The deadline for questions to be submitted to the Monitoring Officer is 14 April 2022.
The following questions were submitted.
Councillor Le Poidevin had submitted a question on the Chairman’s Community Awards, having submitted her apologies for the meeting a response to the question would be provided in writing.
Question from Councillor Mike Cox
On the 23rd March 2021 the Council took the wise decision to stop the sale of the Car Park in Christchurch which borders Waitrose and the By-Pass to a Private Equity Company. The Councillors of Christchurch wished for this Car Park to remain in public hands.
Christchurch Town Council, with the support of Waitrose, have recently offered to purchase this car park for the same price, in order to protect and enable regeneration as part of the Town Councils Regeneration plans.
Will the Leader please ensure that this proposal is put on the forward plan and given proper consideration as soon as possible to protect the interest of Christchurch.
Reply from Councillor Drew Mellor Leader of the Council
Full Council have considered this matter recently and took the view that this is an important local asset and that will remain the position of this Council.
Councillor Cox as a supplementary question asked that if the administration did not want to sell the car park to Christchurch Town Council would they at least consider providing a long-term lease to Waitrose. He reported that Waitrose has been trying to contact the Council and had been rebuffed. Councillor Cox asked can we please ensure that the interests of Christchurch and the preservation of that car park was undertaken as soon as possible. In response Councillor Mellor referred to previous comments made by Councillor Cox. He also reported that Councillor Cox had made reference to the price agreed which was a confidential matter. Councillor Mellor indicated that he would be interested to know how the Town Council was aware of the price consideration. He reiterated that the matter had been considered by full Council and the administration wanted to stop the firesale of assets which was inherited and keep ownership of assets.
Question from Councillor Vanessa Ricketts
I, and my Co-Councillor Margaret Phipps, have received a number of comments from members of the public in our ward regarding the behaviour of the Chairman of Planning Committee at the meeting of 8th March 2022 when considering the planning application from Eco Solutions for a waste incinerator at Hurn (8/21/0207/FUL). Despite over 700 objections received, with further represented objections from Councillors not sitting on the committee, including myself, the application was moved for approval by the Chairman. Despite the Chairman initially stating that it was an “on balance application with lots of pros and cons” he then went on to speak in favour of the applicant, and the application, and stated that the benefits outweighed the negatives. At no point did he seek a proposal from any other Member of the committee, nor give anyone an opportunity to consider making a proposal, but merely led and proposed from the Chair.
The LGA Councillor’s Workbook on Chairing Skills states that the role of the Chair is to “Act as a facilitator – at some meetings you will be required to act as a facilitator where there are one or more opposing views, in your role as a community leader or representative. This may require particular skills of tact, diplomacy and ‘neutrality’ where you are chairing the process as opposed to giving your opinions on the issues being discussed.”
My question to Cllr Kelsey is, therefore, does he feel it appropriate to have shown such bias to such a contentious application, to the extent of moving to grant, and should he not, rather, have acted “neutrally” as advised by the LGA?
Reply from Councillor David Kelsey, Chair of the Planning Committee
The BCP Planning Committee meetings are a quasi-judicial process that is facilitated and overseen by a range of officers including a fully qualified Solicitor. The Solicitor’s role at Planning Committee meetings is to ensure the committee are advised of relevant legal issues both in terms of process as well as using planning judgements to make informed decisions. There was a solicitor present at the Planning Committee meeting in question, and it is my understanding that at no point were any concerns raised by them over the handling of the meeting by any participant.
The meeting itself followed the standard process of people being able to speak for and against the application including ward Cllrs, followed by questions and a lengthy discussion by the Planning Committee members. Various views were expressed by members of the Committee before the move was made to go with the Officer’s recommendation to approve the application. That move was seconded in accordance with due process, and no alternative moves were made by any other members of the Committee. If an alternative move had been forthcoming and seconded then it would have been voted upon, but it did not happen. It is also understood that no objections or concerns have been raised by the Councillors who sit on the Planning Committee about the meeting and how it was run.
The Chairman of Planning Committee also has the right to be able to offer a view on an application as a sitting and voting member. The Chairman’s comments came at the end of the lengthy discussions thereby allowing all other members to first have their say and if they had wanted to, make a move. The Chairman also has the same opportunity as any other Councillor on the committee in terms of being able to make a move, which in this case he did following a thorough assessment and airing of all the issues.
It is evident that due process was followed by all the members of Planning Committee including the Chairman and a decision was reached on planning merits following a thorough assessment of the issues. Any suggestion otherwise is unfounded. The facts are, and as can be seen from the video of the meeting, that a robust and administratively correct process was followed resulting in Planning Committee making its collective decision on the planning application.
Councillor Ricketts as a supplementary asked that at the Council meeting on 26 April you answered a question from a member of the Public and stated that you always listen to the residents and their objections and concerns. She asked if there was anything that Councillor Kelsey wanted to say to the 700 residents who objected to this application. In response Councillor Kelsey reported that the Planning Committee listen to all concerns views of opinion and the decision was made on the application before the Committee.
Question from Councillor Vikki Slade
Following the bounce back grants made in the spring of 2021 I raised some
concerns about the proposal to grant £70,000 for the development of a Water Park at Hurn. I had a meeting with an officer of the council and after the meeting I wrote to clarify some of the content. In the responses I received dated 6th September 2021 I was advised that the application for The Lagoon was to develop and submit a planning application with a deadline of 31st March 2022.
