Agenda and minutes
Special Meeting, Environment, Sustainability and Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee
Thursday, 10 November 2011 7:00 pm
Contact: Jessica Vine; 020 8891 7078; Email: email@example.com
To receive any apologies for absence.
Apologies were received from Councillor Avon who was substituted by Councillor Bouchier.
Apologies were received from Councillor Acton who was substituted by Councillor Nicholson.
DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
In accordance with the Members’ Code of Conduct, Members are requested to declare any interests orally at the start of the meeting and again immediately before consideration of the matter. Members are reminded to specify the agenda item number to which it refers and whether the interest is of a personal or prejudicial nature.
Members are also reminded of the requirements of Section 106 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 that they should declare and not vote on specified matters if they are two months or more in arrears with their Council Tax payments.
Councillor Stockley declared a personal interest in the Thames Tunnel item by virtue of the fact that she had submitted a petition in support of Barn Elms Playing Fields.
In accordance with Overview and Scrutiny Procedure Rule 16, of the
Council’s Constitution, the Chief Executive (as Proper Officer) has called in the following decision of the Cabinet, having been requested to do so by two Members of the Environment, Sustainability and Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee:
The reasons for the call in were as follows:
“[To call in] that part of decision 1 giving retrospective authority for joining the Thames Tunnel Commission because:
Report of the Strategic Cabinet Member for Environment, Planning, Parks and Highways attached.
Appendices A – H attached.
Introduction by Members calling in the decision
Councillor Acton having sent his apologies, the reasons for calling in the item where introduced by Councillor Elloy and Councillor Elengorn, who raised the following points:
(i) It appeared that a change in attitude to the Thames Tunnel project had occurred between January 2011 and the time when the Council had agreed to join the Thames Tunnel Commission in the summer of 2011; there was a lack of documentation to explain this perceived change in attitude. Moreover, it was felt that the decision to join the Commission should have been previously advertised and consulted upon.
(ii) There was a lack of explanation as to an alternative proposal which would justify withdrawing support for Thames Water’s original proposals. The creation of the tunnel was necessary to address existing environmental concerns and to raise water quality.
(iii) A number of reviews into the Thames Tunnel proposals had already been carried out, so it was questioned why the work of the Commission was necessary.
(iv) The Council’s relationship with Thames Water was brought into question by the decision to join the Commission. There may also be implications for how the Council would fund and negotiate a response to any future planning application to the Infrastructure Planning Commission.
(v) It was unclear what value the Commission could add if only published material was being considered; it was also unclear whether the decision to join the Commission was cost efficient.
Response from the Leader of the Council and the Assistant Director of Environment
In response to the points raised, the Leader of the Council explained that the decision to join the Commission had been taken in light of significant public interest in and concern about the Thames Tunnel proposals. He stated that the decision did not represent a change in the Council’s attitude towards the project, but that it was necessary to explore the options fully to allow the Council to make an informed response to the proposals. Involvement with the Commission did not equate to categorically opposing Thames Tunnel’s plans. He welcomed the recent announcement by Thames Water (which had been made since the Cabinet decision) to alter its proposals in relation to the sewer entrance.
The Leader of the Council and the Assistant Director responded to Members’ questions with the following information:
(i) The Council’s letter in January 2011 stated that the general principles of the scheme were supported but that all options should be considered. Joining the Commission was part of considering all options; thus the Council had not changed it stance on the issue.
(ii) A memorandum of understanding was only signed with Thames Water in September 2011: before this time any associated review costs were due to have been borne by the Council. For this reason the decision to share review work via the Commission was seen to be cost effective. Joining the Commission meant that those local authorities likely to be affected by the proposals could pool their resources, avoid duplication of work, and attract higher profile witnesses. It was estimated that the cost for each authority to review an application for the Thames Tunnel could be between £0.5 million and £1 million.
(iii) It was not the aim of the Commission to delay the decision on the Thames Tunnel. Thames Water had set out a timetable for finalising an application which included an additional period of consultation until mid February 2012; this would allow additional sites to be investigated.
(iv) In taking a view on the Thames Tunnel project, the Council would need to balance the benefits of providing a cleaner and safer river Thames against the potential negative impact on a greenfield site in Barnes. For this reason a thorough examination of the benefits and costs was required.
The Committee discussed whether adequate transparency and documentation had been afforded to the decision. It was noted that the Cabinet needed to play a strategic role and that the decision had been expedient given the timeframe.
Members considered the cost of joining the Commission (which was deemed to be relatively low) in the context of the importance of the Thames Tunnel scheme and potential impact on residents. Members deemed the decision to be reasonable.
It was RESOLVED:
That the decision of the Cabinet be NOTED.