The Chair to advise the Committee of any items on which members of the public have requested to speak and advise those members of the public present of the details of the Council’s public participation scheme.
For those members of the public who have submitted any questions or statements, please note, a three minute time limit applies to each speaker and you will be asked to speak before Councillors debate the issue.
Temporary measures during the Coronavirus Pandemic
Due to the temporary legislation (within the Coronavirus Act 2020, which allowed for use of virtual meetings) coming to an end on 6 May 2021, the council’s committee meetings will now take place in the office buildings within the John Meikle Meeting Room at the Deane House, Belvedere Road, Taunton. Unfortunately due to capacity requirements, the Chamber at West Somerset House is not able to be used at this current moment.
Following the Government guidance on measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19), the council meeting rooms will have very limited capacity. With this in mind, we will only be allowing those members of the public who have registered to speak to attend the meetings in person in the office buildings, if they wish (we will still be offering to those members of the public that are not comfortable in attending, for their statements to be read out by a Governance and Democracy Case Manager). Please can we urge all members of the public who are only interested in listening to the debate to view our live webcasts from the safety of their own home to help prevent the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19).
Cheryl Bennet asked the following questions, which were answered by Councillor Dixie Darch as Portfolio Holder for Climate Change:-
Was a risk assessment carried out before the contract was awarded to Zipp or anyone for that matter?
There was no stand-alone risk assessment prior to awarding the contract to our EScooter operator, Zipp. However, the SWT EScooter scheme was part of the official DfT trialshttps://www.gov.uk/government/publications/e-scooter-trials-guidance-for-local-areas-and-rental-operators DfT carried out a public consultation prior to legalising rental EScooters within specific Local Authority trialsLegalising rental e-scooter trials: outcome and summary of responses - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) We procured Zipp through a formal tender exercise which was advertised on the ProContract procurement portal and Zipp and their EScooters had to go through a formal approval process with the DfT in order to take part in the trials. The DfT issued SWT a ‘Vehicle Special Order’ confirming their approval of our trials in both Taunton and Minehead.
As a council we did an Equalities Impact Assessment which formed part of our submission to the DfT. We also engaged with disability groups prior to submitting our bid. We remained in consultation with these groups and had monthly update meetings with them. This included the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the Macular Society, Somerset Sight, and Compass Disability.
We amended the Traffic Regulation Order as part of our submission to the DfT and completed a risk assessment ahead of the public training and education session, which went ahead prior to go live.
I've been advised on the procedure for reporting e-scooters on the pavement or other areas prohibited to cars and traffic and I'm afraid it's not only impractical but laughable. I would be grateful if it could be discussed and even challenged and also ask how many near accidents/traffic violation complaints actually filter through this way?
There were different ways to report misuse.
Via the app – you could register a customer service call
Directly to Zipp - via email email@example.com
Calling SWT customer services (0300 304 8000) and if the customer was unable to email Zipp direct, the call centre would call either Sue Tomlinson or Francisco Parreira at SWT, who would assist by emailing Zipp and asking them to call the person reporting the misuse.
I didn’t have exact figures for reported incidences, but they certainly did come to us and were acted upon. I agree that the registration number would be difficult to read at a distance, but location and time of misuse give enough information for Zipp to identify the registered user. This system was working well, particularly in Minehead, where the trial was relatively new.
I would also like to know where this information was published (and wonder how the general public were supposed to know about the procedure) as I've not seen it other than when as below was emailed to me?
“If you witness mis-use of an EScooter which was part of the trial you could report it directly to Zipp who have the power to give warning notices and ban users. You would need to provide as much detail as possible about the incident (day, date, time, location, description of the rider and the registration number) you could email Zipp firstname.lastname@example.org
This was really helpful feedback for which we thank you. It was clear we needed to make this information much more readily accessible to the public. We have updated our webpage FAQ’s to include a section on ‘How do I report misuse’ in response to this.
I believe Mark Shelford mentioned data collection regarding threats, fear and risk. People didn't report threats, fear and risk as hopefully, nothing concrete happened but the anxiety and fear was still there. That's where a risk assessment would have helped by identifying any problems. People would not or rarely complain about a feeling of threat or fear or anxiety about something that wasn't concrete even if it was real as they would feel like foolish timewasters. I would be interested to know the council's views on this.
I agree it was difficult to quantify feelings of fear or anxiety in terms of data collection. However, as mentioned previously, we engaged with disability groups prior to submitting our bid to the DfT and had monthly update meetings with those same groups. On 7 September, along with relevant council officers and staff from Zipp, I would be joining Steve Hyde, Regional Campaigns Officer for RNIB, for a “blindfold walk” in Taunton to gain some insight into the difficulties of navigating badly parked EScooters and cars, or other poor practice affecting people with sight loss. I did not underestimate the challenges that EScooters and bicycles presented for vulnerable pedestrians when misused.
I would like to add some comments about the rationale for introducing the EScooter trial. Both the International Panel for Climate Change and the International Energy Agency were clear that the decarbonisation of transport was imperative given the climate emergency. There’s no one solution to this: transition to electric vehicles, a reliable and affordable public transport system, improved active travel infrastructure and car share schemes would all play a role. And EScooters might well be part of that transition. Research showed that a percentage of EScooter journeys would otherwise have been taken by car, so they helped to reduce traffic congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions. The estimated carbon removed as a result of the trial thus far is 17.5 tonnes to date (2.2 for Minehead and 15.3 for Taunton).
