Agenda and draft minutes

Council
Thursday 16th September 2021 7.30 pm

Venue: Roller City, Campus West, Welwyn Garden City, Herts, AL8 6BX

Contact: Alison Marston 

Media

Items
No. Item

22.

MINUTES

To confirm as a correct record the Minutes of the meeting held on 14 July 2021 (previously circulated).

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Minutes of the meeting held on 14 July 2021 were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Mayor.

23.

APOLOGIES

To receive apologies for absence, if any.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors J.Boulton, L.Chesterman, S.Markiewicz, G.Michaelides and P.Smith.

24.

DECLARATIONS OF INTERESTS BY MEMBERS

To note declarations of Members’ disclosable pecuniary interests, non-disclosable pecuniary interests and non-pecuniary interests in respect of items on the Agenda.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Councillor T.Kingsbury declared a non-pecuniary interest in items on the Agenda as a Member of Hertfordshire County Council and a disclosable pecuniary interest as the motions refer to him but has requested and received a dispensation from the Monitoring Officer.

 

Councillors S.Boulton, P.Hebden, F.Thomson, S.Thusu and P.Zukowskyj declared non-pecuniary interests in items on the Agenda as appropriate as Members of Hertfordshire County Council.

25.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

To receive any announcements from the Mayor, Leader of the Council, Member of the Cabinet or the Head of Paid Service.

Additional documents:

25a

Councillor Maureen Cook

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Mayor stated that the Council had all heard the very sad news that former Councillor Maureen Cook has passed away. The Mayor invited the Leader of the Labour Group, The Leader of the Council and the Leader of the Liberal Democrat and Independent Group to say a few words.

 

Councillor K.Thorpe, Labour Group Leader stated that Maureen loved being a Councillor, she loved the people who lived in the Borough and believed in the people who worked at the Council. Maureen served as a Chair the last time Labour controlled the Council. She was also County Councillor, local magistrate, school governor, housing trust director and was on many committees. Maureen had achieved so much, inspired many and gave us gave that what we do matters and can make a difference. Maureen’s boots will remain unfillable by any of us.

 

The Leader of the Council, Councillor T.Kingsbury stated that Maureen was dedicated to Hatfield and the Borough as well as the politics. The Leader stated that he had a mutual respect for Maureen and we will all miss her. Her legacy will be passed on in Hatfield, the Borough and those in my group that knew her. I am sure that to her friends, family and colleagues in the Labour Group, it is a sad time and our thoughts are with you.

 

The Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Independent, Councillor P.Zukowskyj stated that Maureen was a woman who stood up for what she believed in. We may not have agreed politically on a number of things but I think that she had a strong opinion and a strong will to see right done and I respect that in anyone. As well as the Labour Group and the Council, I think the community will be mourning her passing too.

25b

Grant Fairhall

Additional documents:

Minutes:

In the same week we also heard of the tragic loss of one of our young council officers, Grant Fairhall. The Mayor invited the Chief Executive Ka Ng to say a few words.

 

The Chief Executive said that our colleague Grant Fairhall sadly passed away two weeks ago following complications due to Covid-19. He was only 32. Grant was extremely popular, not just in the Finance team but amongst other colleagues across the Council. He was always very helpful, caring and loved by many of us. Grant had worked at the Council for nearly 7 years. We are all missing him dearly and have passed on our deepest condolences to his partner and family.

25c

Mayor's Charity

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Mayor was putting together a programme of fundraising events for JOCA which he hoped Councillors will be able to come along to and support this year.

 

The first event will be a Curry Night at the Bengal Paradise in Brookmans Park at 7.00pm on Monday 18 October 2021, tickets will be £25 per person and details for online bookings will be sent out.

 

The popular Quiz Night on Friday 3 December 2021 will be upstairs in the Terrace Suite at Campus West.

25d

Leader's announcement - Splashlands Award

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Council’s £2.2 Million Splashlands Project had been announced as winners of the 2021 national landscape awards in the Communities and Schools development categories by the British Association of Landscape and Industries. The facility has been used by thousands of visitors and the Council had received positive feedback since it was opened in July 2020. The Leader said that this was a project he was proud of for the Council to have achieved.

