Venue: Kennet Room - County Hall, Bythesea Road, Trowbridge, BA14 8JN. View directions
Contact: Ellen Ghey - Democratic Services Officer Email: email@example.com
To receive any apologies or substitutions for the meeting.
Apologies for absence were received from:
· Councillor Charles McGrath
· Councillor Derek Walters
Minutes of the Previous Meeting
To approve and sign the minutes of the Environment Select Committee meeting held on 25 July 2023.
The minutes for the previous meeting held on 25 July 2023 were considered. Following which, it was:
The Committee approved and signed the minutes of the previous meeting held on 25 July 2023 as a true and correct record.
Declarations of Interest
To receive any declarations of disclosable interests or dispensations granted by the Standards Committee.
There were no declarations of interest.
To receive any announcements through the Chair.
There were no Chairman’s announcements.
The Council welcomes contributions from members of the public.
If you would like to make a statement at this meeting on any item on this agenda, please register to do so at least 10 minutes prior to the meeting. Up to 3 speakers are permitted to speak for up to 3 minutes each on any agenda item. Please contact the officer named on the front of the agenda for any further clarification.
To receive any questions from members of the public or members of the Council received in accordance with the constitution.
Those wishing to ask questions are required to give notice of any such questions in writing to the officer named on the front of this agenda no later than 5pm on Tuesday 12 September 2023 in order to be guaranteed of a written response. In order to receive a verbal response, questions must be submitted no later than 5pm on Thursday 14 September 2023. Please contact the officer named on the front of this agenda for further advice. Questions may be asked without notice if the Chairman decides that the matter is urgent.
Details of any questions received will be circulated to Committee members prior to the meeting and made available at the meeting and on the Council’s website.
There were no questions or statements submitted by Councillor or members of the public.
Highways Term Maintenance Contract - Interim Update
This report provides an interim update on the Council’s new term contract for highway maintenance and includes an update on the Parish Stewards scheme.
Councillor Caroline Thomas, Cabinet Member for Transport, Streetscene, and Flooding, alongside Samantha Howell, Director of Highways and Transport, Dave Thomas, Head of Highways Assets & Commissioning, Chris Clark, Head of Local Highways, and Adrian Hampton, Head of Highway Operations, updated the Committee on the Highways Term Maintenance Contract.
It was noted that the report included an update on the Parish Stewards Scheme which commenced on 1 April 2023 with the new contractor, Milestone. Members were informed that the Milestone contract was for a period of 5 years, with an opportunity to extend for a further 5 years subject to the key performance indicators (KPIs) as detailed in the report. National and industry wide challenges were highlighted including limited resources, recruitment difficulties, the cost-of-living crisis, and harsh weather climates deteriorating road conditions at a faster pace than anticipated. Officers were commended for their agility in responding to those challenges alongside the commencement of the new contract with Milestone.
During the discussion, points included:
· Progress on the development of a cloud-based system for Parish Stewards and Parish Council’s to record and manage workloads as part of monitoring and improving Parish Steward operations. It was noted that Somerset Council had implemented the system in collaboration with Milestone and although Wiltshire weren’t as far along into process, officers were welcoming Milestone’s experience in the area and Members were reassured that there was a clear intention to work with Milestone to achieve this.
· Members were informed that officers could pull Parish Steward information off their internal systems to monitor the services being recorded and provided.
· Members cited inconsistencies in the Parish Steward services across the County and officers acknowledged that although the Parish Stewards could be considered ambassadors of Wiltshire Council and held in high regard within their local communities, both officers and Milestone were, at times, slow to respond during the mobilisation period which caused some discontinuity of services. Despite this, officers reassured Members that service consistency and ensuring that interventions were targeted in the right way were a focus. Furthermore, officers were working closely with Milestone on improving communications regarding the Forward Work Program.
· Officers highlighted the rigorous contract management program in place and noted that regular dialogue was had with Parish Councils to gain feedback.
· Officers noted that Wiltshire Council was an evidence led authority and therefore it was essential that data was retrieved, analysed, and understood to help inform decisions and action plans.
· The national shortages in materials were highlighted and it was noted that it was a reflection of the market and officers appreciated that there would be some delays to planned works being completed. However, officers noted that contractors were working hard to resolve those issues.
· Officers explained that given the scale of the network in Wiltshire, certain programs, or specialist activities such as carriageway resurfacing or landscaping, would be conducted by a number of sub-contractors and delivery partners alongside Milestone across the Highways Service.