Of course, pedestrians were vulnerable when they encountered riders on the pavement and there’s no denying EScooters carried a risk. Which was why we needed to continue to be vigilant to stamp out misuse. But we also needed to look at relative risk. Admittedly it’s early days, but so far there had been 4 EScooter related deaths in the UK. The Road Safety charity, Brake, calculated 1850 UK road deaths and serious injuries per annum since 2012, an average of 5 a day. The highest risk group by far is motorcyclists, followed by cyclists, then pedestrians. A 2018 Public Health report estimated that nearly 250 people a year could be dying prematurely from air pollution in Somerset. Since then, a study in the Journal of Cardiovascular Research suggests that 14% of UK Covid deaths could be attributed to long term exposure to air borne particulates, which increased the risk of contracting Covid. So, cutting pollution from traffic was really important.
Finally, if we failed to act on the climate emergency then the risks discussed here would be well and truly eclipsed by a calamity far greater….
Alan Debenham asked the following questions which were answered by Councillor Federica Smith-Roberts as Leader of the Council:-
Q (1) Ever since the Earth summit of 1992 and its subsequent Local Agenda 21, 3Rs and new thrust for Sustainability there had been decades of talk and action to save life on this planet from a fate worse than death AND yet here we were again repeating ourselves only with the hell on earth now much closer and its severity now much more devastating. Then and now ( very much substantiated by the recent War-on-Want's Minerals Transition Report ) the biggest essential to save us had been and still was REDUCTION IN CONSUMPTION AND ECONOMIC ACTIVITY especially in the UK's first world wealth status, so why was there so little in your expenditure and plans which related to this only real life saver and why it's so important for us all to continue the present lockdown - or a lesser version - as long as possible and no real plans seemed to have been made to set-up ward and street-led committees to deal with this enormous permanent change in lifestyle ? ( same as asked at Community Scrutiny 3/6/21 )
Answer: As a Council, our Carbon Neutrality Climate Resilience plan which was adopted recently was a broad combination of short and longer term actions, including Waste, Food and Farming, Natural Environment and Water as well as Energy, Transport and Industry. As a District, we were committed to growing our economy for the benefit of all in a sustainable manner – sustainable both in terms of the environment as well as innovative, climate aware economic growth. We were bound by National policies on lockdown and would continue to work with local and regional partners to support recovery as identified in the Somerset Recovery and Growth plan.
(Thanks to Dawn Adey and management team for the very detailed Corporate Investment Report which made interesting reading of the Council's risky new multi-million-pound role as Capitalist Commercial Property Investors to cover for this Tory government's decade long policy to withdraw a major part of central finance support.)
Q (2) In view of the Council's placing such vital importance in doing everything in line with combating the potential sixth extinction facing us all in the name of present and fast developing Climate and Environmental Emergencies, how was it that this report did not have at the prominent front of it a clear statement of ethical strategy and policies which SHOULD UNDERPIN all investments made e.g. policy not to invest in fossil fuel procurement or usage, to invest preferably to support local food production and local businesses, etc.?
Answer: The Commercial Investment strategy was one of multiple income generators for the council. The strategy encompassed many different target sectors, including renewable energy, which were assessed by our specialist team when appraising and recommending acquisitions for the Council to consider. Projects within other programmes including Housing, Heritage and Regeneration included net carbon zero targets ensuring that they were designed with climate change impact from the outset. This included both in construction and in operation. These projects would create local jobs and support growth for local businesses, which would in turn support the local supply chain. The Coal Orchard development which would soon complete in Taunton town centre was targeting regional and local businesses for the commercial space and we look forward to being able to reveal the first occupants soon.
Q (3) Would it not be preferable for this Council, particularly following the previous mantra of Liberal Democrats to follow the Layfield Commission Report of 1979 and vigorously demand local income and sales taxes to make local Councils more self-financing actual governing authorities, and therefore to go looking for things upon which charges could be raised or buying shares or ownership of profitable local well-needed businesses where good returns are certain ?
Whilst we were subject to central government cuts as every district, we continued to be successful in applying for funding initiatives and thanks to the hard work of officers have been successful in receiving separate grant awards from Homes England, Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department of Transport which would help us to deliver projects in the district that supported local business and climate change initiatives (Seaward Way, Coal Orchard, Toneworks, Norton Hillfort, Active Travel / East St pedestrianisation, EV charging point roll out)
Q (4) After all the expenditure and excellent official ballot of the whole of Somerset regarding the proposed Councils' re-organisation AND such a resounding result in great favour of the Stronger Somerset case for the two new unitary Councils, not one, why and how was it SWT Council with other District councils were not challenging the ridiculous decision of Secretary of State Jenrick to a Judicial Review ?
Answer: Currently the analysis of the decision by the SOS, consultation response analysis and poll analysis were with our legal Counsel for review. Once we had Counsel’s advice, we would make a decision and formal statement would be made by the District Leaders.
Gideon Amos read out a statement which related to agenda item 17, Motion regarding Planning Changes.