25e

Leader's announcement - Housing Compliance

Additional documents:

Minutes:

As this is the first Full Council meeting since the Council was served with a Regulatory Notice by the Regulator of Social Housing, the Leader apologised unreservedly to the Council tenants and leaseholders for not meeting all the responsibilities under the Home Standard.

 

The Leader also set out some facts in relation to the matter.  He stated that as soon as he was made aware of the situation the Council referred itself to the Regulator of Social Housing. The Leader directed Council staff to write to every single council tenant and leaseholder in Welwyn Hatfield - whether they were affected by the issue or not - to explain what had happened and to reassure that the checks not carried out would be dealt with very soon. 

 

A dedicated phone line and online enquiry form was set up for tenants and leaseholders to contact if they have any questions.  The Council had worked with the regulator and put in place an action plan for a return to compliance, and were on track to complete the necessary work within the timescale agreed with the regulator.  In fact, the Council was expecting to meet statutory health and safety requirements within the next 2 weeks in relation to asbestos, water and subject to gaining access to affected properties electrics.

 

It was important to note that the Council was currently carrying out an internal review, which would seek to get to the bottom of how the issue had arisen and the lessons learned to ensure that the Council were doing everything possible so it does not happen again. 

 

The Council tenants and leaseholders will remain top priority as we continue with the improvement journey. 

26.

QUESTIONS BY MEMBERS pdf icon PDF 113 KB

For a period of up to thirty minutes, a Member of the Council who has given prior notice in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 15, may ask (a) the Mayor, (b) the Leader of the Council or (c) a Member of the Cabinet a question on any matter in relation to which the Council has powers or duties or which affects the Borough.

 

The questions received for this meeting are attached.  A Member asking a question may ask, without giving notice, one supplementary question of the Member to whom the first question was asked.  The supplementary question must arise directly out of the reply.

Additional documents:

26a

Question to the Leader from Councillor Glyn Hayes

Additional documents:

Minutes:

“Given that the new Common car park has been highlighted for a design award can the leader explain why there is no provision for Disabled Electric charge points?”

 

Answer

 

The Leader asked Councillor D.Bell (Executive Member, Resources), to answer:-

 

“Thank you for your question Councillor Hayes.

 

The new Common car park was designed in accordance with National Parking Standards and there was no specific guidance at the time for the requirement to install accessible charging points.  The car park was also subject to public engagement and planning consultation, and we were not aware of any comments made about disabled electric charge points.

 

Having said this, I understand that the government has announced earlier this year that they are working with disability charities to set standards for electric vehicle charge points and that guidance will be available next Summer on how to make individual charge points more accessible.  I will therefore be asking officers to review the charging points in the Common car park.”

 

In a supplementary question, Councillor Hayes said that the multi storey carpark cost £6M and did not take into consideration disabled people’s needs.

Can the leader tell me what he plans to do to make sure this oversight does not happen again when the Council embarks on other projects in the Borough?

 

Councillor Bell replied that the Council had provided a number of disabled spaces in the car pack but none are for the electric charge points. The Council will review this and see if the gap can be addressed.

26b

Question to the Leader from Councillor Russ Platt

Additional documents:

Minutes:

“As a councillor for a ward with a high number of council properties, I am extremely concerned and angered about the council's failure to carry out statutory safety checks.

 

The gap between first indications of a problem and referral to the regulator appears to have been well over a year, all the while tenants were paying rent on properties where statutory checks had not been carried. Why was this gap so long?”

 

Answer

 

The Leader asked Councillor F.Thomson (Executive Member, Housing and Climate Change), to answer:-

 

“Thank you Councillor Platt for your question.

 

As the Leader has pointed out, there is currently an internal review being carried out, which would look at how the compliance issue has arisen.  The review will also cover the timeline of events and will provide the answer to your question once it is concluded. 

 

As you will appreciate, our effort has been focused on working with the regulator and getting an action plan in place for a return to compliance as quickly as possible.  The review is important to us and is already underway.”

 

In a supplementary question, Councillor Platt asked that in regards to the review, do we have a timescale?

 

Councillor Thomson said that the review is currently taking place but unable to give a date. The Council is working swiftly and our priority remains to gain compliance in each of the areas.

