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Contact: Emma James/ Jo Weston Overview and Scrutiny Officers
Apologies and Welcome
The Chairman welcomed everyone and confirmed the arrangements for the Panel’s first remote meeting. Apologies had been received from Cllr Ken Pollock, Cabinet Member with Responsibility for Economy and Infrastructure.
Declarations of Interest and of any Party Whip
Members of the public wishing to take part should notify the Assistant Director for Legal and Governance in writing or by email indicating the nature and content of their proposed participation no later than 9.00am on the working day before the meeting (in this case Thursday 18 June 2020). Enquiries can be made through the telephone number/email address below.
9 members of the public addressed the Panel about the COVID-19 Emergency Active Travel Fund (Agenda Item 5 - COVID-19 Response Approach for Economy and Environmental Services). The Chairman explained that all submissions and questions had been provided to the Panel.
A summary of the main discussion points from the participants were:
Chris Haynes (Chair of Transition Evesham Vale):
· The recent measures announced by MP Grant Shapps in respect of the emergency programme of re-allocating road space to people walking and cycling should be taken as swiftly as possible.
· On 20 May, Cycle Evesham Vale and Transition Evesham Vale had jointly submitted to the Council suggestions for Phase 1 safety improvement activity, which met the Government’s criteria. It was questioned why there was no evidence of any activity having taken place in Evesham, when the high street restart had taken place on 15 June?
· The Agenda report stated an indicative amount to be allocated to the Council of £271,000 (Phase 1 emergency response), however then showed that no action had been taken under the emergency phase and that funds would be redirected into existing longer-term plans. It was suggested that this was a process or policy failure which was putting cyclists and pedestrians at risk. the Panel was urged to get to the root of the problem before the return to schools in September.
· MP Grant Shapp describe air pollution as a silent killer. The latest research showed 40,000 deaths a year in this country, therefore there was a respiratory pandemic in the background which linked to many illnesses such as cancer, cardiac conditions and stroke.
· Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands (who was a conservative) said that ‘Air pollution was such a significant factor in the climate emergency we are facing and we are only going to be able to tackle this in the longer term if we get people out of their cars and onto public transport, two wheels and out using their feet’.
· The Council should declare a climate emergency and to show the leadership the public expected.
· journeys within towns were often shorter than in cities, therefore safe walking and cycle routes were needed to transform the way people moved.
· The Council should accelerate the infrastructure by concentrating on certain towns first, followed by requesting the Government for more funds.
· Mr Brothwell was a member of Bike Worcester and had set up SHIFT scheme at his employer, which had seen a 5-fold increase in cycling and encouraged thousands of bicycle commutes.
· The accuracy of the statistic that mentioned by Cllr Amos at the last Cabinet meeting that 1% of commuters cycled to work was questioned. Although Cllr Amos had advised Mr Brothwell (in direct correspondence) that the source of the 1% figure was the recent Passenger Transport Survey Analysis Report, Mr Brothell advised that the Worcestershire Local Transport Plan (LTP) stated that 8% walked or cycled to work.
· National statistics on cycling for Worcestershire, notably Table CW302 2017-18 ... view the full minutes text for item 372.
Confirmation of the Minutes of the previous meeting
The Minutes of the meeting on 23 January 2020 were agreed as a correct record and would be signed by the Chairman.
In attendance for this item were:
Connie Dixon, Partnership Director, Wales and West of England
Adam Johnstone, Regional Programme Manager, Building Digital (BD) UK South, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, Fibre and Network Delivery
Lindsay Booth, BDUK Project Manager
Worcestershire County Council
Ste Ashton, Senior Project Manager
Robert Stepniewski, Project Manager
Ste Ashton, Senior Project Manager from the Council’s Directorate of Economy and Infrastructure explained that the update on Superfast Broadband would build on previous annual updates to the Panel which was a requirement of the Council’s contracts with BT.
The Openreach Regional Director provided a brief recap of progress to date, successes, challenges and how they were being overcome, which was set out in the agenda report. It was important to note the challenges involved but the strength of partnership working in Worcestershire was emphasised and this had helped to deliver targets, whilst still being subject to constructive challenge.
BT Openreach (now Openreach) had had a relationship with the Council for seven years and during that time superfast coverage across Worcestershire had risen from 69% to 96.7%, which was a fantastic achievement. In 2013 the Council signed its first contract with Openreach, which had taken superfast broadband to over 90% of the county’s residential and business premises (adding just under 59,000 properties and businesses through the programme). Contract 2 was designed to extend fibre infrastructure into even more challenging and harder to reach areas and at the end of December 2019 superfast and ultrafast speeds were available to a further 13,500 premises.