I have checked the BCP Planning Portal and I cannot locate a planning application for this site. Given that the application required under the Bounce Back Grant has not been submitted can the portfolio holder please confirm that the grant has now been returned to the council.
Reply from Councillor Philip Broadhead, Deputy Leader of the Council and Portfolio holder for Development, Growth and Regeneration
The Grant Award Letter signed by the Lagoon states that proposals should be delivered in line with their proposal.
In this instance, the application form and costed project plan identified their proposal as: Planning Phase 1 – architecture, landscaping etc.
The Additional Restrictions Grant awarded was a contribution towards the overall cost to the applicant of submitting a planning application. The project plan also demonstrated the significant match funding that would be unlocked by the award.
This will ultimately lead to a planning application (but the requirement to submit a planning application was not part of the requirement of the funding).
Their final report (including evidence of invoices and spend) demonstrates that all of the criteria for their award have been met and their agreed objectives, as outlined above, are complete.
Councillor Slade, as a supplementary, sought clarification that the Portfolio Holder had spoken to the senior officer and asked that the officer who wrote to her apologise for giving incorrect information. She also requested a list of how many of the other bounce-back grants had met the criteria and how many had been returned to the Council. In response Councillor Broadhead confirmed that he had and would speak to the officer again whilst highlighting that the miscommunication did not come from the Officer it comes from Councillor Slade misunderstanding what was meant by submitted planning stage. He further explained that the applicant in this situation had to bring it forward to that stage and updated members that the applicant continued to provide progress reports and was already in discussion with the Planning Department to bring forward a planning permission as well. Councillor Broadhead reported that he was happy to provide an update on all the amazing projects as a result of the £250,000.00 of grant used to help support businesses through the pandemic.
Question from Councillor Tony Trent
Could the Leader of the Council (or appropriate Portfolio Holder) explain what seems to be an expansion of the press and public relations part of BCP Council’s operations at a time when basic public facing interaction seems to be lacking. As Ward Councilors we regularly get phone calls from constituents who have tried to get through to BCP Council on an issue of concern, and have given up after several periods (45 minute waits are not unusual) trying to get through to a BCP Department, and contacted one of us instead.
At worse, if we are not in at the time, they can at least leave a message – unlike their experience with the BCP switchboard. Why then, by contrast, do we seem to have several people putting out regular press releases, often repeating ones that have gone out a while back, or finding new ways to highlight old news and info?
Is it worth considering re-deploying some of this excess capacity to areas where BCP Council has an obvious shortfall in service level, until such a time as people can once again phone up the Council and get the help and information they require in a timely way?”
Reply from Councillor Jane Kelly, Lead Member for Communities
Whilst we work on the larger transformation of the services that the Council delivers, in order to provide an industry leading approach to customer services, we recognise that – largely due to the hugely increased customer demand during the pandemic – our telephone services have not been good enough. Our systems have been unable to cope with the high volumes of calls and this has meant long wait times for some people. That’s not good enough. That’s why I’m delighted that in recognition of that we needed a short-term fix to urgently address this situation, until the major transformation kicks in, this administration devoted an extra £1.5M this year (2022/23) to increase staff resources for call handling by up to 40 staff members. This shows that we’re taking action to get ahead of this issue and provide residents with the service they deserve.
Further, Councillor Trent, contrary to your suggestion, we’ve actually scaled back the Council’s core Marketing and Communications team, not expanded it. In fact, in 2021, the team was centralised and consolidated as part of the Smarter Structures work, with two senior roles removed. It’s also worth noting that the team covers not only media relations and PR, but also manages social media (an increasing demand as more people contact the Council through this channel), graphic design, audio and visual content creation, web content and design and destination marketing.
I hope, Mr Chairman, that this response will help Members to understand how seriously we take this issue and that we are doing our utmost to find solutions, both short and long term.
Councillor Trent, as a supplementary, asked whether priority would be given to answering the telephone as up to a third of residents do not have access to online facilities. Councillor Kelly in response explained that it was understood and recognised that in terms of equalities we need to provide a telephone service that works which would demonstrate to residents that they can contact the Council in that way. She reported that of the additional 40 staff that would be recruited two weeks ago the Council had recruited 22 so staffing numbers were increasing. Councillor Kelly also commented on managing and anticipating when there may be an increase in calls eg when Council Tax bills were sent out. She also touched on the use of Libraries where information and support can be provided.
Question from Councillor Vikki Slade
I am sure that the leader will agree that motions to council are an important way for members to share issues of great importance to our community, or to the elected members who represent the community. Such motions when approved then represent the official view of the council and the resolutions made will often require the council or a senior representative of the council to undertake an action such a writing a letter to Government or other body.
Can the leader please confirm how long he thinks is a reasonable amount of time that a member of his administration should have to undertake such actions?
Reply from Councillor Drew Mellor, Leader of the Council
I absolutely agree that motions which the Council debates are fundamentally important. Every motion is individual in its nature so the response will be individual as well as appropriate and the work in relation to it. I have confidence in my portfolio holders and officers of the Council to respond professionally at all times.
Councillor Slade, as a supplementary, asked if the Leader was aware that it took over a year for the Portfolio Holder to send a letter after the Council had agreed that it would take action on fireworks and then took a further six months to respond to multiple emails to ask why the letter had not been shared and then tried to pass it to somebody else. She asked if the Leader felt that a year was an acceptable amount of time for a reply. Councillor Mellor in response referred to the significant amount of work undertaken on that particular issue.