26c

Question to the Leader from Councillor Lucy Musk

Additional documents:

Minutes:

“With residents being forced out of their homes whilst major repairs take place over a period of months, can the leader explain how it is justifiable to charge tenants full rent and council tax during this time?”

 

Answer

 

The Leader asked Councillor F.Thomson (Executive Member, Housing and Climate Change), to answer:-

 

“Thank you Councillor Musk for your question.

 

In the unfortunate, but necessary in circumstance where a household is required to be temporarily decanted from their home to allow major repair works to be carried out, all decants are managed in line with the Council’s Decant Policy, which was considered by Cabinet Housing Panel, in consultation with the Tenant Panel.

 

In all cases where a temporary decant takes place, the existing tenancy must be maintained throughout the decant process. For temporary decants to an alternative council home, tenants are granted a licence which will require no rent payment. Instead, rental payments on their original home need to be maintained.

 

For the period of temporary absence resulting from a decant, tenants who are in receipt of housing related benefits would be treated as occupying the home, and therefore continue to be eligible for housing benefit.

 

Tenants will be expected to pay the appropriate Council Tax for the property they have been moved to. Council Tax will not need to be paid for the property they have been decanted or moved from.”

 

In a supplementary question, Councillor Musk asked with regards to the decanting process, this has not always followed suit. Tenants are paying rent and Council Tax on property they have been moved from as well as having to pay rent and Council tax on where they have been moved to.

 

Councillor Thomson said that she was happy to discuss any individual cases outside of the meeting.

26d

Question to the Leader from Councillor Ayesha Rohale

Additional documents:

Minutes:

“Would the leader of the council explain the role Mears had in ensuring electrical safety testing in council owned properties took place over the life of the contract that has recently been terminated?”

 

Answer

 

The Leader asked Councillor F.Thomson (Executive Member, Housing and Climate Change), to answer:-

 

“Thank you Councillor Rohale for your question.

 

The current contract with Mears is due to end in October 2022 and they are responsible for ensuring electrical testing programme is carried out in accordance with the programme produced by the Council.

 

Since the compliance issue came to light, the Council has revised a number of procedures and produced a rolling 5-year testing programme to ensure all properties are covered and completed on time.  Robust contract management procedures have also been put in place to monitor the rolling programme and that any issues reported by Mears are addressed straightaway.”

26e

Question to the Leader from Councillor Tamsin Jackson-Mynott

Additional documents:

Minutes:

“In the light of the focus on fire risk assessments after the loss of so many lives in the Grenfell disaster, how is it possible for the administration at this Borough Council to have failed to notice that statutory fire risk assessment testing had not taken place on 90% of council properties?”

 

Answer

 

The Leader asked Councillor F.Thomson (Executive Member, Housing and Climate Change), to answer:-

 

“Thank you Councillor Jackson-Mynott for your question.

 

Housing blocks with communal areas require a Fire Risk Assessment which will identify the appropriate fire prevention and control measures required in each block. We carried out the assessment for the communal areas in 2018, but a review of that assessment was delayed due to the replacement of the fire door programme being affected by the change in regulations with fire door certification and testing.

 

It is important to note that the housing property team liaise with Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service on a regular basis and all the Council blocks apart from one high-rise building are all considered to be low risk due to their size.

 

In light of the new Fire Safety Act and the proposed Building Safety Bill, we will be completing more in-depth Fire Risk Assessments going forward in all of our blocks.”

 

In a supplementary question, Councillor Jackson-Mynott asked if with the review, will the information on the various check that were missed be released when it has been concluded or will residents have to wait for an unspecified time?

 

Councillor Thomson said that there is a review taking place and as soon as the Council is able to conclude the review, we will discuss with Members. The priority is to return to compliance.

26f

Question to the Leader from Councillor Helen Quenet

Additional documents:

Minutes:

“When elected as Councillors we want to serve our residents to the best of our ability. A necessary part of that is that we receive training in the functions of our role, so that we can spot and challenge problems before they threaten the wellbeing of our residents.

 

To this end, I requested at the Member Training meeting on Tuesday 17th August that all members of the Cabinet Housing Panel receive training in the statutory duties of landlords. In addition to this I asked that there should be either a document or training provided for all councillors on all the statutory duties of the council.

 

Can the Leader confirm that this training is going to be provided for members?"