· Gully clearing and emptying was raised, and Members praised the use of the Karbontech system ... view the full minutes text for item 53.
Council's Approach to Tackling Potholes
This report provides an update on the Council’s approach to tackling potholes.
Councillor Caroline Thomas, Cabinet Member for Transport, Streetscene, and Flooding, alongside Samantha Howell, Director of Highways and Transport, Dave Thomas, Head of Highways Assets & Commissioning, Chris Clark, Head of Local Highways, and Adrian Hampton, Head of Highway Operations, updated the Committee on Wiltshire Council’s approach to tackling potholes.
The significant challenges faced from a weather and resourcing perspective were reiterated and it was stressed that officers had experienced an unprecedented rise in the number of potholes reported. In January 2023 there were over 4,000 potholes reports compared to historic numbers of approximately 700-900. The two ways of identifying potholes were detailed, one of which being the MyWilts app, with officers acknowledging that there was a level of dissatisfaction with the functionality of the platform. As such, Members were encouraged to continue providing feedback in tandem with continued engagement with the public to help inform any necessary improvements to the app. It was confirmed that Milestone were using their own pothole repairing machine know as the Dragon Patcher, but officers were also exploring other machinery such as JCB Pothole Pro. Dedicated additional investment for pothole repairs had been received and so officers were continuing to review these different repair methodologies and emphasised to Members that no one single approach was an appropriate solution to deliver the desired outcomes. As such, officers were working alongside delivery partners in assessing innovative approaches to achieve these objectives.
During the discussion, points included:
· Issues with MyWilts were raised and Members highlighted the difficulties that members of the public were experiencing when using the app. It was additionally noted that the app would record a case as closed before any repairs had been made and therefore, Members suggested that further signposting or details needed to be provided on information such as the requirements for a defect to receive interventions and how the inspection process worked. Officers informed Members that they were anticipating an update on the progress made in improving the functionality of the platform and confirmed that the team were working hard to integrate MyWilts with the Highway Asset Management System to achieve a higher level of connectivity with and for contractors. Furthermore, officers were committed to addressing the feedback received and were continuing with a communications strategy aimed at helping residents to better understand the process. It was confirmed that alongside proactive inspections of the network, any reported potholes through the app were then inspected by an officer who measured the defect and would ultimately decide on any interventions required and the priority of that defect.
· Members requested that an officer responsible for MyWilts attend a future meeting to present an update on the progress to date.
· JCB Pothole Pro was raised, and it was noted that the machine was too wide to use on the narrower roads across the network. Officers reiterated that no one single methodology would be suitable for Wiltshire, however trials were ongoing, and all approaches were being considered.
· It was confirmed that a number of vehicles were fitted with ... view the full minutes text for item 54.
Streetscene and Grounds Maintenance Contract Update
This report provides an update on the Streetscene and Grounds Maintenance contract.
Councillor Caroline Thomas, Cabinet Member for Transport, Streetscene, and Flooding, alongside Samantha Howell, Director of Highways and Transport, Dave Thomas, Head of Highways Assets & Commissioning, Chris Clark, Head of Local Highways, and Adrian Hampton, Head of Highway Operations, updated the Committee on the Streetscene and Grounds Maintenance contract.
It was explained that the Streetscene and Grounds Maintenance contract operated by Idverde was outcome based, which was a different approach from the past, and was driven by data collection and analysis to inform decisions. Furthermore, it allowed for officers to identify savings through service delegations and a more seasonal and proportional approach to the work undertaken. As a cost saving measure, officers had made the decision to align with statutory requirements, thus leading to a decreased service delivery in some areas. The importance of having the right infrastructure that was fit for purpose within Wiltshire Council depots was also highlighted.
During the discussion, points included:
· It was highlighted that some areas were experiencing a less frequent service for grass cutting than in the past and that there was a breakdown in communications between Idverde and the public on this topic. Officers noted that the contract was still in the mobilisation period and therefore the level of service expected may be slightly less than as stipulated in the contract. However, the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and annual scoring were reflected within the contract, and these would be reviewed regularly, particularly when considering the opportunity to extend the contract.
· It was noted that the maintenance of rural verges were not the responsibility of Idverde, but instead formed part of the Highways Term Maintenance contract and therefore, Milestone. Officers acknowledged that these verges could provide more opportunities for increasing biodiversity within the County but highlighted that this could lead to concerns over obstruction of highways and visibility across the network.
