(At least two clear days notice required, in writing, to the Proper Officer in accordance with Procedure Rule 15).
1. Questions received from Councillor Salt:
“Between instigating the climate emergency and today – please inform the council by how much SMDC’s actions have reduced carbon emissions? When presenting the data, could you explicitly demonstrate what has been Covid’s impact and what has been down to our own efforts?”
The stated intention of the Council is to produce a comprehensive climate change plan effective from the year 2021/22. This year the Council set out key enabling actions which taken together with the work of the Climate Change Subgroup will inform that Climate Change Plan. This year’s activity was set out in the form of an information digest. Data collection and analysis is one of this year’s key activities. This activity is ongoing with the aim of ensuring data used to underpin the Council’s targets is as comprehensive as possible and consistent to ensure we can compare like with like. The Council has engaged the Energy Saving Trust to assist with data analysis and options for consideration. Some key illustrative data is below:
2019 Data: Indication of CO2 emissions for Staffordshire Moorlands District Council - CO2 emissions from fleet vehicles (Waste, Street Scene, Parks), staff business mileage.
· Fleet: 636 metric tonnes of CO2
· Business Travel: 63.75 metric tonnes (shared with HPBC) = 31.875 metric tonnes for SMDC
· Property: Gas and electricity (Leisure Centres not included and Moorlands House not apportioned to using organisations) = 421 metric tonnes
· Total 1,089 metric tonnes of CO2
· Alliance CO2 from business travel has been reducing year on year - from 110.34 metric tonnes in 2013 to 63.75 metric tonnes in 2019. Mileage has reduced in that period from 459,407 miles in 2013 to 284,985 miles in 2019.
· Covid-19 Comparing Alliance business miles/CO2 for the 5 month period April to August 2020 with the same period in 2019 – 27 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019), 9.1 metric tonnes CO2 (2020).
· Further work is required on the data (to check data is fully inclusive, takes account of recording systems which have changed over time to make sure year on year comparisons are robust and to provide a detailed breakdown by area of operation). The data for the Council’s CO2 emissions will be ready in December 2020 in time to inform targets for the 2021/22 plan.
By way of supplementary questions, Cllr Salt asked if the Council would be carbon neutral by 2030. The Portfolio Holder believed this would be the case, albeit an ambitious target for the whole of the District. Councillor Porter was also asked to explain how the £10k grant would encourage carbon neutrality. The Climate Change Community Fund had been delayed due to Covid-19 and examples of the type of projects that schools could use the money for included; eco clubs, recycling, tree planting and nature based projects. It was hoped that the scheme could commence in Spring/Summer 2021.
2. “When will Biddulph TC receive its funding for the Covid grant application that it made months ago?”
Councillor Ralphs confirmed that the application for funding had been approved and assured Councillor Salt that the payment was being processed.
3. “When will SMDC complete its tree planting strategy so that Town and Parish councils can get on with the task of planting trees in their areas on SMDC owned land (where appropriate)?”
SMDC formally adopted its Tree Strategy in 2016. The main document notes the context of the Council’s tree-related policies and objectives, with links to the corporate plan aims, and sets out our policies in areas such as tree protection, tree management and planting. This is supported by appendices comprising a set of more technical Good Practice Guides covering:
1. Tree Work
2. Tree Management
3. Trees and Development
4. Tree Risk Management
Several factors now suggest a review/update of the Tree Strategy would be appropriate - it’s coming up to 5 years since the Tree Strategy was first adopted, a climate emergency has been declared by the Council, there is a new Corporate Plan and the Local Plan has been adopted.
A key strategy to consider in the context of the question is the Green Infrastructure Strategy which is part of the Local Plan. To ensure the delivery of that strategy the Council has commissioned Staffordshire Wildlife Trust to work with us to develop the delivery plan (the Green Infrastructure Delivery Plan). Development this year has involved comprehensive mapping and assessment of current habitats and species and opportunities to join up and extend otherwise isolated pockets. Development has reached the stage of identifying projects (in 3 categories) – large scale strategic projects, bringing forward development sites, and community projects.