 

Answer

 

The Leader asked Councillor F.Thomson (Executive Member, Housing and Climate Change), to answer:-

 

“Thank you for your question Councillor Quenet.

 

As you were aware, I chaired the Member Development Steering Group meeting that took place on 17 August and your request was discussed.

 

As you will appreciate the council has a very wide range of statutory duties and they are outlined in the Constitution.  It was agreed that officers will summarise these duties in the form of a briefing note to be published in the Member information hub as a starting point.

 

This note will be further considered at future Member Development Steering Group meetings to determine future training courses for members.”

 

In a supplementary question, Councillor Quenet said she was still a bit concerned as she believed that Members of the Cabinet Housing Panel do need training in that area otherwise Members do not know what they are looking out for. Had Members been trained, this situation may not have happened.

 

Councillor Kingsbury said that he thanked Councillor Quenet for her input and agreed that the training should be a priority.

26g

Question to the Leader from Councillor Paul Zukowskyj

Additional documents:

Minutes:

“The regulator for Social Housing noted that 90% of WHBC Social Housing buildings needing a Fire Risk Assessment either did not have one at all or it was out of date. How many buildings does this mean, how many are today now up to standard, when should we expect them all to be up to standard and since these are multiple dwelling buildings and there may be multiple residents per dwelling, what is the estimated number of residents that were put at risk by this council’s failings?”

 

Answer

 

The Leader asked Councillor F.Thomson (Executive Member, Housing and Climate Change), to answer:-

 

“Thank you for your question Councillor Zukowskyj.

 

As explained in my answer to Question 5, Housing blocks with communal areas require a Fire Risk Assessment and these assessments were carried out in 2018, but a review of that assessment was delayed due to the replacement of the fire door programme being affected by the change in regulations with fire door certification and testing. 

 

The number of buildings with an overdue Fire Risk Assessment is 484 and there are 2914 properties in those buildings altogether.

 

As mentioned in my earlier answer, it is important to note that the team liaise with Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service on a regular basis and all the Council blocks apart from one high-rise building are all considered to be low risk.

 

We have appointed a new company to carry out more in-depth Fire Risk Assessments going forward in all of our blocks, all of the assessments have been programmed in and they will be completed by March 2022.  The Regulator of Social Housing has been kept up to date with our progress and is assured that the breach of the standard is being remedied.”

 

In a supplementary question, Councillor Zukowskyj said there are two aspects: to clarify there were Fire Risk Assessments done on a number of the buildings in 2018. There was also criticism as on those assessments a huge number of high priority recommendation were made and were not delivered. The Council still has a situation where there are old Fire Risk Assessments that have not been bought up to standard.  What are the estimated number of residents affected?  We should have that information as we should be able to tell Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service how many people are in the building.

 

Councillor Thomson said that the number of buildings with an overdue Fire Risk Assessment is 484 and there were 2914 properties in those buildings altogether. There is a planned programme to replace the doors and the Fire Act is coming out next year. We are working hard to get full compliance.

26h

Question to the Leader from Councillor Frank Marsh

Additional documents:

Minutes:

“The Council’s failure to deliver statutory checks on Council properties is clearly an issue that needs the full attention of this council and it’s members, however to date no meetings or scrutiny of the issues has been scheduled. I would like to know when there will be an honest question and answer session for councillors with senior officers, past and present portfolio holders and including members of the cabinet."

 

Answer

 

The Leader asked Councillor F.Thomson (Executive Member, Housing and Climate Change), to answer:-

 

“Thank you for your question Councillor Marsh.

 

As the Leader has said the Council is currently carrying out an internal review, which will seek to get to the bottom of how the issue has arisen and the lessons learned to ensure that we are doing everything possible so it does not happen again. 

 

It will not be feasible to hold a Question and Answer session whilst the review is taking place.  Once the review is concluded, I would be more than happy to share the findings with Councillors.”

 

In a supplementary question, Councillor Marsh asked the Council if they can provide a date as soon as possible, will it be this year, next year, next decade or will it drift on indefinitely.

 

Councillor Thomson said that as soon as the Council knows we will inform Members of the date.

27.