· Officers explained that they were focusing on biodiversity management and utilising different levels of grass cutting based on the needs of a specific area. However, the challenges of converting urban areas into more biodiverse areas were raised and it was noted that it often led to concerns from members of the public. Yet, officers further noted that additional funding had been received to invest within their communications strategy, and therefore officers were focussing on more targeted and informative communications to those affected residents. Furthermore, it was noted that although Idverde predominantly maintained urban areas, they were contractually obliged to identify a further 5% of land per year to convert to biodiverse areas, thus providing officers with a larger area to review.
· The differences between Wiltshire Council and Town and Parish Council contracts were raised, and it was noted that although the Council maintained a marginal level of control, the majority of the responsibility for managing those contracts lay with the Town and Parish Councils themselves.
· Members were informed that officers worked on a mapping system and that this was monitored and updated through on-site inspections and trackers that formed part of the vehicles within ... view the full minutes text for item 55.
Public Transport Review and Passenger Transport Service Update and Future Developments
This report provides anupdate on progress with public transport projects, noting their positive impacts, highlighting risks and mitigating actions.
Councillor Caroline Thomas, Cabinet Member for Transport, Streetscene, and Flooding, alongside Samantha Howell, Director of Highways and Transport, Dave Thomas, Head of Highways Assets & Commissioning, Chris Clark, Head of Local Highways, Adrian Hampton, Head of Highway Operations, and Jason Salter, Head of Service Passenger Transport, updated the Committee on the Public Transport Review, passenger transport services, and future developments.
The financial pressures facing the public transport industry were emphasised alongside other strains such as resources and recruitment, the cost-of-living crisis, and fuel price increases; as such, it was a tough and uncertain environment. Despite this, officers reported good working relationships with stakeholders, including bus companies, through the Enhanced Partnership (EP) program as part of the Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP), which helped to resolve issues and develop innovative approaches to help meet national and local objectives. The Local Transport Plan 4 was raised, and it was noted that a draft policy had been penned and officers were in the process of seeking input from residents and providers on any improvements. Finally, the successful launch of Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) Project was highlighted, and officers were commended for their hard work navigating the aforementioned challenging environment.
During the discussion, points included:
· It was noted that the impact of the national £2 fare cap was difficult to assess, however Stagecoach had estimated that it had resulted in an approximate 4-5% increase in patronage. Although the figure seemed low, it was explained that the bus industry ran on narrow margins, therefore it could be considered a relatively significant increase. However, the fare cap was due to rise to £2.50 from 1 November 2023 for 12 months, therefore, in conjunction with the oncoming winter months, officers expected these numbers to plateau.
· It was noted that over recent years, there had been a significant injection of funds into public transport and therefore, officers noted that they had more tools available to help improve patronage moving forward. Furthermore, the BSIP and EP required providers to sign up to a legally binding contract, allowing for Wiltshire Council to have greater influence and opportunities to make improvements for the travelling public in collaboration with these companies.
· The reliance on private vehicles and changes in travel behaviours post-Covid was highlighted as a difficult challenge to overcome.
· The ease of movement between different modes of transport was raised and officers noted the joint work being undertaken with Great Western Railway to improve integration between bus and rail services. Furthermore, officers were focusing on the better provision of infrastructure such as secure bike parking, noted as being fundamental to the Public Transport Network Review.
· The frequency of buses was noted as a barrier for passengers and Members were concerned that this would impact on the Council’s high street regeneration projects. Officers highlighted issues with the European supply chain and driver shortages across the network which had significantly impacted on the ability to continue certain routes to their previous timetable.
· The DRT Project was commended, and Members queried whether it had the ... view the full minutes text for item 56.
Planning Peer Review Report
To provide an update on the findings of the May 2023 Local Government Association Planning Service peer review and to set out officers’ initial response to the suggested recommendations.
Councillor Nick Botterill, Cabinet Member for Finance, Development Management, and Strategic Planning, alongside Samantha Howell, Director of Highways and Transport, Nic Thomas, Director of Planning, and Pharvis Khansari, Corporate Director – Place, updated the Committee on the Planning Peer Review Report.
It was noted that although the recent years post-Covid had been a relatively difficult time in the Planning Department, it also gave officers the chance to undertake an extensive review of the Council’s planning system. As Wiltshire Council could be considered the third largest planning authority in the Country, it was important that the system was as effective and efficient as possible. As such, peer reviews were highlighted as being one of the best methods of independent scrutiny, the result of which had identified areas for improvement that had been grouped into 18 recommendations.
