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Cabinet news round-up

Open Space and Green Infrastructure Strategies

Cabinet has agreed to adopt the two strategies following consultation with a variety of key audiences.

An annual report will be produced on progress with the strategies which will go on to form part of the evidence base for developing the Joint Local Plan.

And, in the Council’s capacity as a landowner, Cabinet has agreed that a report be brought back on the implications of these strategies on the Asset Management Strategy.

Members were told that the strategies outline the current position in the borough in relation to the provision of open space and green infrastructure to meet community needs.

They provide a framework for future maintenance and management, taking into account reducing resource levels at the Council and limited capacity to develop opportunities for alternative service delivery models.

As well as being important documents to support the Local Plan, the strategies will inform the Council’s approach to how it manages its physical assets, such as buildings and land.


Debt and benefit advice service

Cabinet has agreed to provide funding of between £55-60,000 to enable a service used by thousands of people to carry on for a short period while more longer term plans are considered.

General debt and benefit advice services were under threat after Staffordshire Council Council decided to end its contribution to a joint agreement.

Its contribution, made through the Public Sector Commissioning in Partnership contract, began in 2014 with a contract with the Borough Council that paid for the delivery of three contact centres in Staffordshire – including one based at the CAB’s Well Street bureau in Newcastle - and an advice service for 150 clients per district.

An NULBC contribution each year of just under £132,000 pays for a weekly service involving the CAB delivering 25 hours face-to-face advice and 16 hours telephone advice each week, with some outreach work in Kidsgrove and Madeley.

The Borough Council’s funding also paid for 20 hours of Age Uk face-to-face advice work per week.

From April to December 2016, a total of 2,327 people used the service in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

When the agreement with the county was signed in 2014, it was for a two year period with the option to extend by a further two 12-month periods.

On 2 March the contract had one 12-month period left but the county council has decided to end the agreement at this time.

The funding now agreed by Cabinet will allow a local general debt advice service to be offered from April to September. During this time the Council will set up a review of future advice service provision in the borough, where the impact of welfare reform and expected changes to how users access services are considered.


Parking charges

A Traffic Regulation Order has been updated by Cabinet which means overnight car parking charges of £1 between the hours of 8pm and 8am can now be introduced.

Cabinet members were told the Council has a responsibility to manage its car park portfolio effectively in order that it is fit for purpose and meeting its objectives.

Members rejected claims that parking was a “cash cow” and pointed out that in recent months a re-evaluation of business rates due from car parks has sent costs spiralling.

To help meet some of these additional charges the Council had to either ask drivers for a £1 overnight payment or ask all Council Taxpayers to pay.

Cabinet had decided asking drivers to contribute was a fairer option.

Members also pointed out that almost all day-time car park charges have been frozen once again during 2017/18.

This means costs on the Council’s biggest and busiest car park – the Midway in Newcastle – remain the same for the sixth year in a row.


Newcastle market

Cabinet has agreed to an external partner being sought to operate and manage the Council’s town centre markets.

A report advised members that the market “is not performing as well as the Council might have hoped”, despite a recent refurbishment project which helped to boost stall occupancy and income.

Outsourcing management and operation of the market would ensure greater flexibility to promote the market and bring in new customers and traders, at a time when competing demands and priorities are being placed on council resources.

In other parts of the country, declining markets have been revitalised by bringing in new operators – and it is anticipated that a similar scheme would benefit the existing market traders in the town centre.

Without decisive action, Council officers fear there is a serious risk of Newcastle Market falling into “a long-term trend of decline”, with “a detrimental effect on the town centre as a shopping destination and damage to the economic performance of the centre as a whole”.

Letters have been sent out to all Newcastle Market stallholders advising them of the Council’s proposals.

Cabinet members authorised officers to begin a tendering process to find a suitable external operator.

A report from the Council’s Economic Development and Enterprise Scrutiny Committee is also being prepared and will be taken into account when developing the outcome-based specification.

Further information

Please note the agenda and all public background papers relating to the March Cabinet meeting are available on the Council’s website via the meetings, minutes and agendas quick link on the home page.