As part of contract 3, 3,660 premises had been targeted for a fibre based broadband service in ultra-rural areas and Openreach had been working collaboratively with the Council and its Highways Department to deliver a majority of Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) infrastructure within the established intervention area, of which 1600 had been achieved already.
The Openreach Regional Programme Manager referred to the positive and challenging aspects of recent progress, with flooding and COVID-19 highlighted as the main challenges – both of which had created delays which would impact on completion of contract 3 (to December 2020). However, he reassured the Panel that work was still being delivered and staff were classed as key workers. Regular updates were provided to the Council, with fortnightly meetings of a collaborative but challenging spirit.
The Chairman invited discussion and the following main points were made:
· It was queried whether the 97% superfast coverage was all achieving 24Mbps or above and it was confirmed that this was correct for 96.7% of premises - in terms of FTTP the figure was 5.6%.
· Whilst praising the excellent work and success of technology available to residents and businesses in his area, a Panel member asked whether there was a way around the complexity of the Gigabit Voucher Scheme to increase take-up; although successful the complexity was off-putting and it took time to persuade the public that it would not be very expensive. The Openreach Partnership Director agreed that increasing take-up was really important and ... view the full minutes text for item 374.
In attendance for this Item were:
John Hobbs, Director of Economy and Infrastructure
Cllr Alan Amos, Cabinet Member with Responsibility for Highways
Cllr Tony Miller, Cabinet Member with Responsibility for Environment
The Director of Economy and Infrastructure introduced the report which set out the response to COVID-19 for Economy and Environmental Services, including highways, major infrastructure projects, transport, the COVID-19 Emergency Active Travel Fund, waste and wider recovery work.
He explained how the response to COVID-19 worked from the outset. There were two contexts, that of the Local Response Forum (LRF) which was the West Mercia area and the one Worcestershire Chief Executives model. While the geography of the West Mercia was well aligned in terms of flooding events, this was less so in terms of the effects of COVID-19. In LRF terms, the area had been at a response phase since November 2019, following flooding events and then COVID-19. The Director was the Gold lead for the Council and the One Worcestershire Chief Executives Group.
In terms of the LRF the roles and ways of working of the different organisations, including Health, Fire etc were already in place and well placed to respond. The role of the One Worcestershire Chief Executives Group was focused on local communities, for example how to deal with issues like distribution of food to the shielded cohort. Within the Council itself, the Director chaired the Council’s response to this, making sure nothing fell through the gaps – the E&I Directorate was well placed to do this because of its emergency planning experience and also the fact that much of the Directorate’s work decreased during COVID-19, whereas other Directorates’ work had stepped up. Examples of issues involved included planning for mortuary capacity and increasing numbers of funerals and moving into the recovery phase the issues included opening up the economy, reopening recycling centres and public transport provision.
During the discussion which took place, the following main points were made:
· The Vice-Chairman referred to the COVID-19 Emergency Active Travel Fund and the new statutory guidance from the Government in response to COVID-19 which, stated that cycling had increased by up to 70% according to a national travel survey and was also referred to by the public participants. Whilst welcoming the Fund, he was very disappointed by the Council’s bid and felt that the proposals ignored cycling provision for short journeys. He asked for a response on why the Council’s response to the Emergency Active Travel Fund did not appear to meet the Government’s aims, something which the public participants had also queried.
· The Director explained that it was about giving choice without disadvantaging any mode of transport, therefore the focus of the Directorate’s bid had been to refer back to the Local Transport Plan (LTP) and to build on what the evidence showed. Officers were not aware of cyclists being impeded around Worcester City but he was receptive to hearing about any instances, and believed the current approach struck a good balance.
· The Vice-Chairman also ... view the full minutes text for item 375.
Due to time constraints, this item was deferred to a future meeting.
The Panel was asked to consider the current work programme and consider any changes or additions.
Panel members agreed that climate change monitoring should remain on the agenda for the next meeting on 21 July.
Flooding would need to be rescheduled and an update on streetlighting was also requested, which a member had said was a problem in Redditch.
It was agreed that the Scrutiny Officers would liaise with the Directorate in order to schedule the update on flooding and streetlighting, either for July or September.