It's actually our second meeting of the year, after the deferred extraordinary meeting on homelessness (click for webcast) was held on the 9th. The webcast for today's meeting is HERE. Alternatively, read on for a quick account of what happened...
#2. Apologies for Absence
#3. Declarations of Interest
#4. Confirmation of Council Minutes - 22/10/2019 and 09/01/2020
#5. Updates on Actions
#6. Receipt of Petitions (N/A)
#7. Public Question Time (N/A)
#8. Announcements from the Leader or Chief Executive
Cllr Hunt thanked those who attended the civic Holocaust Memorial Day service, and commemorated the life of former Cllr Margaret Pead.
#9. Council Tax Reduction Scheme
This is an annual issue whereby TCBC needs to recommit to operating its own Council Tax Reduction Scheme, allowing more flexibility than the standard scheme which would become the default if this wasn't done. The scheme is part funded by Welsh Government, then TCBC tops it up as part of the council's operational budget. For more information and to find out if you're eligible check out THIS page from the Benefits team.
#10. Petition To Stop Spraying Our Towns With Glyphosate
Council received a public petition back in September 2019 asking that TCBC "stop spraying our towns with probable cancer causing glyphosate." Today Council needed to agree a response and policy direction; the recommendation from officers was to continue using glyphosate but keep it under review to allow action as and when new research / best practice guidance becomes available.
This was the item I was dreading today because I was expecting protesters and disruption from the public gallery. I mean, it's one thing to tell a fellow councillor to sit down and be quiet, but it feels really different having to do with it a member of the public! As usual I was getting worked up about nothing because the sole person in the public gallery today was a reporter from the Argus.
Anyway, I had already determined that I would take the debate for as long as it went because, ultimately, it is an issue with a lot of public interest and I didn't want people to go away feeling like I'd shut down discussion or not allowed them to bring amendments. Ultimately there were three amendments, the first submitted by Cllr Haynes and replacing 13.1 with:
"That Council agrees to cease using glyphosate based products for weed control in Torfaen within the next 6 months and that a letter advising of this be sent to the petitioner."
Cllr Haynes then adopted a further amendment by Cllr O'Connell to cover the problem of Japanese knotweed:
"That Council agrees to cease using sprayed glyphosate based products for weed control in Torfaen, with the exception of direct injection to Japanese knotweed, within the next 6 months and that a letter advising of this be sent to the petitioner."
A recorded vote was taken on this one, with it falling due to lack of support.
Cllr Bevan then put forward another amendment, hoping to overcome some of the problems around financially viable alternatives:
"That Council agrees the continued use of glyphosate based products for weed control in Torfaen, other than in high public footfall areas, whilst monitoring the development of alternatives for the future, and that a letter advising of this be sent to the petitioner."
Again, a recorded vote was taken and, although garnering more support, this amendment also fell. We then took a regular vote (by show of hands) on the original recommendations from officers which passed.
To be honest, I was quite swayed by Cllr Bevan's amendment and privately debated whether to break whip on the issue. At the end of the day though, that would have been to appease public anxieties rather than because of any personally held convictions on glyphosate. I've yet to see any convincing evidence for the stuff to be considered a probable carcinogen, especially not at the levels we use it (c. 150 - 300 times less concentrated than in the studies shared by the petition group). And, even if there was, it doesn't necessarily mean a total ban would be or even should be desirable - our schools are still serving processed meat despite the World Health Organisation labelling it a proven carcinogen, for example, just as we're still using all manner of toxic chemicals to clean floors and keep bathrooms hygenic.
So, yeah, at this point continual review seems the most sensible way forward.
#11. Solar Farm: Capital Funding
This item refers to a project that has been in the planning stage for some time, with the aim of making positive use of the former Ty Coch landfill site in Cwmbran - a site so contaminated even Japanese knotweed won't grow in parts of it. Fiscally conservative estimates suggest the solar farm would provide an annual return of £835,000 over its 35 year lifespan, in addition to reducing grid emissions by 48,180 tCO2 over the same period. Some councillors expressed concern about the financial risks, with officers confirming that should the project start losing the council money it would go back to Cabinet for further consideration of its future.
There were a few objections, but Council agreed to provide the project with capital funding to the tune of £2.45 million so the procurement process could get underway. Here's an excerpt from the 2018 Design and Access Scheme to give an idea of scale:
#12. Political Balance, Committee Chairs and Membership of Committees
Cllr O'Connel has left the Conservative group to become a Non-Aligned Independent, which changes the political balance of council committees. This item simply laid out the personnel changes to membership. Cllr Clark advised Council he would write to Welsh Govt to express concern about the rule barring more than one councillor from the same electoral ward sitting on planning committee, as the end result is continual vacancies on the committee despite numerous people being willing to fill them.
#13. Cardiff Capital Region City Deal - Joint Overview and Scrutiny Commmittee
This item dealt with committee membership: our previous representative on the committee, Cllr Jo Gauden, is now an executive member so her place was taken by Cllr Veronica Crick.
#14. Motions on Notice (N/A)
#15. Members' Question Time
Cllr Slade couldn't make today's meeting so his questions were deferred, leaving two questions from Cllr David Thomas. The first asked Cllr Daniels, as executive member for Adult Services & Housing, whether Torfaen has considered an outdoor 'safe space' for rough sleepers. Cllr Daniels reiterated the information given at the extraordinary council meeting a couple of weeks ago - namely, TCBC's goal is to stop rough sleeping so outdoor provision isn't the way forward. Instead the first of two dedicated houses which will provide eight supported tenancy places has just opened its doors.
Cllr Thomas' second question asked Cllr Cross, as executive member for Environment, whether the street lights on Cwmbran Drive could be turned on to allay fears about the potential for RTAs. Cllr Cross declined and pointed out that there has only been one recorded accident on Cwmbran Drive since 2009, vs. multiple along other, well lit, sections of the highway.
#16. Cabinet Decisions - 19/11/2019 and 07/01/2020
These were noted.
#17. Exclusion of the Press and Public
As is customary, the webcast was switched off and the press and public were excluded from the chamber for the confidential item following.
#18. Outcome of Complaint Under Local Resolution Protocol
The outcome was noted.
#19. Date and Time of Next Meeting - 10am, 03/03/2020
If anybody reading wants to come along to a meeting but feels a bit nervous, please feel free to get in touch. I am more than happy to show you around and tell you how it all works. :)
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