The Chair invited Members to raise items for general discussion arising from the Information Booklet of Executive Member reports which detailed activities carried out within the respective Executive Member portfolios (Section 1), Executive decisions taken (Section 2) or to be taken where known, prior to and following the Council meeting (Sections 3 and 4).
Members commented and posed questions in relation to the following matters and Executive Members responded where appropriate:-
a) Snow Centre
A Member referred to page 2, paragraph 2 of the report of the Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for City Centre Strategy in relation to the Snow Centre.
The Member congratulated the Executive Member on securing the Snow Centre project and he queried whether the Snow Centre was on track to open on time and whether there was any news with regard to any other inward investment surrounding the Snow Centre.
The Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for City Centre Strategy advised that planning permission was due to be sought this year and the Snow Centre was due to open the following year. He advised that the Snow Centre was a private sector initiative, however the Council had helped to facilitate it. He stated that it would be a great attraction for the town. Members were advised that the Executive Member report highlighted many of the positive things happening in the town including the CEBR Consumer report which was positive about the consumer sector in Middlesbrough.
b) Albert Road Level Surface
A Member referred to page 2, paragraph 3 of the report of the Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for City Centre Strategy in relation to Albert Road Level Surface.
The Member stated that his question was in three parts:
(i) What was the whole purpose of the development?
(ii) Did it present safety issues to people with sight or hearing difficulties?; and
(iii) Given the condition of some of the other roads in the town, whether the development was value for money?
The Member also highlighted that he had always supported the Snow Centre project and he had been part of a Scrutiny Panel that had scrutinised and approved the building of a bridge at the Dock that would help facilitate the Snow Centre.
The Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for City Centre Strategy advised that the development was part of a larger Masterplan for the town and the primary purpose of the Masterplan was to attract businesses to the town, which it had achieved. The aim was to enhance the area around the location of the businesses. The works had been delayed on the road crossing because the businesses wanted to wait until the summer season had ended before disrupting the road and pedestrian traffic.
The Council had consulted with the RNIB regionally and the Older Persons Partnership through the Council's Access Officer. The Council was continuing to consult with both organisations and to date there had been no incidents or accidents reported. The Council would continue to monitor the situation after the work was completed to ensure that there was no detriment to any person with a disability.
c) Openings and Closures
A Member referred to page 2, paragraph 3 of the report of the Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for City Centre Strategy in relation to Openings and Closures.
The Member stated that there was clearly more shops closing than opening with the closures of Poundland, Lazy Joes, Bargain Buys and the impending closure of the House of Fraser. The Member queried with regard to what was being done to ensure that Middlesbrough had shops fit for the town centre and what the impact had been on the business rates with the closure of the shops.
The Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for City Centre Strategy stated that according to the CEBR Consumer report, Middlesbrough's consumer sector GVA growth rate was 3%, which was the second highest recorded in the UK in Q4 2017, with Middlesbrough being placed second behind Bristol. The Council had taken advice from Centre for Cities about developing work and offices in the city which was ongoing in Centre Square East.
House of Fraser was closing at the earliest in 2019 and the Council was already in discussions with people interested in occupying part or all of the building. The business rates were set nationally, however the Council had assisted some of the small businesses including those trading in the Bedford/Baker Street by providing small grants.
Following an interruption to the meeting, the Chair requested that people refrain from interrupting the meeting, whilst a Member was speaking.
d) Boro Baby Fair
A Member referred to page 9, paragraph 16 of the report of the Executive Member for Culture and Communities in relation to the Boro Baby Fair.
The Member stated that he wished to thank the Council for arranging the Boro Baby Fair. The Member stated that there were stalls from lots of different organisations including the National Childbirth Trust, containing an array of different information including advice on baby dental care, health care for children, NHS services and Breast Feeding Support. There was also a creche available. It was positive to see the Council supporting young families. The Member also made reference to the opening of a Breast Feeding Cafe in the Live Well Centre and the Breast Feeding Welcome campaign which encouraged businesses to be welcoming places for women who wished to breast feed. The Member stated that this demonstrated how the Council was trying to support new families starting out.
The Executive Member stated that he wished to thank the Member for the excellent work that he and his wife had carried out in respect of making Middlesbrough a Breast feeding friendly town.
