Questions from the Opposition and other Non-Cabinet Members
For questions to be put to members of the Cabinet in accordance with Standing Order 35.
Details of the four questions received have been attached along with the written responses provided.
1. The written and supplementary verbal response provided by the Leader of the Council in relation to a question submitted by Councillor Nerva on the West London Orbital Rail Scheme.
2. The written and supplementary verbal response provided by the Lead Member for Regeneration, Highways and Planning to a question submitted by Councillor Gill on the prioritisation of Neighbourhood CIL applications.
3. The written and supplementary verbal response provided by the Lead Member for Environment to a question submitted by Councillor Kelcher on the introduction of a mattress tagging scheme for private sector landlords under the licensing scheme.
4. The written and supplementary verbal response provided by the Lead Member for Environment to a question submitted by Councillor Mashari regarding the grass cutting schedule for public parks, recreation and other open spaces.
Under the new arrangements introduced as part of the changes to the Constitution responses were also provided by the relevant Lead Members on the following additional questions raised during this session of the meeting:
· Councillor Colacicco on the timetable for implementation of the West London Orbital Rail scheme and specific proposals for a station at Gladstone Road;
· Councillor Daly on proposals to introduce electric buses by TfL on the No. 18 and 245 bus routes;
· Councillor Donnelly-Jackson on the need to ensure the proposals being developed on the West London Orbital Rail scheme included accessible and step free access at all stations;
· Councillor Lo seeking an update on the potential sale of Wembley Stadium;
· Councillor Kabir on the measures available for the Council to tackle street drinking in public places;
· Councillor Long on plans being considered to improve the highways environment for pedestrians across the borough;
· Councillor Kelcher regarding the potential impact of any sale of Wembley Stadium on its rateable valuation;
· Councillor Ethapemi on any potential benefits for Brent as a result of the potential sale of Wembley Stadium; and
· Councillor Colwill seeking to support and maintain use of Wembley stadium as a public asset.
Before moving on to consider the questions submitted by non-Cabinet members, the Mayor advised that as part of the amendments to the Constitution agreed earlier in the meeting a number of changes had been made to the way in which this item would now be dealt which would be effective from this meeting. In terms of the changes, a total of 30 minutes had been set aside to deal with this item which would begin with consideration of the written questions submitted in advance of the meeting along with any supplementary question. Once these had been dealt with, the remaining time available would then be opened up for any other non-Cabinet members to question Cabinet Members (without the need for advance notice) on matters relating to their portfolio.
The Mayor advised that four written questions had been submitted in advance for response by the relevant Cabinet Member. The written responses supplied had been circulated with the Council agenda. The Mayor then invited supplementary questions from the Members who had submitted the original questions.
15.1 Cllr Nerva thanked Councillor Muhammed Butt for the update provided on the plans being developed by the West London Alliance (WLA) to deliver the West London Orbital rail scheme and as a supplementary asked what further action would be taken to ensure the line was opened as soon as possible, given the interest now being shown by TfL and also what could be done to ensure the operation of the line (if not electrified) was carbon neutral utilising alternative fuel options. He also took the opportunity to recognise Councillors Colacicco and Choudhary for their longstanding efforts in seeking to progress the scheme.
In response, Councillor Muhammed Butt also recognised the efforts of those Councillors involved, reminding members that it had been Councillor Choudhary who had first presented a motion to Council on the scheme which had acted as a catalyst within Brent for its further development. In terms of progressing the scheme, he advised that discussion were ongoing with TfL following the scheme having been included in the Mayor for London’s Transport Strategy and the new Deputy Mayor for Transport. In addition to the benefits arising from the improved access to transport, the scheme also had the potential to unlock significant housing, employment and workspace opportunities not only for residents in Brent but from across west London as a whole. In relation to operation of the line, he advised that options were already being reviewed in relation to battery rather than diesel powered trains which would continue to be explored and with efforts being progressed to bring the scheme to reality as soon as was practicably possible.
15.2 Councillor Gill advised that he was grateful to hear about the review of the Neighbourhood CIL programme and asked if the Lead Member could provide some examples regarding successful use of the funds to date.
