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 gains could be achieved in the more isolated communities; conscious efforts had been made, through the various stages of the maps, to try and better connect the valley communities.
Members were encouraged to signpost their constituents to the additional two week consultation, which will capture final comments on the Active Travel routes.
Following the presentation that was received earlier in the meeting on the Rhondda Tunnel Project, Members highlighted that there were no significant Active Travel routes linked to this location. Officers explained that they had been involved in discussions with the Rhondda Tunnel Society regarding this matter. It was noted that Active Travel had a specific meaning in Wales; it facilitated short distance, purposeful journeys to places such as schools and shops. Members were informed that the Rhondda tunnel site was more tourism related, and on that basis it would be extremely difficult to justify the inclusion of routes based on the criteria and how the Act was written; routes that were only for tourism and recreational related purposes, did not align with the ideas and underlying principles of Active Travel. Officers added that there could be opportunities in the future, which could boaster the argument for these schemes to be in place at these types of locations.
The Committee raised concerns with the current staffing issues in the service, and stated that additional resource could help Officers to achieve more out of the Active Travel agenda. The Head of Planning and Public Protection confirmed that resource was a significant issue at the moment. It was explained that the delivery of the Active Travel function in NPT Council was split between two services; the Planning Policy Service dealt with the strategic side in terms of the development of the maps, and the Engineering and Transport Service dealt with the delivery and implementation. It was stated that the Teams were currently discussing how the service could be improved internally; questioning if the delivery of the Active Travel agenda needed to be restructured or realigned. It was recognised that since the Act was established, the agenda had developed significantly; there was far more work required now.
It was asked if there would be a continued programme of funding from Welsh Government going forward with the Active Travel agenda. Officers anticipated that the funding would continue, and projected that the pot of monies available for Active Travel would likely increase due to the ambition to roll this out more extensively across Wales; the Active Travel was very much at the heart of Welsh Government policy and was embedded into a lot of what was being pushed out to Local Authorities. However, it was stated that the pot of money for this was finite as it was shared amongst all Local Authorities across Wales.
Furthermore, Members were encouraged to lobby Members of the Senedd; this could improve the share out of the money. It was noted that Officers had a role to ensure that the correct narrative was included when submitting the funding bids to Welsh Government, in order to support the bids.
Following scrutiny, the Committee was supportive of the proposals to be considered by the Cabinet Board.
Key Performance Indicators 2021 2022 – Quarter 2
The Key Performance Indicators 2021/2022 for Quarter 2 were presented to the Committee.
Reference was made to the number of PM10 breaches in the Air Quality Management Area (Port Talbot / Taibach); Members asked for clarity on the figures included in the circulated report.
Officers informed the Committee that the actual target of exceedances each year was 35; the figures in the circulated report indicated that the Council was currently below the target. It was explained that the half of year target for 2021/22 was 18 breeches, and the Council was at 17 breeches. However, it was highlighted that the Council was experiencing more exceedances this year in comparison to the previous year; the Head of Planning and Public Protection had spoken to Officers regarding why this was the case. It was noted that Officers recently had a meeting with Welsh Government on this particular issue, and it was found that the likely source of the breeches were from TATA Steelworks; Welsh Government requested Natural Resource Wales (NRW), who were the regulators of the TATA operation, to investigate what the increases could be related to.
Members were informed that the investigation was still ongoing, and there was no obvious reasons for the increase that had been reported at this stage; NRW had suggested that it could be related to the fact that production had reduced on site, which could sometimes cause fugitive emissions from the stock piles. It was added that TATA had been asked specifically to treat those stock piles in case they were the source. Officers mentioned that there were also parts of the operation which would shortly need replacing or renewal; when these were actioned, the situated could be improved. Officers stated that the increase in breeches was a concern, however this was being closely monitored, and would continue to be through Quarters 3 and 4 of the reporting year.
It was highlighted that if the pilot study regarding the sensors that was currently underway was successful, it could allow for Officers to gain a better understanding as to the location of the localised pollution; this could assist as part of the investigation going forward.
Following scrutiny, the Committee noted the report.
Neath Port Talbot Replacement Local Development Plan (RLDP) 2021-2036
Officers provided a report on the Neath Port Talbot Replacement Local Development Plan (RLDP) 2021-2036.
Members were pleased to see the inclusion of in person engagement, where appropriate, in the report; this provided a balance, and the ability to target a wider demographic, as not everyone was able to engage online. Furthermore, it provided the Council with much more flexibility in regards to community engagement. Officers stated that the pandemic highlighted the need to be flexible and that circumstances can change quite quickly; the flexibility that had been built into the delivery agreement will ensure that whatever the circumstances at any given time, the Council will be able to engage efficiently with the community.
Officers reassured Members that the RLDP review would be comprehensive, and would look at every single topic that the LDP covered; it will also look at any policy areas that the Council did not have policy framework coverage for. It was noted that the LDP will be backed up by a significant amount of evidence; if the evidence suggests that a policy would be required, then the Council was duty bound to develop that policy accordingly.
A discussion took place in relation to the timeframe for submitting candidate sites; the Team were currently working on the candidate site assessment methodology and the guidance notes. It was hoped that these would be published on the website mid-January 2022; the call for candidate sites officially started in March 2022 and would run through until May 2022. It was mentioned that the register would be published in May 2022, after the Local Government Elections. Members were informed that the circulated report contained the full timeline of the RLDP.
Following scrutiny, the Committee was supportive of the proposal to be considered by the Cabinet Board.
Transforming Towns Place Making Grant
Members were updated on the funding received from the Welsh Government to deliver the Transforming Towns Programme, South West Wales, Place Making Grant (TTPM).
It was asked if the Council had made preparations in order to make the most of the grant. It was explained that there was £4.5 million allocated to the Region; this provided NPT Council with around £1.1million, however there was an opportunity to ask for more if needed. Officers predicated that the allocated amount would be spent, and more money may be required in order to deliver the projects that were lined up; some of these included renovating commercial premises, and some smaller jobs such as the markets and pop up shops.
The Team recognised that a lot of Welsh Government money was being allocated to the larger urban areas; Officers put forward a long list asking of proposed works in secondary settlements, such as Taibach, Skewen, Cymmer and Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen. However, it was noted that this was not backed up by Welsh Government, and Officers were told that they had to focus on the larger settlements. Members were informed that this did not prevent any other settlements from being put forward, if Officers were able to submit a strong case to Welsh Government; Members were encouraged to contact the Team if they had a specific case.
A discussion took place in regards to the digital agenda for transforming towns, and it was queried if the Transforming Towns Place Making Grant could be utilised for digital works. Officers stated that the circulated report looks at providing an understanding of how digital could be used to improve footfall and measure footfall etc.; and that the City Deal work was more aligned to the digital agenda, and will have its own funding streams to carry out some of that work.
The difficulty of applying and proceeding with grant applications was raised; Members asked if Officers were still able to meet the support needs for the businesses who were able to qualify for the grant. It was noted that Officers would help in whatever way they were able to; however, this was limited due to staffing hours and limited resources. Officers acknowledged the challenge, and mentioned that it was difficult to distribute the money; a lot of infrastructure needed to be put in place to ensure that the money was distributed fairly and fitted in with the criteria of the grant.
Officers confirmed that they would provide a follow up report outlining the funding opportunities that the Council was going to take forward and how the money was going to be used.
Following scrutiny, the Committee noted the report.