Following the Boro Baby fair, the poor access into Central Library had been raised as an issue and the Council was looking to seek funding to resolve the issue.
e) Midsummer Banquet
A Member referred to page 1, paragraph 1 of the report of the Executive Member for Culture and Communities in relation to the Midsummer Banquet.
The Member queried whether the Executive Member could explain why the Council thought it was appropriate to spend £36k on the opening ceremony of the Town Hall when the poorest of the town were relying on charities to eat.
The Executive Member stated that there was no correlation between having a civic launch and child poverty. In his view, the things that were linked to child poverty included the bedroom tax and the two children limit for child tax credits and other such measures. The Executive Member also stated that the figures provided by the Member were not accurate. The Town Hall had received £249k a year up to 2022, towards its running costs, as part of the recognition of its Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation status. The Town Hall had undergone a £7.7m restoration and the vast majority of the restoration had been funded externally.
The purpose of the civic launch of the Town Hall was to promote the Town Hall as a showcase event. There had been an agreement with the Heritage Lottery Fund to have a civic launch and the Heritage Lottery Fund had funded part of the civic launch in respect of the Southpaw company, the volunteers and the dancers. The launch had been attended by key stakeholders, community groups, business leaders, education leaders and funders. It was a celebration of communities and it provided the opportunity to invite businesses including the University who may be looking to hire the newly refurbished Court Room.
The Executive Member stated that many local people had been involved in the performance of the entertainment and a number of those involved in the performance had passed on their gratitude for the opportunity to be involved in the event.
f) Armed Forces Day
A Member referred to page 4, paragraph 3 of the report of the Executive Member for Culture and Communities in relation to Armed Forces Day.
The Member stated that she wished to thank all the people involved in the organisation of the recent Armed Forces Day event. The Member advised that the Apollo Choir were a new addition to the event.
The Executive Member stated that although he had been unable to attend the Armed Forces event, he had been able to view information on the event on social media. The Executive Member thanked Councillor Arundale and Councillor Lewis for their involvement in the event.
g) Sainsbury's Site
A Member referred to page 1, paragraph 3 of the report of the Executive Member for Economic Development and Infrastructure in relation to Sainsbury's Site.
The Member stated that in the Executive Member's report, reference had been made to the fact that the Sainsbury's unit may be sub-divided and that the Council was waiting for documentation to be submitted so that the planning application could be submitted. The Member stated that he was aware that Cleveland Police had required a COMAH assessment because of potential chemicals releases from a neighbouring site and wind direction. The Member stated that it was the duty of the Council to complete the COMAH assessment and he queried whether the Council could assist the businesses by completing this promptly.
The Executive Member advised that if the COMAH assessment was necessary then the Council would complete it and he advised that he would provide further information to the Member.
h) Tees Valley Combined Authority Bids
A Member referred to page 2, paragraph 5 of the report of the Executive Member for Economic Development and Infrastructure in relation to Tees Valley Combined Authority Bids.
The Member queried whether the Executive Member could describe the proposed measures of supressing traffic domination in the Tees Valley and building an emphasis on sustainable travel for the future.
The Executive Member advised that as the Council was developing Masterplans for housing, they were looking at ways of reducing the use cars by encouraging people to use public transport and bikes. Through the Masterplan they would be looking at incentives such as providing free bikes or accessories for bikes for new house buyers or providing a number of months free bus travel to promote bus travel. The Executive Member advised that he was engaging with bus companies early on in the process to ensure that the bus routes and the connectivity were available.
i) Sport Participation
A Member referred to page 4, paragraph 8 of the report of the Executive Member for Economic Development and Infrastructure in relation to Sport Participation.
The Member referred to the significant increase in Middlesbrough Leisure Centres which equated to a 22% increase. There was also increased attendance at the Golf Centre and swimming lessons. The Member stated that it showed the commitment in the town to improving public health. He stated that it was encouraging to see the figures and he hoped they would continue to increase.
The Executive Member stated that the Council had some great leisure venues and there had been increased investment in the centres. There was a high level of engagement with the public to encourage them to attend the centres. There had been an incentive which included free swimming vouchers for children and families and the uptake had meant increased attendance at the centres. The incentive was part of the Council's commitment to encourage people to become healthier.