you Madam Mayor.  Could I ask the Leader a question of whether this review will take place before any increases in charges are implemented.  I think that is a fairly key issue for the people of this Borough.

 

 

 

Response by T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

No.

 

 

6.

Question asked by N. Houston to the Leader of the Council, T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

‘To play squash on a public court in Elmbridge costs £15.30 an hour, to play badminton costs £16.20 for an hour, other sports charge their members to compete, yet to play tennis you propose to charge nothing. In the recent Cabinet meeting you had the chance to choose option 3 and give targeted support to those within the borough that need it most whilst keeping the Lawn Tennis Association on board. These fees would have helped maintain our courts and help promote tennis more. So my question is why do some sports have to pay whilst tennis players will not have to?’

 

 

 

Response given by T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

Thank you Madam Mayor, thank you Councillor Houston.

 

I note that you have quoted a couple of examples both of which are indoor sports and therefore carry a much higher and more significant level of overheads.  In addition, those have always been charged for whereas tennis until recently hasn’t been.  It has always been free.  In the run up to the election, the residents of Elmbridge gave my Group, certainly when we were out on the doorstep, a clear view that they felt that tennis should remain free and we have delivered on that promise. However, in deciding that, we recognise that the Council needs to maintain the courts and we continue to work with the Lawn Tennis Association in terms of their support, financial or otherwise.  I would just make one small observation that the figures that you have quoted are the peak non-card rates, so actually badminton off peak i.e. before 5 p.m. is £10.30 rather than £12.90 and the squash is £12.90 instead of £15.30.  I take the point but at the end of the day there are significant costs in maintaining those facilities and much higher than is the case for the tennis courts.

 

 

 

Supplementary Question by N. Houston

 

 

 

Tennis hasn’t always been free just as a point I think in 2006 I believe.  It wasn’t free up to then.  So how confident are you that the proposals for free tennis will be sustainable given the ongoing costs of maintenance especially when the Lawn Tennis Association doubts that your proposal will be successful and would have to withdraw the funding.  And also what plans are in place to stop people from other Boroughs taking advantage of Elmbridge’s generosity.

 

 

 

Response by T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

I am confident that it won’t be abused.  There is a booking system and we haven’t removed the booking system so we can track usage and figures and the Lawn Tennis Association, it is my understanding that they remain supportive of this.  I was going to pick this up in my statement.  This Borough needs to encourage people to be physically active and this is one way of doing it.  They are well used and they are well liked and we have made the promise to the residents at their request that we remove the charges and that is what we have done.

 

 

 

Supplementary Question by C.R. Sadler

 

 

 

Thank you Madam Mayor.  A question to the Leader.  I notice that he makes a distinction between the indoor facilities and the outdoor facilities.  Does this mean that outdoor football pitches are going to be free in future as well?

 

 

 

Response given by T.G. Oliver

 

 

 

I am sure Councillor Sadler if any Member of this Council wishes to recommend or propose free charges for any outdoor activity then we will happily consider it.