Venue: Remotely via Teams
Declarations of interest
The following Members made a declaration of interest:
Cllr. S. Pursey - Re. Cabinet Board Agenda Item 8 - Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 - Review of the NPT Active Travel as he took part in the consultation and his responses and suggestions were among those to be approved in the report.
· 17 September 2021
· 22 October 2021
The minutes of the meetings held on 17 September 2021 and 22 October 2021 were approved.
Members received a presentation from the Project Secretary and the Chair of the Rhondda Tunnel Society; the presentation detailed the following three main themes:
· Project costs;
· Creating a ‘must visit’ attraction;
· Plans to move the project at Blaengwynfi forward.
It was noted that a technical subcommittee had been established, and was made up of retired Senior Engineers; the subcommittee had produced detailed plans for the tunnel, which had been endorsed by the Associate Director of Arup in Cardiff.
The Committee was informed that the physical work of the project will take 18 months; and the project costs included the following:
· Visitor Centres at both ends of the tunnel;
· Micro-hydro schemes at both ends of the tunnel; the Society was working with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to develop these. It was added that the Micro-hydro schemes will provide green power, and will also provide the opportunity to put in place remote working facilities in the Visitor Centres.
The Project Secretary of the Society confirmed that the project cost had been validated by Corderoy, Quantity Surveyors; and the estimate given for the overall project was £13.111million.
Members were informed that South Wales had two abandoned long railway tunnels, one situated between Abernant and Merthyr, and the other in Rhondda, Blaengwynfi; Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) Council had a portal in both tunnels. It was stated that the Abernant-Merthyr tunnel was an active travel route between Merthyr and Aberdare, and the Rhondda tunnel was more of a visitor attraction and would be the longest tunnel in Europe. In regards to the Abernant-Merthyr tunnel, it was noted that it had continued with public funding but has received little public support; however Merthyr Council continues to lobby hard for support. The Project Secretary explained that the Rhondda tunnel had received huge public support, however, has received very little public funding in the last few years; strong support from Neath Port Talbot (NPT) Council could help balance this.
The following points were highlighted in regards to the current situation:
· Both tunnels were owned by the Westminster Department for Transport (DfT);
· The DfT confirmed they will transfer the tunnels to Welsh Government with a small sum; £60k for the Rhondda tunnel, however Welsh Government wanted several million pounds for it;
· Chris Bryant, Member of Parliament (MP), was going to be approaching DfT on behalf of the Welsh Government for funds;
· RCT Council were in the process of recruiting a consultant to work on writing an application through the Heritage Lottery Fund for £5million specifically for the Rhonnda tunnel.
A video was played to the Committee, which showed Chris Bryant MP in Westminster, inviting Grant Shapps MP to visit the Rhondda tunnel.
It was stated that the middle of the Rhondda tunnel was dry and mild all year, and it had 526 alcoves which provided many opportunities; the tunnel offered a huge exhibition space, and one idea was to use the alcoves for interactive displays of Welsh history. It was added that some displayed could be sponsored, and there ... view the full minutes text for item 3.
Asset Sponsorship - Verbal Update
Officers provided a verbal update on the topic of Asset Sponsorship, covering two main areas; a status report on roundabout sponsorships and the progress made with Clear Channel who operate bus stops.
The Commercial Coordinator for the Council provided Members with background information on asset sponsorships; highlighting that it had been recognised over the years that there was potential income generation opportunities presented by assets such as roundabouts, roadside verges, lighting columns etc.
Members were advised that after a tender process in 2011, the Council chose to outsource the management and sales function of providing advertising opportunities on roundabouts to generate funding, to a company called Immediate Solutions; the first advertisement was put up in Neath Port Talbot (NPT) in 2012, and in June 2017 the Council extended the contract for a further four years. It was noted that during the first few years of the contract extension, the revenues matched expectations; however, not long after, the revenue started to decrease.
It was explained that after consulting with various Members and Officers, the Council chose to hand in the three months’ notice of contract termination to Immediate Solutions; it was felt that this work could be elevated by bringing it in-house, and various opportunities for customers could be explored, as well as generating more income than what had been received previously.
The Committee was informed that at the end of June 2021, the contract with Immediate Solutions expired; since then the Council had been novating contracts over for the existing sponsored roundabouts, and establishing the portfolio and systems that needed to be put in place in order to offer those opportunities to local customers. The various benefits of operating this locally were highlighted; including being able to read the market to understand what businesses want to advertise, being able to respond much quicker when something goes wrong, and generating more income.
A summary was provided, in which the Committee was informed that the Commercial Coordinator had been in contact with potential customers for roundabout advertisement in the area, and had a number of orders lined up.