During the discussion, points included:
· Officers stated that they were striving to be one of the best performing councils from a planning perspective and as such, they secured a set of very experienced panel members to undertake such a detailed review. It was highlighted that officers viewed the resulting report in a positive light as it set clear benchmarks for taking the service forward.
· Members highlighted the backlog of application decisions to be made, resourcing issues within the Planning Team, and the number of appeals being submitted, all of which leading to increased pressure on existing staff and their workloads.
· It was noted that the review had highlighted a number of inconsistencies across the service, many of which being significant for the Council, therefore officers were seeking to implement as many of the recommendations as possible.
· It was confirmed that the recommendations would be dealt with as a transformation project over the next 1-2 years, overseen by a Transformation Board, and with dedicated resources to help pave the way for lasting improvements in terms of governance arrangements, planning processes, structures and staffing to deliver a greater level of customer service. It was explained that one of the first tasks for officers to complete would be to pull all the information into a work program which would allow officers to create a timetable based on each recommendation’s complexity. As such, it was noted that immediate action had already been taken with regard to officer decision making and the transparency of checks and balances when assessing decisions.
· It was acknowledged that changes to the Committee process was one of the more challenging elements to be considered and Members were concerned that if the Committee structures were changed, it would impact on Councillors’ ability to represent their residents and they could lose the benefit of local knowledge when considering applications. Furthermore, Members were concerned as to how far some residents may need to travel if they were to make representations at an Area Planning Committee held far from their homes.
· The current Planning Committee structure was raised, and it was highlighted that some committees cancelled many of their meetings and therefore, it was suggested that a more effective ... view the full minutes text for item 57.
Updates From Task Groups and Representatives on Programme Boards
To receive any updates on recent activity for active Task Groups and from Members of the Environment Select Committee who have been appointed as Overview and Scrutiny representatives on programme boards.
Councillor Jonathon Seed, Chairman of the Housing Allocations Policy Task Group, presented an update on the Task Group since 25 July 2023.
The recent activities of the Task Group were detailed, namely:
· A meeting held on 31 August 2023 focusing on local connection and banding. John Walker, Service Manager – Housing Solutions, raised an issue on behalf of Councillor Jane Davies, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, SEND, and Inclusion, regarding people with learning disabilities on the housing register who wanted to share tenancies.
· During the same meeting, the Task Group looked at current local connect and banding criteria and considered whether the number of bands could be reduced, how the residency and employment criteria could be rethought, and whether the number of criteria exclusions could be reconsidered.
Members were informed that a number of questions seeking clarification on the impact of any potential changes were posed to Housing Officers who confirmed that they would bring answers for discussion during the next meeting of the Task Group on 28 September 2023. The areas for consideration at that meeting were then detailed and it was confirmed that Nicole Smith, Head of Housing, would also be in attendance. Furthermore, Members were informed that during the meeting scheduled for 18 October 2023, the Task Group would be reviewing and agreeing its draft final report.
Councillor Graham Wright, Chairman of the Climate Emergency Task Group, was then introduced and noted that as the Task Group had not met since the last meeting of the Committee, there were no specific updates to be presented.
After which, it was:
The Committee noted the update on the Task Group activity provided.
Councillor Stuart Wheeler departed from the meeting at 1.10pm.
Forward Work Programme
To note and receive updates on the progress of items on the Forward Work Programme.
Under the revised Overview and Scrutiny (OS) arrangements there is now a single OS work programme controlled by the OS Management Committee, linked to priorities in the Business Plan.
Therefore it should be noted that, whilst any matters added by Members are welcome, they will be referred to the OS Management Committee for approval before formal inclusion in the work programme for the Environment Select Committee.
A copy of the Overview and Scrutiny Forward Work Programme for the Environment Select Committee is attached for reference.
The Committee received the Forward Work Programme for consideration.
Councillor Nick Murry asked if the Local Transport Plan was to be included and it was confirmed that although the plan was still in the early stages of development, the Climate Emergency Task Group were intending on undertaking a review of the document, and therefore it would be added to the Forward Work Programme in due course.
Following which, it was:
The Committee approved the Forward Work Programme.
Any other items of business which the Chairman agrees to consider as a matter of urgency.
There were no urgent items.
Date of Next Meeting
To confirm the date of the next scheduled meeting as Tuesday 7 November 2023 at 10.30am.
The date of the next meeting was confirmed as 7 November 2023.