Cabinet round-up - 10 July 2019
An action plan has been drawn up to revitalise the Council’s popular Jubilee2 leisure complex.
A three-pronged proposal aims to tackle a budget deficit, improve income through more effective marketing and deal with outstanding building defects.
The building has been open for seven years and has up to 12,000 visitors each week who use the full range of facilities which include swimming pools, climbing walls, a health suite, gym and three studios.
Cabinet members heard there are more than 3,000 active members at Jubilee2 and a significant number of other people who make use of the facilities on a pay-and-play basis.
Snagging defects after the building opened in 2012 were dealt with however, serious and unresolved issues came to light from 2014 onwards and this is detracting from how it operates and the operating subsidy is increasing year-on-year due to both higher costs and income shortfalls.
A report considered by Cabinet members revealed measures to slash the budget deficit.
In 2018/19 there was an overspend of £370,000 and proposals to be put in place aim to take this down to £155,000 during 2020/21.
Improvements in staff sickness absence together with onsite chlorine generation to remove chemical usage are proposed
A new gym lay-out, changes to swimming club fees and improvements to collecting default membership subscriptions will also play a part.
And a replaced heat recovery system for the main pool has already been tackled to reduce energy bills.
Two specialists are also being brought in to help improve income and marketing.
Cabinet approved plans for Strategi Solutions Ltd, who are based in Newcastle-under-Lyme, to be awarded a three-year contract to develop commercial advertising opportunities at Jubilee2.
And Alliance Leisure, who are currently working with around 250 other facilities nationally, are to be recruited on a four-year arrangement, to provide specialist marketing support.
Morgan Sindall were appointed to design and build Jubilee2 and the report to Cabinet confirms discussions are currently going on with them over building defects.
Two significant issues include leaks from the roof over the main staircase and water from the first floor health suite leaking into the swimming pool family changing cubicles.
Because of the confidential nature of the issues involved in this element of the improvement action plan, Cabinet members will be briefed on the discussions with Morgan Sindall privately.
20 Sidmouth Avenue, Newcastle
New homes look set to be provided on the site of the former Registrar’s Office in Newcastle.
The Borough Council-owned building in Sidmouth Avenue was leased for many years by the county council’s Registrar and Trading Standards Services until they relocated to nearby Castle House in autumn 2018. Since then the property has stood empty.
Now, Cabinet members have backed plans to revitalise the site by securing planning permission to convert the main building into either a four-five bedroom detached family dwelling or two-three apartments.
Extensions added on to the main property – which dates back to around 1870 – would be removed.
It is proposed that applications would also be made for three other detached homes on the plot.
Once all of these permissions were in place, the Borough Council would dispose of the development site but not before a covenant was put in place on all three properties to ensure they are only used by single families and do not become “house of multiple occupation (HMOs)” in future years.
Council Leader Simon Tagg said: “These are really exciting proposals. The plans being put forward will ensure the future of an important building in one of our conservation areas, protect the integrity of the area, create new family homes in a lovely part of the town and also maximise the value of this asset for the benefit of local taxpayers.
“These are win, win proposals and we will be bringing them to fruition as soon as we possibly can.”
Cabinet members were told that planning applications could be submitted as soon as next month with sales on the new homes scheduled for completion in early 2021.
A confidential report from valuers was presented to members to indicate how much the Council could expect to make from the project.
This initiative will be funded by £100,000 ring-fenced in the Council’s 2019-20 Capital Programme to be used towards “accelerating residential and commercial development” as part of the Growth Fund announced by Cabinet in January this year.
The Capital Programme will be ‘refunded’ once the sale of the property and the land has been completed and this has been anticipated for the 2021 financial year.
Air quality Ministerial Direction update
Experts have revealed the scale of the air quality issues facing Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent are far greater than first thought.
Analysis has been carried out to understand the type of vehicles being used around the A53 and Basford Bank area.
Information collected has enabled data regarding the local vehicle fleet composition – HGVs, LGV, buses and cars etc – to be compiled and to determine what percentage of vehicles would comply with a Clean Air Zone if one were introduced.
The research has shown locally there are 20 per cent more non-compliant vehicles in this area than there are nationally.
That means a greater amount of work will be likely to reduce the harmful nitrogen dioxide pollutants which are having a huge impact on public health in the borough and the city.
As well as the more significant amount of work that may need to be Cabinet members heard that it is unlikely that a “very demanding” 31 October deadline – set by the Government - for Newcastle and Stoke to come up with either outline or full business case on how they are to tackle air pollution problems is unlikely to be met.
Concerns had previously been expressed about the huge volume of work that needed to be done to hit the deadline and a number of issues have arisen which means this is now highly unlikely.
These include delays in obtaining confirmation for the automatic number plate recognition camera surveys used for the assessment work mentioned above; delays in the analysis to the data collected from these surveys; initial baseline modelling indicating wider exceedances meaning larger and more complex modelling; procurement delays and the complexities of working across three councils.
Cabinet members in Newcastle are firmly against proposals such as a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) which would see charges imposed on some vehicles using the A53 through Basford Bank and into Stoke-on-Trent by Festival Park.
They believe a there is a highways/transport solution to help reduce the pollution levels and that any form of parking levy of chargeable CAZ would be damaging to business and the town centre.
A separate ministerial direction has also been served on the Borough Council requiring it to implement a programme of retrofitting engines on buses which use the A53.
Around 25 buses operated by First – on the 3, 4 and 4a routes – would be involved.
First has recently announced that First Group will be selling off its interest in First Bus and work is going on with the company to identify the impact this will have on the retrofit project.
Meanwhile, the meeting heard that First has recently identified suitable buses for retrofitting and work is getting under way on applying for funding to undertake the works.
After receiving the update on the issue, the Leader of the Council also recommended that the Council presses Newcastle MP Paul Farrelly to raise concerns about a Clean Air Zone in Parliament.
Cllr. Tagg said he was also scheduled to hold talks with the Leaders of Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Staffordshire County Council on this matter and he would report back to Cabinet in due course.
Newcastle Housing Advice Service contract
The Council has begun looking at how it will continue to meet its statutory obligation to provide housing advice services across Newcastle-under-Lyme in the future.
Services are currently provided by Midland Heart on behalf of the local authority as part of a contract which will expire at the end of March 2020.
The Council spends £328,863 a year on the service which includes:-
- Homelessness prevention.
- Operating the Council’s Housing Register and Allocations Policy.
- Providing emergency interim accommodation.
Cabinet members agreed to re-tender the service with a revised specification/service outline as this option is most likely to deliver the service within the budget allocation.
The tender will be advertised between August and October with returned applications evaluated in the autumn so a new contract can be awarded in December this year.
Full details of all reports considered by Cabinet are available on the Borough Council’s website – www.newcastle-staffs.gov.uk – under the “Your Council” section.
Last updated 11 July 2019