The verbal update of the Corporate Director - Business and Environmental Services.
Karl Battersby provided the following update.
NY Highways – the teckal company was on course to go live on 1 June 2021. Looking ahead there was a need to make sure that NY Highways not only ensured a smooth transition of service delivery from Ringway but looked at how things could be done better. Early on, an example of this would involve looking at the winter management programme to see what had worked well last winter and what could be done better in future years.
Active travel – the County Council had been successful in securing just over £1 million for four active travel fund schemes: three in Harrogate and one in Whitby. Virtual meetings had been held on those schemes, with a good turnout for the Harrogate meetings but lower attendance at the Whitby meeting. The Harrogate scheme relating to Outlands Drive had proved controversial and so the County Council had sought to amend the scheme, particularly in terms of the one-way nature of that scheme, and was now into the detailed design stage.
The County Council was also managing the Transforming Cities Fund schemes across North Yorkshire. Initial consultation had been carried out with many responses received back. Comments were currently being analysed to feed into the next stage of consultation before delivery of the schemes took place.
Kex Gill (A59 realignment) – all planning issues had now been resolved and the County Council was about to commence the procurement process to secure a contractor. The side road orders would be published shortly and the acquisition of the land.
A19 (Selby district) - the County Council was working with Balfour Beatty to finish the works as early as possible and the hope was to finalize the program in the next two to three weeks. Working days had been lost due to recent inclement weather but the County Council was confident that they would be clawed back as a result of introducing seven day working that had been carried out fairly recently on the scheme.
Community renewal fund – the County Council was marshalling bids on behalf of all North Yorkshire districts for submission to government. The County Council was also looking at what it wanted to submit to the fund. Options included whether to group specific schemes together under one theme, particularly around transport, so that the county as a whole could get greater economies of scale. The bid would need to go through to the County Council’s Executive to meet the deadline of 18 June 2021 for submissions to government.
Joint Waste Authority – the County Council had entered into an agreement to formalise the informal partnership that it had with City of York Council in respect of a Joint Waste Authority. Work was also underway to examine what the partnership should be doing in relation to responding to the government's waste strategy. The government had recently published three consultations in that regard and County Council officers were currently preparing responses for submission to BES Executive Members for approval.
Planning function – a peer review had been carried out of the authority’s planning service. External support had been provided and action plans were being developed. Changes to the service would include having a dedicated enforcement and monitoring resource.
Budget – a small overspend of between £50,000 and £90,000 of the overall budget was predicted. This was mainly due to the increased cost of the winter programme due to the inclement weather.
Flood resilience – the County Council had successfully secured flood resilience monies from the Environment Agency in a joint bid with City of York Council to respond to wider flooding and catchment issues.
Bus Back Better – the government had issued its new national bus strategy. Local authorities were being asked to decide which option they should adopt – a partnership or franchise model. Local authorities were required to respond by 9 June, so the County Council was doing some work around scenario planning. Following the submission to government regarding which option to adopt, local authorities would need to produce action plans to be submitted to government by October. For the County Council this would include aspects relating to bus priority and reliability measures and the types of areas that we would want to address in terms of a new bus strategy going forward. Linked into that the County Council was also looking at a demand responsive pilot in the Ripon area.
Highway maintenance – this remained a significant priority for the County Council; spending in the region of £50 million a year maintaining the largest road network in the country. However, the government had made some financial changes to the maintenance allocation, which meant a £7 million reduction on the maintenance budget. Members were being consulted on what this would mean for the highways maintenance programme in their local area and an agreed programme was now in place.
Brierley Homes – 235 homes were in the process of development at present, including completed sites and ongoing developments. Brierley Homes was taking a cautious approach but was gaining momentum and increased interest as the brand and the quality of the product that it was producing was becoming better known. Some homes were starting to be sold off-plan.
Members made the following key comments:
County Councillor John McCartney referred to the A19 repairs and asked how confident the directorate was in meeting the mid-June re-opening date. Karl Battersby replied that he was confident that this target would be met unless something untoward happened such as a freak weather event. Efforts were being made to re-open the relevant A19 section prior to mid-June.
County Councillor Paul Haslam noted that highway maintenance obviously needed to be a priority but asked what the budget was for public rights of way or cycle routes. Karl Battersby confirmed that there was a separate budget for public rights of way. The county had the largest public rights of way in the county but despite that did well in terms of management and maintenance because there was a strong network of volunteers who assisted. Without those volunteers, the County Council would struggle to maintain the network that it had. Cycle routes were part of the overall maintenance budget but one of the aspects that the directorate was currently looking at was whether it could create a dedicated revenue and capital budget in relation to active travel. At present, the directorate tended to add on existing schemes or use developer contributions or bid for external monies to improve the cycle network rather than having a specific dedicated capital pot for cycling schemes. This aspiration had however taken something of a backward step this year to being realised due to the significant reduction in the maintenance budget.
County Councillor Karl Arthur asked in relation to Brierley Homes what level of income was it providing and asked for future projections. Karl Battersby replied that currently it provided an income stream because it was linked to the other Brierley group of companies. He said that he was not able to provide a precise figure but a business plan was in place, which included income projections. The aim was on each development site to return a profit of around 15%. A healthy return was predicted in going forward and if a unitary county authority was created this would open up a wider range of opportunities.
County Councillor Don MacKay said that he wished to pay tribute to the quality of the houses being built by Brierley Homes, which in his view was far superior to any of the properties built by large housing developers. He said that he felt that the profit margin of 15% was reasonable and possibly not ambitious enough. Karl Battersby replied that there were some sites where it was estimated that Brierley Homes would be able to achieve a higher profit margin but profit was not the sole factor, social value also played its part. The surplus Brierley Homes made was being re-invested in services that the customer valued. Sustainability and future-proofing was being considered in the design of properties such as the installation of heat pumps and electric charging points for electric vehicles.
County Councillor Karl Arthur queried, in respect of the Bus back better strategy, how the revenue would be raised if the local authority adopted a partnership approach or franchise approach. He had received reports about car parking charges increasing and congestion charges being applied in cities that had adopted a franchise model. Karl Battersby replied that the government would be encouraging local authorities to look at transport policy holistically, and if the local authority was trying to encourage more people to use public transport and put in place bus priority measures etc., that would be linked to wider policies around parking. However, North Yorkshire County Council had not formed any firm ideas of what they would look like and at present, it did not have full control of parking charges because the district councils were responsible for off-street parking. He went on to note that when local authorities developed their action plans, the document was effectively a bidding document so some of that would be bidding for monies for service improvement. Separate to this there was a national fund aimed at electric buses and related infrastructure, with an opportunity for local authorities to bid for any costs in terms of infrastructure changes. In terms of the operator costs, under the partnership option, the operator would still bear the revenue risk of running the services going forward. Under a franchising model, the local authority would take over the running of bus services in the county and would then take the revenue risk if the patronage fell.
Councillor Paul Haslam said it was important not to discount a bus franchising option now and believed that in time all areas of the country would have bus services running on a franchise model either by individual local authorities or on a national basis.
That the Committee notes the Corporate Director’s update.