Question time with the Cabinet Member for Culture, Sport & Leisure, Councillor Oliver Lewis.
The Cabinet Member for Culture, Sport & Leisure, Councillor Oliver Lewis, was in attendance at the meeting to provide the Committee with an update on his Portfolio and answer questions arising.
The presentation was divided into four main sections, namely Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. During the course of the presentation, the following points were noted:-
· The Library Service had been brought back in-house following the collapse of Carillion and a strategy was being developed for consideration by the Cabinet in early 2019 that would set out a clear direction for the library service going forward.
· There was a strong cultural sector within the borough, with a notable musical heritage. A robust bid for Cultural Enterprise Zone funding had been submitted by the Council, with the outcome expected shortly. It was also planned to explore the potential for using the Music City model in Croydon.
· There were 128 parks and open spaces in the borough, which was the highest number of any London borough and these were increasingly seen as important places to provide opportunities to improve people’s wellbeing.
· There was the ongoing challenge of the historical position of the parks maintenance budget, which as a non-statutory service faced continual pressure. However, plans were being developed to bring the grounds maintenance team back in-house, which may provide scope for future opportunities in this area.
· The lack of new burial land was becoming an increasingly pressing issue, with options being explored before maximum capacity was reached.
· The historically negative reputation of Croydon as a place to visit was challenging and was not something that could be easily changed.
· The opening of the redeveloped Fairfield Halls venue later in the year would provide a boost for the wider area.
· The Clocktower development that would start in 2020 provided a welcome opportunity to improve the provision of services offered from the venue.
· The St Georges Walk development opposite the Town Hall would include provision for a new town square.
· Croydon had the largest proportion of young residents of any London borough which helped to contribute towards the vibrancy of the local area.
· The Council had an opportunity to work with local sports provision to raise the profile and success of sports provision in the borough
· Although the Administration had placed a priority on cultural and creative activities being at the heart of community since coming into power in 2014, budget constraints would continue to put pressure upon cultural services, with it difficult to maintain services which were not statutory.
· Competition from other boroughs also presented challenges, with a need to ensure a diverse cultural offering to compete with provision elsewhere.
Following the presentation, the Committee were given the opportunity to question the Cabinet Member about the areas within his remit. It was highlighted that the Lifetimes, Museum of Croydon was an excellent facility and as such questioned whether it was publicised enough. It was agreed that the museum was a fantastic resource which did a good job of telling the story of people in Croydon. It was advised that there had been a Clocktower Late event earlier in the year focusing on the people of Croydon involved in World War One. It was hoped that similar events could be held in the future. It was noted that the refurbishment of the Clocktower would allow for greater use of the facility.
It was questioned whether residents using allotments were reflective of the borough and whether usage was monitored. It was advised that allotments should be considered as an opportunity for cross cultural learning and although they were currently oversubscribed, there was more that could be done to promote them to people from different backgrounds.
It was also highlighted that the allotment fees in Croydon were currently the lowest in London. The fees were in the process of being reviewed, but it was envisioned that they would remain at the lower end of the scale in comparison with other boroughs, with the possibility of different pricing structures. As part of the review, work would also be undertaken to ensure that all Council allotments were brought up to standard, with the provision of toilets and conveniently located water sources. This work was being undertaken with a view to other organisations taking on the responsibility for allotments.
As there was a waiting list for the allotments in the borough, it was questioned whether there were any plans to create more allotments, with an abandoned allotment site at Thorne Park in Kenley suggested as a possibility. It was agreed that the possibility of reopening this site would be taken aware for further exploration.
In response to a question about what the Council could do to encourage cultural cooperatives and social enterprises it was highlighted that the Council administered a small grants scheme aimed at helping small organisations put on cultural events, which were match funded from elsewhere.
It was questioned how work was progressing on the development of the Parks Masterplan. It was confirmed that work had been undertaken to establish what could be achieved at six of the parks within the borough, which had led to a wide range of options. The Council was now undertaking an engagement process with the Friends Groups of the respective parks to establish what was options were most viable. Provisional plans include the possibility of a cricket pitch at Norbury Park.
In response to a question about possible capital investment in libraries, it was confirmed that potential options were being considered for Norbury Library, but there were difficulties due to the cost required to make the upper floors accessible. A Library Strategy was being developed which would give consideration to how the space within libraries could be best used. A request was made by the Committee to have the opportunity to provide input into the Library Strategy prior to any decision by the Cabinet. It was agreed that this could be arranged, with a meeting of the Committee required to be scheduled for February to allow for this to happen.
In response to a question about the opportunities for sponsorship of public buildings, it was advised that there was a cultural partnership scheme for businesses and individuals to give donations to cultural services, which had raised approximately £100,000 to date since its launch in September 2018. It was highlighted that the sponsorship for cultural services could be sporadic and it was important to focus upon matching potential sponsors to specific activities. Private sponsors would be very unlikely to support services or facilities perceived as council services
The redevelopment of the Fairfield Halls and in particular the delay in reopening the facility was questioned as well as how this had impacted upon the budget for the project. It was highlighted that the redevelopment of a 60 year old building with five venues in one site was always going to be challenging and as the initial work progressed it became apparent that the project would be more complex than originally envisioned, particularly the discovery of asbestos that needed to be removed. This additional work meant that the budget would be higher than planned at the start of the project.
In response to a question about the process for determining cultural grants applications, it was confirmed that any Groups wanting to apply would need to submit an application form, which would be followed up by officers with a further discussion of the application. The final decision on whether to award a grant or not would be made by the Cabinet Member in conjunction with officers. Plans were underway to add a greater structure to the process as the number of bids had increased with the success of the scheme.
In response to a concern raised about the limited number of parking spaces available at the Fairfield Halls, it was highlighted that as the venue was in the centre of the town it was well served by public transport options. There was also other car parking available within the town that people would be able to use if required. As part of the process for the reopening of the venue work would be undertaken to improve the wayfinding to the site from around the town.
The cultural heritage of the borough was highlighted and as such it was questioned whether there were any plans to give greater recognition to this. It was confirmed that plans were being developed in this area, including the possibility of a Musical Heritage Trail of sites of music heritage importance within the borough, this would be in the context of the wider Music City plans for Croydon.
The effectiveness of the byelaws in place at local parks was questioned, with a view taken that they were not easily enforceable and not reflective of current lifestyles with activities such as cycling banned. As such the Committee agreed to recommend to the Cabinet that a review of byelaws was undertaken to ensure that they were fit for purpose.
In forming its recommendations, the Committee reached the following conclusions:
1. The Committee were pleased to hear that plans were being developed to create an app which would celebrate the musical heritage of the borough.
2. The Committee welcomed plans to review the Council’s allotments.
3. The Committee agreed that work was needed to ensure that the byelaws relating to local parks remained fit for purpose.
4. The Committee agreed to schedule an additional meeting on 11 February to enable it to undertaken pre-decision scrutiny on forthcoming Cultural, Libraries and Voluntary Sector Strategies.
The Committee RESOLVED to recommend to the Cabinet Member for Culture, Sport and Leisure:-
1. That plans to introduce the Music City scheme in Croydon should also include provision to celebrate the Borough’s musical heritage
2. That a short briefing note is prepared for Committee on the status of the Allotment Review.
3. That a review is undertaken of the byelaws in place in the Council’s parks to ensure that they remain relevant and fit for purpose.