In response Councillor Tatler (as Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Highways and Planning) outlined the background and use of Neighbourhood CIL and advised that there were a number of examples of its successful use from the two allocation rounds already approved. These included – support for community libraries in Preston, Kensal Green and Cricklewood; provision of a club house for Harlesden Town Garden; support for a youth project at the Otherwise Club; provision of play equipment in Woodcock Park; support for a dementia hub at St Cuthbert’s Church in Northwick Park; support for the House of Life Project at the United Synagogue in Willesden Jewish Cemetery, support for the Brent Youth Foundation hub, musical studios in South Kilburn and provision of trees in Alperton, Sudbury, Fryent, Wembley Central, Queens Park and Kensal Green. In total Members were advised that £2m had been allocated to schemes under Neighbourhood CIL. A further 70 applications had been received under Round 3 and members were encouraged to continue working with their local communities to identify future schemes that might benefit from the capital funding available and which represented another example of the benefits to arise from regeneration activities in Brent.
15.3 Councillor Kelcher highlighted the current media interest in the mattress tagging proposal and whilst recognising that the idea would need further development, encouraged the Lead Member to continue looking at how a scheme could be established in order for to be Brent seen as leading the way.
In response Councillor Krupa Sheth (as Cabinet Member for Environment) thanked Councillor Kelcher for the innovative idea, which she would continue to explore a way forward on working in conjunction with the Lead Member for Housing and Welfare Reform.
15.4 Having firstly taken the opportunity to thank three Welsh Harp residents present at the meeting for their efforts in litter picking in the ward, Councillor Mashari asked the Lead Member if she would be willing to meet with local residents in order to reconsider the designation of some recreation spaces, such as Neasden Recreation Ground as meadowland. Whilst aware of the financial pressures facing the Council, she pointed out that Neasden Recreation Ground was a well-used local facility which provided a valuable play area and safe space for local residents in her ward.
Councillor Krupa Sheth (Cabinet Member for Environment) joined Councillor Mashari in thanking the residents attending from Welsh Harp for their efforts and advised that she looked forward to joining them on future clean up days. In terms of Neasden Recreation Ground she advised that she had already commenced a review of the designation and would be happy to meet ward councillors and local residents to discuss further.
The Mayor thanked Members for the supplementary questions and Cabinet Members for the responses provided and then advised that the remainder of time available would be used for an open question time session to the Leader and Cabinet. The following issues were raised and responses provided:
(i) Councillor Colacicco highlighted what she felt to be the excellent Value for Money represented by the West London Orbital rail scheme, given its potential to improve access to public transport and relieve pressure on the existing transport infrastructure, especially in the Gladstone Road area. It was noted, however, that the initial proposals did not include provision for trains to stop at Gladstone Road and she therefore asked the Leader if a timetable could be provided as to when the proposed station in this area may open.
In response, Councillor Muhammed Butt (as Leader of the Council) advised that he was keen to progress the scheme as quickly as possible given that most of the infrastructure was already in place, however, as a first stage there was a need to secure the necessary funding. He recognised the issues needing to be addressed in relation to the scheme and impact of the Brent Cross development and advised that he was committed, working alongside the other members of the West London Economic Prosperity Board, to ensure that pressure continued to be applied on TfL and the Mayor for London in order to progress the scheme.
(ii) Councillor Daly advised that she was aware of discussions at the Public Transport Forum on proposals to introduce electric buses in Brent. In her ward she advised of two local terminus located by Sudbury Town station and Harrow Road (adjacent to Williams Way) where concerns had been raised by local residents about the noise and pollution being created by diesel buses and therefore asked if would be possible to seek the early introduction of electric buses on the No.18 and 245 routes in these areas.
In response Councillor Krupa Sheth (Cabinet Member for Environment) advised that discussions were already underway with TfL on plans to introduce electric buses and on which she would ensure Councillor Daly was kept updated.
(iii) Following on from the question in relation to the West London Orbital rail scheme, Councillor Donnelly-Jackson asked if consideration could also be given to ensure that the proposals being developed included accessible and step free access at all stations.
In response Councillor Muhammed Butt confirmed that this would be the aim in seeking to progress development of the scheme.
