Agenda item

Public Question Time

To receive any questions from and provide answers to the public in relation to matters relevant to the Council’s activities.


Members of the public were invited to put questions to the Mayor and councillors on matters within the powers and duties of the Council.


Ten public questions were submitted as follows:-


·         Relating to the progress made towards achieving direct rail platform access from Woodsmoor Station to Stepping Hill Hospital as a greener travel alternative for staff and patients.


The Cabinet Member for Economy & Regeneration (Councillor David Meller) responded that the Council worked in partnership with Stepping Hill Hospital to explore alternative travel arrangements to and from the hospital site.  It was stated that in partnership with the Foundation Trust, the Council procured the services of a civil engineering consultant group to carry out a high level feasibility study to explore the possibility of creating a direct path from Woodsmoor Station to the Stepping Hill Hospital site.  The initial view, based on the superficial topographical features, was that such a path was possible and as a result, council officers engaged in a shared piece of work with Network Rail to explore this further.


However, further detailed site surveys raised concerns  in relation to the need to move several pieces of rail infrastructure and the potential presence of buried assets.  There were further concerns in relation to the security of the proposed route and the impact on local residents whose land would sit adjacent to the proposed path.  As a result, while it a path was technically feasible, the cost of the work and the impact on local residents meant that it was not considered to be an optimal solution.


It was confirmed that notwithstanding this, the Council continued to work with the rail industry to improve access such as the provision of wayfinding signage and alterations to the ramp that served the southbound platform.


Councillor Grace Baynham further responded that the provision of a pedestrian link between the station and the hospital site had been an aspiration of ward councillors for a number of years, and while the technical issues were recognised these were surmountable and ward councillors continued to view the provision of the path as a benefit to the local area.


·         Relating to how plans for increases in housing in Stockport would increase demand on public services, including Stepping Hill Hospital and whether an assessment had been made of its effect on the local environment, including increased road traffic to the hospital site.


The Cabinet Member for Sustainable Stockport (Councillor Sheila Bailey) responded that the Council had been working for some time with its partners in the Clinical Commissioning Group to assess the impact on the provision of healthcare of increased housing delivery across the borough.  It was further stated that same was true with regard to education provision and other forms of community facilities which helped to create sustainable communities.


·         Relating to whether the Council could explain why they were still putting forward the residents parking strategy update report when the pilot for this scheme (the Stepping Hill CPZ) was rejected by 95% of respondents.


The Cabinet Member for Sustainable Stockport (Councillor Sheila Bailey) responded that the proposed parking scheme was due to be considered at the next meeting of the Cabinet.  It was stated that the strategy document proposed the development of zonal parking schemes that could better utilise the resources within the council. However, it was stated that it was not proposed that there would be a standardised scheme that would be used in every locality.


·         Relating to the time already taken to develop a proposed residents permit parking strategy, why the issue been kicked into the long grass again and how much longer would it be before the policy was considered by the Cabinet.


The Cabinet Member for Sustainable Stockport (Councillor Sheila Bailey) responded that there were competing demands on the Council’s resources at the current time, including the priority of responding to the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.  It was stated that the report had been deferred at the last meeting of the Cabinet to allow for further consideration of the comments made by the Council’s area committees , however it was anticipated that the strategy would be considered by the Cabinet at its meeting in December 2020.


The Chair of the Communities & Housing Scrutiny Committee (Councillor Mark Roberts) further responded that the scrutiny committee had made the request that area committees had the opportunity to comment on the proposed strategy.  Councillor Roberts thanked officers for attending those meetings to present the report and members for the comments when it was considered at their local area committee.


Councillor Roberts expressed his disappointment that this engagement had been used as a reason to delay things further, and that the continued moratorium imposed on new parking schemes had made the situation being experienced by residents more difficult than it otherwise needed to have been.


Finally, Councillor Roberts reflected on the inclusion of a proposal in the original version of the strategy to provide councillors with free parking permits and that this was ill-advised and should have been removed as a proposal at an early stage.


·         Relating to a previous commitment across Greater Manchester to provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists and what additional measures had been implemented in Stockport to achieve this.


The Cabinet Member for Economy & Regeneration (Councillor David Meller) responded that the Council was in the process of implementing a number of measures to improve walking and cycling routes.  It was stated that audits had been conducted in the borough’s district centres and measures to assist with social distancing and maintaining highway safety had now been brought forward including 20mph zones and traffic calming.  Further work had been undertaken to extend the operational hours of bus lanes in certain areas to provide more protection for the cyclists using them in addition to the provision of temporary parallel cycle routes.


The Mayor then reported that he proposed to exercise his discretion under the constitution to group the next three questions as they each related to Stockport Central Library:-


·         Relating to Stockport Central Library being a good-sized, purpose built facility in a good location and why the Council was trying to move the library facility, either on a temporary or permanent basis, and what evidence there was that the current facility was no longer fit for purpose.

·         Relating to the fact that other library facilities had been successfully reopened and what barriers there were to reopening Stockport Central Library.  Further, was the Council trying to keep Central Library closed pending a more permanent move into Merseyway.

·         Relating to a response made by Councillor Butler to question asked at the Corporate, Resource Management & Governance Scrutiny Committee eon 22 September where she stated “the consultation could have come across better as a phased approach to providing a library service and other elements in one go” and whether this meant the people have Stockport had been misled in this consultation.


The Leader of the Council & Cabinet Member for Devolution (Councillor Elise Wilson) responded that there was nothing intrinsically wrong or ‘broken’ with Central Library, but that the library facility could not currently be opened in adherence to the health and safety measures required to operate the facility in a covid-safe way.  However, the Council recognised that it had a responsibility to continue to offer library services and that the current proposals were an honest attempt to try and address that problem.


Councillor Wilson stated that it remained a priority for the Council to preserve the Central Library building whilst it was not open and to ensure that it was appropriately maintained and cared for, and that the Council remained committed to consulting on its use should it decide to do anything else with the building; however at this stage there were no such plans.


The Cabinet Member for Citizen Focus & Engagement (Councillor Kate Butler) further responded that no one had been misled with regard to the One Stockport Hub proposals or on any future plans for Stockport Central Library.  It was stated that when it became apparent that there was some confusion over whether it was proposed that services would be removed on a permanent basis, steps were taken to clarify that this was a temporary move and purely due to the challenges of providing library services in a covid-safe way at this time.


·         Relating to whether the Council would give adequate notice of their intention to cut down trees together with the reasons so that local residents could express their views and have them taken into account.


The Cabinet Member for Sustainable Stockport (Councillor Sheila Bailey) responded that the Council managed approximately 1.3 million trees and that no trees were removed unless they were dead, dying, diseased,  causing an actionable nuisance or had been agreed for removal through the planning process.  It was stated that given the scale of the operation, it was not currently practicable for the Council to inform residents in advance about trees that were to be felled, however it was confirmed that no tree was felled unless there was a very good reason for doing so.  Finally, Councillor Bailey stated that in the last four years, 2,750 new additional trees had been planted and over 1,700 replacement highway trees had also been planted.