The Delivery Plan provides detailed mapping and an evidence base which supports the development of nature recovery networks and corridors and in turn can inform decision making about what species of plants and what kinds of habitats it would be best to create, enhance or safeguard in particular locations. With this in mind and under the heading of community projects, the expectation is that over the next two months the team leading the Delivery Plan development will start to engage with Parish and Town Councils and Community Groups in relation to specific sites and local opportunities that they identify.
In parallel with the work to develop the Green Infrastructure Delivery Plan Staffordshire wildlife Trust have agreed to assist the Council’s team responsible for parks and open spaces to develop Council policy with regard to the maintenance of council land so as to increase opportunities for wildlife. This will form a revised Parks Management Strategy and be linked to the revision of the Tree Planting Strategy.
The Green Infrastructure delivery plan provides an evidence-based context within which we can make a site specific decision about what should be planted - it will not necessarily be trees. We will want to plant as many trees as possible on our land where that is the rights thing to do – the ‘right thing’ in terms of enhancing wildlife (informed by the plan), balanced with the needs of the particular amenity we are planting on, impact on neighbours, community safety considerations and cost of maintenance etc.
Councillor Salt was pleased with the comprehensive response to her question and gave her thanks to officers. She asked if a time frame for the completion of the Tree Planting Strategy could be provided. Councillor Porter agreed this was extremely important to address and advised that the strategy would be updated and reviewed next year. In the meantime, councillors could contact Steve Massey - Arboricultural Officeror Mark Forrester – Head of Democratic and Community Services, with details of areas of land which had been identified for planting.
4. Received from Councillor Swindlehurst:
“What is the present role of community and voluntary groups in maintaining public assets such as benches, planted areas and bus shelters?”
Councillor Ralphs explained that there were a number of volunteers and voluntary groups which carried out excellent work in the area, particularly at the countryside sites. Examples of such work included; maintenance of benches, steps, stiles, pathway clearance, hedge laying and litter picking. Recently, some benches had been installed by the West End Leek voluntary group.
By way of supplementary questions, Councillor Swindlehurst wished to know if the recent work carried out by volunteers to the bus shelter on Stockwell Street, Leek had been risk assessed and was in-line with the Health and Safety at Work Act. She also asked what the implications were for regeneration and recovery in the current pandemic climate, if the commitment to the maintenance of the street scene was not fulfilled. The Leader confirmed that work to the bus shelter had been carried out at her request and authority for the aspects mentioned had been granted by the Council. The project had been monitored and supervised as it was in the vicinity of Moorlands House. In relation to the second supplementary question, Cllr Ralphs agreed that first impressions and appearance of the towns mattered to both visitors and residents. On a weekly basis, the Leader liaised with the Mayor of each town to identify work that needed to be carried out. This information was then passed on to the relevant officers at the Council. The way in which the Council’s assets were managed was being reviewed and options were being explored which included the contract being managed in-house, as it was important to have a maintenance programme under the Council’s control.
5. Received from Councillor Hoptroff:
“What progress has the Leader made in her bid to improve rural bus services as she promised to full council on the 19th October 2019?”
The Leader explained that the rural bus project commenced in November 2019, and by the end of February 2020, she had identified a bus company prepared to provide a rural service for a period of 12 months. A route to cover outlying villages and allow 2 hours shopping in the towns had been agreed. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic the pilot scheme had been put on hold and would hopefully re-commence in May 2021. Parish Councils had been made aware of the current situation.
Councillor Hoptroff requested clarification around the funding for this project and thought that the Council should put more pressure on bus companies to provide additional services at this time. Councillor Ralphs confirmed that the Council had funding for pilot projects such as this, and thought it was unfair to expect bus companies to provide additional services, as the current priority was to keep existing routes running and passenger safety. Councillor Bowen contributed to the response and advised that he had been in touch with bus companies and established that current bus routes were at capacity, unless extra vehicles were purchased.
Councillor Bentley suggested that the buses which transported staff to Alton Towers could potentially also carry members of the public.