To consider reports from Executive Councillors on their respective Portfolios;
i. Councillor Mike Rigby – Planning and Transport
3.2 of the Scrutiny Terms of Reference state that the Scrutiny Committee may review and scrutinise and ask questions of the Leader, lead Councillors, the Executive in relation to their portfolios.
The Chair welcomed the Portfolio Holder for Planning and Transport.
During the debate the following points were raised:
· It was asked if there had been any progress on the car parking review and whether there was a possibility of buying more land for car parking in Watchet. It was responded by the portfolio holder that the review should be completed in a month’s time. The overall parking strategy was also being reviewed.
· It was asked what the government was doing to resolve the phosphates issue. It was responded by the portfolio holder that the government had not done much to date but that the Council was lobbying the government. The Council had set aside £2m to help with phosphates solutions but that would only be sufficient to bring forward a fraction of the homes currently delayed by the phosphates issue.
· It was asked what solutions had come forward for the phosphates issue and what mitigations were potentially achievable. It was asked whether the Council was still looking at fallowing land and creation of wetland. It was asked what the estimated costs of phosphates solutions were and what it would do for local food production. It was responded by the Portfolio Holder that wetland creation was being looked at but that it would not provide sufficient credits for all developments as there was not enough land and using too much would impact agriculture and food production. A central government plan was needed. The levels and moors in the district had slipped into a bad condition over a period of time, and it would take decades for their condition to be improved. As a Council and local planning authority we need to ensure we do not make the problem worse, but cannot resolve it alone.
· It was asked if a charge could be levied per house to allow some development to go ahead. It was responded by the Portfolio Holder that this was being looked into but there were some legal matters being investigated to see if this was possible.
· The Portfolio Holder was thanked for their support and work on the Lidl built in Wellington and the train station which would be built in Wellington.
· It was asked if barriers could be removed from car parks. The Portfolio Holder acknowledged that the system had some flaws but added that changing the system ahead of the new unitary council being in placewhen the new council may look to make car parks uniform across Somerset, would not be worthwhile.
· It was asked why a blanket increase in parking charges across all cars parks was implemented rather than targeted charges. Officers noted that some car parks were free and maintained from the money which was raised from other car parks so charging only based on maintenance costs of an individual car park would not allow for free car parks.
· The poor condition of some car parks was raised. The Portfolio Holder responded that there would be money invested in the coming year to improve the condition of some car parks.
· It was asked what the life expectancy of phosphate mitigation wetland sites were. The Portfolio Holder responded that they believed Natural England were expecting the sites to be maintained for 100 years. Officers responded that there would have to be management of the site and that whoever owned the site would be expected to maintain the site for 80-120 years to ensure the credits remained viable. Natural England expressed that they would expect the local planning authority to regularly check on the management of such sites to ensure the credits remained viable.
· It was raised that the pay machines were difficult to use in some car parks when it was dark due to lack of lighting. The Portfolio Holder responded that they would look into this.
· It was asked what the membership of the Community Liaison Forum was in regard to the A358. The Portfolio Holder said that they would provide a response after the meeting.
· It was asked why the A358 was being prioritised over other roads where there was greater congestion. The Portfolio Holder responded that this was not within the Council’s control.
· Thanks were expressed for the support from the Portfolio Holder for the Taunton to Wellington cycle route. It was responded by the portfolio holder that they were hoping to complete as much work as possible on the cycle routes.
· It was asked what was happening with Wellington Station and whether the group working on the project were still meeting regularly. It was responded by the Portfolio Holder that everyone working on the project was still committed to it and that the station should be opened in the next few years. The Portfolio Holder would seek to further publicise the work on the train station.
· It was raised that work should be done to consider car parking ahead of the new unitary authority coming into being. The Portfolio Holder responded that work would be done ahead of vesting day, but it would not be possible to complete everything before then.
· Further information about the Town Centre Health Checks was requested.It was responded by the Portfolio Holder that town centres had been struggling for some time with the decline of high street shopping and made worse by Covid. The Health Checks were designed to give an idea of how towns in the district were doing through figures such as how many shop vacancies there are so this could be considered in future planning.