NOTICES OF MOTIONS pdf icon PDF 104 KB

To consider notices of motions submitted under Procedure Rule 16 in such order as the Mayor shall direct.  The motions received for this meeting are attached.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Council considered the following notice of motion submitted under Procedure Rule 16:-

27a

The following motion had been submitted by Councillor P.Zukowskyj and was seconded by Councillor K.Thorpe:-

Additional documents:

Minutes:

“Recent revelations that this Council failed to conduct basic statutory electricity, fire, asbestos and water safety checks in their residential buildings, possibly endangering the lives of the residents are deeply worrying.

 

Councillors were appalled to hear how this Conservative led council mis-managed these duties so badly that they had to refer the council to the regulator and tried to keep this situation hidden, even from Councillors.

 

Despite Councillors frequently raising worrying cases of maintenance failures in the past, they were consistently told there were no deep-rooted problems when there obviously were.

 

The Councillors and the public deserve an account of how this situation arose and how this knowledge will be used to prevent a failure of this magnitude occurring again.

 

The Council have spent considerable time investigating and collating the failings and the systemic faults that led to this situation must be apparent.

 

Whilst there may be some points that cannot be shared in public, a substantive explanation must still be given and the continuing culture of secrecy dropped.

 

In the absence of any explanation as to how this situation has arisen, this Council reluctantly expresses no confidence in the Leader of the Council who holds ultimate responsibility for its actions and failings.”

 

It was moved and seconded by Councillors P.Zukowskyj and K.Thorpe that the motion be approved.

 

On being put to the meeting there voted:-

 

FOR the Motion – 18

AGAINST the Motion – 24

ABSTENTIONS for the Motion – 1

 

The Motion was declared LOST.

 

Councillor P.Zukowskyj raised a point of order with the monitoring officer regarding the second motion on the agenda; whether proposing a motion that is factually untrue might constitute a breach of standards.

The Monitoring Officer stated that this would not be considered a point of order within the Council Procedure Rules in the constitution and confirmed that Officers have assessed whether the motions have been validly submitted in accordance with the Council Procedure Rules and were satisfied that they had been.

27b

The following motion had been submitted by Councillor S.Kasumu and was seconded by Councillor S.Thusu:-

Additional documents:

Minutes:

“This Council notes that the leader has guided the Council through a turbulent time, ensuring that residents, businesses, and employees of the Council were able to have the support and protection they have needed during the pandemic.

 

We acknowledge that the report by the Regulator of Social Housing highlighted overdue assessments and outstanding actions, and welcome the decisive action taken to rectify this.

 

However, the Council completely rejects the claim that the leader hid the problems that were highlighted by the Regulator in any way.

 

We note that the Council, overseen by the leader, self referred to the Regulator and that the leader of the Council kept other group leaders appraised at all times.

 

This Council has full confidence in the leader of the Council.”

 

It was moved and seconded by Councillors S.Kasumu and S.Thusu that the motion be approved.

 

On being put to the meeting there voted:-

 

FOR the Motion – 24

AGAINST the Motion – 18

ABSTENTIONS for the Motion – 1

 

The Motion was declared CARRIED.

28.

SIX MONTH COUNCILLOR ATTENDANCE RULE - WAIVER AND EXTENSION OF TIME LIMIT pdf icon PDF 120 KB

Report of the Monitoring Officer on a request for a waiver of the six month attendance rule and extension of time limit for Councillor Steven Markiewicz.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Report of the Monitoring Officer on a request for a waiver of the six month attendance rule and extension of time limit for Councillor Steven Markiewicz.

 

Members were aware of the unfortunate ill-health suffered by Councillor Markiewicz in recent years.

 

The report recommended that Councillor Markiewicz’s absence from attendance at meetings of the authority for a period exceeding six months be approved and a further period of non-attendance be approved until 5 May 2022, for the reasons set out in the report.

 

Councillor Pace asked Members to join him in sending their best wishes to Councillor Markiewicz and his full recovery in health.

 

It was moved and seconded by Councillors N.Pace and T.Kingsbury and

 

RESOLVED:

 

That the request for Councillor Steven Markiewicz’s absence from attendance at meetings of the authority for a period exceeding six months was approved in accordance with Section 85(1) of the Local Government Act 1972 and that the extension of the time limit was approved for a further period until 5 May 2022.