To receive any questions or statements from members of the public that have registered to speak.
Three members of the public had registered to ask a question.
“Having examined the original S106 agreements I note that two postscripts have been added by the District Council
1) Reserving funds for the Wessex Leisure Centre
2) Making reference to an e-mail written by R. Cross dated 16/12/16
As Wessex Leisure Centre does not exist and is no longer planned and the e-mail ‘is no longer retained on file ‘quoted from a Freedom of Information request, will these references be removed and the S106 contributions be spent according to the original legal agreements?
If not how will any changes in the spending of the S106 contributions be decided?”
Councillor Roberts, Cabinet member for development and infrastructure, responded as follows:
“I share your concern that developer contributions that were intended to improve local sports and leisure facilities should do so, even if the previous administration tried to tie them to a project that they should have known was never feasibly going to happen.
Following the termination of the Wessex Leisure Centre project, Section 106 funds earmarked for that scheme remain formally allocated whilst projects to deliver most the appropriate and beneficial use of those funds are considered.
Work is ongoing towards achieving this, in consultation with local representatives.
The options being considered cover schemes which may be delivered by the district council or potentially projects of other organisations where that delivers a suitable outcome. Any use of Section 106 funds will need to be spent in accordance with the associated spending criteria”.
B. Julie Mabberley, representing Wantage and Grove Campaign, asked the following question.
“In the Council Meeting on 10 February 2021, in response to a question from Alderman Hutchinson, “Councillor Helen Pighills stated that the council’s Corporate Plan committed the council to work with partners on the production of a leisure strategy. It was hoped this would be available by the end of March but was dependent on the availability of staff resources which had been assisting with the council’s response to the Covid pandemic.
She confirmed that S106 funds previously allocated to the Wessex Leisure Centre project were being reviewed to determine how they could be re-allocated to alternative projects in the areas which generated the funds and what projects could be funded.
She confirmed that there was no CIL money available for leisure projects in Grove and Wantage.
Whilst the council could not commit to ensure the leisure facilities would be in walking distance, the council was committed to ensure the funds would be used in the areas that generated them and to reduce reliance on cars to access facilities.”
It is now July 2022 and we have seen no evidence of a leisure strategy or any review of the s106 funds previously allocated to the Wessex Leisure Centre.
When will the Leisure Strategy included in the Councils Corporate Plan be produced and will there be any public consultation on the strategy before it is final?”
Councillor Helen Pighills, Cabinet member for healthy communities, responded as follows:
“On 22 July, the Cabinet will consider my proposed Active Communities Strategy, and the papers for this meeting will be published later this week.
The Active Communities Strategy will sit beneath the overarching Healthy Communities Strategy as just one in a suite of supporting strategies, that will address many of the wellbeing and health related priorities of the council’s Corporate Plan. The strategy sets out how the Council plans to improve the health and wellbeing of residents and the role council plays in providing high quality active opportunities for all our communities. A key aim of the strategy will be collaborative partnership working across the district.
Officers are also working with Sport England to secure relevant external support and expertise to develop a district wide leisure facilities strategy. It is anticipated that the formal commercial appointment for this work will be made by the end of the year through the Sport England Active Environments Framework. This crucial work will not only outline needs across the district but is a crucial piece of evidence needed to inform our Joint Local Plan with South Oxfordshire”.
C. Mr Gooch asked the following question:
“It was recognised by the Council as long ago as 2006 in LTP2 that Wantage Town has poor connectivity and lacks investment and vital infrastructure. What work, if any, has the Council undertaken to apply for a share of the £3.6billion available in the Towns Fund and if they have not done so why not?
Councillor Neil Fawcett, Cabinet member for strategic partnerships and place, responded as follows:
“Thank you for the question which helpfully reminds me of that time in September 2019 when the government invited 100 places around the UK to develop proposals for a Town Deal, as part of their planned £3.6 billion Towns Fund.
Members will probably recall as I do that the launch of the Towns Fund attracted a lot of publicity because of accusations that the choice of towns was politically motivated. A subsequent inquiry by Public Accounts Committee in Parliament concluded that it was “not convinced by the rationales for selecting some towns and not others”.
Sadly, nowhere in Oxfordshire was invited to bid so we were simply not in a position to put in an application even if we had wanted to.
The Council always considers its position carefully in terms of funds made available by government, including working with civil servants at the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to get a better understanding of assessment criteria. Through those relationships we are able to build a clearer understanding of the Council’s likely chances of success when bidding for any funds. Beyond the headline figures there are often nuances and technical implications to be considered, that affect our chances of success.
Where realistic opportunities do arise that would benefit Wantage, or any other area in the district, we will actively pursue that opportunity. We have been successful at winning grants for a number of different government funds but for the time being unfortunately the towns fund, to which your question relates, is not available to Wantage”.