Bus Stop Advertising
Officers explained that a company called Clear Channel currently sells the bus stop advertising in NPT; the Council owned the majority of the structures of the bus shelters in the County Borough, and Clear Channel own around 10.
It was stated that the Council had a replicable agreement in place with Clear Channel in which they were to maintain and repair any damages to the bus shelters that they used for advertisement; this was in return for allowing them to do so.
Members were informed that the Commercial Coordinator recently carried out research in regards to bus stop advertisement, and found that other Local Authorities received commission on them; following this, Officers proceeded to go through the relevant processes in order for NPT Council to obtain commission. It was highlighted that a recommendation had been made to re-sign a further five year agreement with Clear Channel, however this time ... view the full minutes text for item 4.
To select appropriate items from the Cabinet Board agenda for pre-decision scrutiny (reports enclosed for Scrutiny Members)
The Committee chose to scrutinise the following Cabinet Board items:
Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 - Review of the NPT Active Travel
*Cllr S. Pursey reaffirmed his interest at this point and withdrew from the meeting for this item only*
Members were presented with a report relating to the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013; a Review of the NPT Active Travel.
It was highlighted during the meeting that information had been omitted from Appendix 3 of the circulated report. An updated version was circulated at the meeting and appended to the minutes for information.
The Planning Policy Manager provided a brief overview of the proposals contained within the circulated report.
The Local Member for Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen, in attendance at the meeting, had encouraged residents to get involved in the recent consultation; there was a lot of interest from them, and many did submit a response. However, they were disappointed to see that the high priority areas appeared to be in the populated areas; the importance of having more connectivity in the valley communities was highlighted, and concerns were raised in regards to the conflicting policy developments.
Officers made reference to the Welsh Government Prioritisation Matrix which was used as a guide to score the routes by using a criteria, which was detailed in the circulated report; the scoring system was automated via a GIS system, and the resulting scores determine whether a route was prioritised as a high, medium or low priority. Members were informed that this system was indicative, and it was confirmed that Officers had liaised with Welsh Government to see if this could be changed; Welsh Government informed Officers that the system was simply a tool for Councils to use. The circulated report proposed a further two week consultation, to inform the public of the classification and prioritisation of the routes; and to gather comments from the communities with regards to this, which Officers will take on board.
Additional to this, it was stated that there will be another, more detailed and robust, assessment which will look in detail at elements such as; if the route has planning permission, the land ownership, and the impacts on biodiversity.
Officers reassured Members that there was scope to add in strength of feeling and local need, and hoped that the extra two week consultation will achieve this; ideally Officers would have liked to extend this period, however, the timescales and deadlines for this work were extremely tight and fast approaching. It was noted that the next few weeks would be important in terms of gathering further comment from communities, in order to identify particular routes that may stand out, especially in the valley areas.
It was acknowledged that since the Active Travel (Wales) Act was established, the focus of the funding had been allocated to built-up areas such as town centres; these areas had the biggest impact, and were places in which Active Travel could be easily achieved. However, it was mentioned that the Council had a role to identify where ... view the full minutes text for item 5.
Members noted the Regeneration and Sustainable Development Scrutiny Forward Work Programme for 2021/22.
Access to Meetings
To resolve to exclude the public for the following item(s) pursuant to Section 100A(4) and (5) of the Local Government Act 1972 and the relevant exempt paragraphs of Part 4 of Schedule 12A to the above Act.
Pre-Decision Scrutiny of Private Item/s
To select appropriate items from the Private Cabinet Board agenda for pre-decision scrutiny (reports enclosed for Scrutiny Members)
The Committee scrutinised the following private Cabinet Board item:
Rhondda Tunnel Project Update
Members were provided with an update in respect of the Rhondda Tunnel Project.
The Chair summed up the discussions that had taken place; and highlighted that Members would need to determine which of the two options, contained within the circulated report, they would be recommending to Cabinet Board.
A formal amendment to ‘Option B’ contained within the circulated report was proposed and seconded:
For the time being, the Council should retain its current position, in so much as we will support the project in principle, providing advice where necessary to any third parties involved in the project, but will not take on any formal responsibility for future fund raising in respect of potential match-funding commitments. Neither will we assume any ownership of the tunnel, shared or otherwise, or accept any responsibility for future management of the tunnel, including any subsidy requirements. This position will be kept under review, and may be amended in the future, should the project progress towards delivery to the satisfaction of the Council and bring benefit to Neath Port Talbot County Borough with future reports being brought back to Members as appropriate.
It was determined that the Committee were in support of the amendment to ‘Option B’ to be considered by Cabinet Board.