About This Blog

The public should know all we can about the business of the decision makers that affect our lives, our wallets and our democracy. This is a record of my efforts to try and improve the levels of transparency and accountability within Sheffield City Council and others. To shine a light on how decisions are made and where the money goes. If I can also help others to find their own voice and influence along the way, then that is a bonus.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Meeting with Cllr Jack Scott - 10th November 2014, by Nigel Slack.

My meeting with Jack Scott (Cabinet Member for Environment, Recycling & Streetscene) was due to start at 11am. He finally arrived about twenty past full of apologies. Indications are he does this a lot. Apologies out of the way we got down to discussing matters that fall in his portfolio.

First up was Meadowhead roundabout. Well not just that roundabout but that's the one that kicked it off. For those that don't know a great deal of work was carried out at this roundabout, courtesy of the Highways Dep't rather than 'Streets Ahead', to address safety issues. At the same time however the green space that it had been was completely destroyed. There was a bit of justification for that, as poor maintenance had left many of the trees in a poor condition and some potential for them to fall into the carriageway.

This aside, a habitat for invertebrates and insects and consequently a feeding post for birds was lost. The few scraggy replacement trees were a poor substitute for the forty years of mature growth that had been destroyed. I pointed out to Cllr Scott that he underestimated peoples attachment to these minor green spaces and that a better solution might be found as a method to regreen, not just this space, but any space where mature growth had to be sacrificed for the sake of development, assuming of course that all efforts had first been made to prevent destruction if possible.

I have chatted the concerns through with a close friend of mine who, as a recent graduate from the MA in Landscape Architecture at Sheffield University, knows a bit about green things. We talked through my thoughts on needing to re-instate the planting and she came up with some great ideas on making the space a diverse habitat with minimal maintenance needs and a low cost planting scheme.

She drew up a scheme for me and we believe the cost would be in the region of £250 for the necessary saplings, bulbs and seeds. There is also a suggestion that by approaching this in concert with the University landscaping department, the initial graft could be a project for the students or some such and thereby keep additional costs minimal. Maintenance would also be low cost as the scheme creates good groundcover that inhibits weed growth and gives colour all year round.

The proposal was well received by Jack Scott and we have agreed to get Fran Halsall into the discussion and progress the idea. This needs to be relatively quick as planting season is already upon us and it would be good to get this done before next spring. Cllr Scott and I both agreed that as a major feature on the Southern approaches to Sheffield the appearance off his site was important for the city as well as for local residents and wildlife.

The conversation then wandered a little as we discussed the current state of devolution for the Northern cities. Cllr Scott is a recent convert to my point of view that the deal accepted by Greater Manchester and allegedly being put forward for the Sheffield City Region is little more than an extended 'City Deal' and that without financial powers and legal status it does not really measure up as devolution at all. He assures me that as far as he knows there is not currently anything on the table for Sheffield but we'll wait and see.

I then asked for an update on Fracking. Previously we have talked fracking and I wanted to check up on the current license situation for the city. Cllr Scott has not been advised either by the relevant government department of by the group 'Frack Off' with whom he maintains contact of any new licenses in our area but there are some outstanding license blocks awaiting decisions by the sound of it. He seems quite sanguine about the potential of a license and claims to have a strong case to dissuade fracking companies from coming to the city region. He is not only relying on the normal pollution and saftety arguments but has taken on board my comments at our last meeting about the added dangers of our coal mining heritage. Sheffield is dotted with old mine workings dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

Finally I had only a short time to talk about that perennial favourite the bins. My area is not big for student housing but there are three or so houses in the streets around me that are student lets. My attention was drawn to a problem as the summer progressed, where many of the bins outside these student houses were not emptied because, as they left at the end of term, they dumped anything in any bin regardless of 'proper' usage.

After some eight weeks of this I finally complained to Veolia and, after a few more weeks the bins were finally emptied. Two thoughts occurred to me. One, why was this problem left to mature over the summer? And two, why aren't the landlords being held to account for their tenants? We discussed this problem and it became apparent that it may be the situation arose because of the fact there are only a few student houses in the area. The steps taken, outlined by Jack Scott, suggest that the problem is better handled in areas with a high student population and therefore landlords that are more used to the vagaries of student behaviour.

I did urge that the Veolia collection teams might need better support for their unemptied bin reports as the problem near me did not get dealt with for far too long. I also suggested that Landlords should be more accountable for their tenants and that some surcharge be available to prevent the Council picking up the tab for the problem. According to Cllr Scott, central government changes now prevent much by way of this type of action, so I suggested a 'Bond' similar to the security deposit that tenants leave with landlords to cover damage to the property during the tenancy. This seemed more feasible and Cllr Scott is going to look into the potentuial for that sort of scheme.

All in all it was a positive meeting and it will be interesting to see what concrete actions come from it. Needless to say I will try to keep my eye on it.

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