(a) Devolution and Combined Authorities
Members referred to recent national debate in relation to the establishment of Combined Authorities. It was recognised that this was an opportunity for substantial powers to be devolved to democratically set up organisations within England. One Member suggested that a Combined Authority for the Tees Valley should be politically balanced and democratically accountable. The Mayor responded on behalf of the Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for Finance and Governance and gave a comprehensive statement in relation to the establishment of a Combined Authority for the Tees Valley area. It was emphasised that this was an important opportunity to give the north east a strong voice in Government. The Mayor stated that Members would be provided with further opportunities to give their views and provide suggestions on the subject at a briefing meeting.
A Member congratulated all those involved in the publication of the new lovemiddlesbrough magazine and the Mayor agreed with the comments made.
(b) Parks and Countryside Events
Reference was made to the World War One Commemoration Project which was happening in Middlesbrough on Saturday 1 November 2014. An exhibition and a book launch would take place at the Dorman Museum in the afternoon, with an open air production in Albert Park from 7.00 pm until 8.00 pm. Anyone wishing to attend was requested to obtain a wristband in advance from either the Dorman Museum or the Town Hall from 20 November 2014 onwards. A request was made by Councillor Arundale for volunteers to support this years Poppy Appeal to contact him direct. The Executive Member for Environment commented it would be good to see as many people as possible attending this very important event.
(c) Road Closures
The issue of the current road closure and associated diversions in place due to the works being carried out on Newport Bridge was raised. The Executive Member for Environment had received assurance from the neighbouring Local Authority that the Bridge would be re-opened to traffic by 28 November 2014. In relation to the road diversions operating at Newport roundabout, the Executive Member agreed to investigate this issue further.
(d) The Transport Bridge Visitor Experience and Interpretation Works
Following the installation of the lift to the Transporter Bridge, a Member suggested that, in order to further enhance the experience of viewing the town and surrounding areas from the top of the Bridge, it would be useful to produce a map highlighting the key features that could be observed. The Executive Member for Regeneration agreed to take the suggestion on board and added that the renovated gondola would include windows, so that visitors could also view the area at a lower level. The Executive Member commented that not only was the Transporter Bridge a vital transport link but also an iconic heritage structure that needed to be maintained for years to come.
(e) Middlehaven Flagship Regeneration Area
Responding to a Members comments in relation to the activity taking place in Middlehaven, the Executive Member for Regeneration highlighted several projects that were currently on site. These included Boho Five, Middlesbrough Colleges Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) facility, the urban park, which created a fantastic arrival point for the Urban Pioneers' lots, and the Sainsburys development. The Executive Member commented that the area was developing beyond all expectations given the poor economic situation a few years ago.
(f) Attainment 2014
A Member made reference to the school curriculum and asked whether pupils were taught about World War Two and, more specifically, concentration camps. The Executive Member for Education and Skills confirmed that the study of World War Two was included in the school curriculum. The Executive Member also commented that in response to criticism from OFSTED following the last inspection, a Members Briefing had just been held on The Role of Elected Members in Improving Education in Middlesbrough.
(g) Community Regeneration - Mitigating the Impacts of Welfare Reform
In relation to the support made available through Thorntree and Grove Hill Hubs to help combat issues arising from the reform of the welfare system, it was highlighted that over £900,000 of additional welfare benefits had been awarded. A Member queried how long this Lottery funded project, which provided specialist advisors, would last. The Executive Member agreed that the advisers were working hard to support communities and prevent residents from going into acute services. It was hoped that the project could continue as long as possible. The whole area of welfare advice was currently being reviewed to avoid overlap and duplication and provide a more streamlined service.
In response to an earlier request, the Executive Member confirmed that she would pursue the idea of establishing an advisor in Middlesbrough House specifically to assist Middlesbrough residents with council tax debt.
(h) Community and Neighbourhood Safety -Tackling Street Begging
Reference was made to recent efforts by the Council and the Police to tackle persistent begging in the town centre and concern was voiced that some of those begging might be people in genuine hardship. The Executive Member for Supporting Communities stated that the Mayor had requested Councillor Bloundele to examine the issues of begging in Middlesbrough in more detail and provide an overview.
(i) Establishing and Developing the Portfolio
Responding to several queries regarding the new Supporting Communities service area, the Executive Member for Supporting Communities explained that it was part of a slimmed down portfolio within the Economic Development and Communities Directorate. The Assistant Director was one of nine Assistant Directors across the whole Council and a review was underway in relation to the new staffing structure. The Executive Member gave an assurance that there would be a reduction in the cost of running this portfolio and agreed to provide details of the exact figures, once available.
(j) Acklam Hall
A Member sought clarification with regard to the sale of Acklam Hall and the surrounding land. The Mayor confirmed that originally the Hall belonged to Middlesbrough College and the land belonged to Middlesbrough Council. The sale of the Hall to Acklam Hall Limited had secured its long term future as Middlesbroughs only Grade One listed building, as well as providing executive housing and a health village. Council Conservation Officers and English Heritage were monitoring the development to ensure it was delivered to the highest standards.