(iv) Councillor Lo asked Councillor Muhammed Butt, as Leader of the Council, if it was possible to provide any update on the potential sale of Wembley Stadium.
In response Councillor Muhammed Butt advised that the Council had put in a submission as part of the inquiry being undertaken by the Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) on any potential sale. The Council was keen to ensure that Wembley retained its status as the national stadium whilst also looking to ensure the Council’s interests along with those of local residents were safeguarded should any sale proceed. No firm timescales were, however, available at this stage with progress depending on the outcome of decisions by the Football Association and DCMS review scheduled for mid-July 18.
(v) Councillor Kabir, having highlighted concerns in relation to public drinking in Queensbury ward, asked for an update on measures either in place or planned to tackle the issue and educate/change behaviour given the impact and tensions being caused as a result of associated anti-social behaviour in local communities.
As the Cabinet Member for Community Safety had given his apologies for the meeting, Councillor Muhammed Butt (as Leader of the Council) responded by highlighting a number of initiatives in place. These included the specific tasking of police resources towards recognised hotspots; the current licensing policy consultation involving the potential to limit sales of alcohol in certain areas; working with colleagues from British Transport Police to focus on problems associated with transport hubs and the use of Public Space Protection Orders with associated enforcement action. He felt the key was to work not only with partners such as the police, but also local communities and businesses in order to develop a holistic and collective approach in addressing the concerns raised.
(vi) Councillor Long asked if an update could be provided on any plans being considered to improve the highways environment for pedestrians across the borough given the current levels of clutter and unlicensed encroachment of a number of retail premises onto pavements.
Responding as Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Highways & Planning, Councillor Tatler advised that the Council was already looking at ways to improve the highways and pavements for both pedestrians and cyclists. This included looking, in recognition of the concerns raised, to reduce the overall level of street furniture and enhanced enforcement activity and on which she would be happy to consider any further specific suggestions that Members may have.
(vii) Following on from the earlier issue raised in relation to the potential sale of Wembley Stadium, Councillor Kelcher advised that he had been seeking details from the Valuation Office, as a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, about the basis of the new stadium sites current rateable value given the significant reductions agreed on appeal following the last three valuations. The Valuation Office had not been able to provide a response on the FOI so he asked what measures the Cabinet may be able to take in order to ensure that if any private sale of the stadium was to proceed the owners were required to pay their full share of business rates enabling this to be pooled under the devolved business rate scheme.
In response Councillor Butt advised that any organisation (including the Football Association) would be entitled to apply to the Valuation Office for a review of their rateable business value. Whilst the Council was able to input into the process, the final decision was one that rested with the Valuation Office but he would be willing to ensure, if anything changed in relation to ownership, use and the associated rateable value of the stadium, that this was followed up with them.
(viii) Picking up on the response to the previous question, Councillor Ethapemi took the opportunity to question the potential benefits that may arise for the Council as a result of the potential sale of Wembley Stadium including the scope for any partnership arrangements.
Following his previous response, Councillor Muhammed Butt advised that the main focus for any investment decisions by the Council would need to be on areas with a maximum positive impact on local residents with priorities already identified for example in relation to housing and schools. Whilst keen to look at the potential benefits the Council may be able to obtain as a result of any potential sale, it was not felt that any form of partnership investment would be affordable given the ongoing pressure on funding and level of investment that may be required in order to guarantee a return. In addition, he highlighted the need take account the potential impact on local residents arising from any sale in terms of the mixed experience from Tottenham Hotspur FCs tenure at the stadium.
(ix) As a final comment, given the remaining time available Councillor Colwill highlighted his Group’s support towards retaining Wembley as the national stadium within the borough.
Councillor Muhammed Butt thanked Councillor Colwill for his support and felt it was important to remember that the development of the new stadium had received financial support through the National Lottery. At the same time, he recognised the difficult position the Football Association found themselves in when having to look at commercial opportunities to maintain the necessary level of investment in the development of grass root football. Whilst it did not look as if consideration was being given to relocating the national stadium, he advised Members that as part of any potential sale he would be looking to ensure that the Council’s objectives were also taken into account.
As the time available had expired the Mayor advised he would now move on to the next item and thanked all Members for their contributions.