YOU’VE been sending us your questions all week, and today we put them to Swindon council leader David Renard as he took to the Hotseat.
Here’s what he had to say to your burning questions...
Q: You have been leader of the council for almost a year. What are you most proud of in that time and what are you least proud of?
A: The thing I’m most proud of I think is quite straightforward and that’s the UTC. I initiated that when I was cabinet member for Children Services and to see it coming to fruition is very pleasing, and I think it will be a huge boost for the town and our young people.
The least proud? Well, considering we’ve been managing reducing budgets, I think things have gone reasonably well over the last year. I don’t think there’s anything that we’ve got particularly wrong. I honestly can’t think of anything that I think has gone badly, or worse than it could have done. Perhaps that’s for others to judge.
Q: Given it has taken so long for the mayor to face the standards committee for something he is alleged to have said six months ago, do you feel it needs reforming?
A: It does need reforming and in fact, we’ve been working on that over the last few months, with two independent people who used to work for the Standards Board of England when it was in existence. They’ve done a thorough review and they are in fact presenting their findings to the Standards Board. They’ve made some recommendations, and the most important is timeliness of hearing applications. I think everybody agrees when someone is accused of something, whether they are found guilty or not guilty, it is in everybody’s interests that the outcome is arrived at as quickly as possible and they are making recommendations in order to improve some of these complaints.
Q: Do you think the mayor should have resigned when the accusations were first made about what he said?
A: The mayor has addressed the allegations and therefore it’s a matter for the Standards Committee and for the mayor to make a judgement.
Q: Do you feel having Eric Pickles as Local Government Minister is a hindrance? It seems most people I know who vote Tory are not voting for them again this year because of Pickles’ approval of Ridgeway Farm.
A: Some of the proposals that have been put forward in terms of local Government reform have been positive. However, I have not agreed with many of the proposals that have come from the DCLG and I dislike central Government trying to control local Government by dictating the policies they should introduce.
I feel 57 councillors are allocated locally to represent the Swindon communities – those 57 councillors should decide how best to run the council and their town, and allocate resources in the best interests of residents.
Q: With more than 20,000 houses to be built in Swindon in the next 15 years, what is being done to enable the roads to deal with the inevitable gridlock which will hit them, especially at the A420 and A419?
A: We are addressing that and again, the bid we’re putting into Government makes it clear as part of the Eastern Villages development that improvements need to be made to the roads infrastructure, particularly around the White Hart roundabout.
Yes, we acknowledge when new houses are being built the appropriate road infrastructure needs to be put in place before the development is completed.
Q: Was spending £15m on a car park (Kimmerfields) money well spent?
A: It was a very good use of public money because it proposes to open up the £350m development that will be Kimmerfields. Also, it enables us to replace some of our old, ageing car parks, which are inadequate and do not meet modern standards, so we can continue the redevelopment of the town centre. For years, people have been complaining about the Wyvern car park and the Carlton Street car park, and with the Wyvern people have complained about the access ramps up to the higher levels not being wide enough for modern vehicles.
People also don’t feel safe in them. There’s a whole host of reasons for replacing it with a modern, brightly lit car park that will enable the Kimmerfields development to come to fruition.
It is being well used – everybody who lives in the sheltered housing scheme has a parking space in there, and a number of businesses have relocated from other car parks because a lot of our businesses buy parking spaces in bulk from us. A lot have moved in there, but I couldn’t tell you on a day to day basis how full it is, but it is well used.
Q: Why was the loss of £400,000 on the failed wi-fi scheme not sent to the police and why has no one been punished or lost their job?
A: The police have been asked to look at wi-fi on two occasions and they’ve decided there is no case to answer. The Scrutiny Committee spent many months looking at what happened and came to their conclusions. It’s in the report, I don’t think there’s anything I can add.
Q: Lots of local interest exists in your plan to lease off all local leisure facilities. Why are you even prepared to risk losing these to a redevelopment clause, when very simple covenants can be included in leases to ensure these facilities revert to the borough in the event the private sector cannot make enough profit from any one of them?
A: At the moment, we’re in the tender stage. Any lease that’s drawn up will have suitable wording to protect the best interests of the council and the taxpayers of Swindon. We’ll be asking to protect these interests in any contract that is agreed.
Q: People have said the council carries out consultations after a decision has been made. As a result, are the consultations just a waste of time and money?
A: I would dispute that. I can give some examples of when decisions have been made and changed as a result of consultations. The most recent example is around the green waste charges. Originally, the proposal was to charge £35 for a bin and £35 for a year. The clear message in the consultation and from residents was that £70 in the first year was unacceptable so the recommendations were revised and we introduced a £40 charge for the year and included the bin as part of the first year’s subscription.
In some cases though, the contract is contractually obliged to consult on certain issues and there may not be any choice on what we’re consulting on, but because we’re legally obliged to consult, we have to do so.
NEXT WEEK... REBECCA ROWLAND
IN THE Hotseat next week will be InSwindon BID manager Rebecca Rowland. Rebecca replaced Simon Jackson, the former chief executive, in June last year after almost five years at the helm.
She works alongside the BID investors to build Swindon’s economic prosperity for the future by creating the right environment for all Swindon town centre’s businesses to perform better.
Rebecca has extensive knowledge of BID companies and was part of the team which successfully led the renewal of the ballot in 2012. Previous events in which InSwindon was involved include the celebrations in Wharf Green for the Olympic torch visiting the town and the Christmas lights switch-on, which saw an estimated 28,000 people pack the town centre to see X Factor star Jahmene Douglas and a host of other local celebrities.
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