A report of the Mayor had been circulated with the agenda. The Mayor thanked the Chairman for her service this year under extremely difficult circumstances and for chairing the virtual meetings. He also thanked those councillors standing down. They had all served their community with dedication. He wished them all the best for the future.
The Chairman invited members to indicate whether they wished to ask a question of the Mayor. Councillors Ezeifedi, Bashir, Bell, Turmaine and Dhindsa all indicated they wished to ask a question.
1) Councillor Ezeifedi raised the issue of women’s safety which had come to the fore following the recent kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard. She also mentioned the petitioner who had spoken at the previous meeting about a sexual assault in Oxhey Park and necessary improvements to CCTV. She asked about the Mayor’s plans to improve women’s safety in Watford and his thoughts about the cultural change required for individuals to be able to move around the town safely.
The Mayor replied that everyone had been appalled by the murder of Sarah Everard and offered condolences to her friends and family. He pointed out that both parties within the council had campaigned against the county council’s decision to switch street lights off at night. He said that everyone need to work towards the safety of people as they walked across the town. He noted that Councillor Ezeifedi had referred to a cultural change. This was an issue for the whole society and not just women. He suggested that everyone needed to have conversations not only with their daughters, but also their sons to educate them on respectful relationships, tackling harassment and inappropriate behaviour. He recognised that there was a need to do more and that he was happy to work with members from all parties.
2) Councillor Bashir referred to the ‘ArrivaClick’ bus service. He expressed regret that the service had seen less use than hoped for, but understood that this was most probably as a result of the onset of the pandemic and lockdown. He was pleased to note that the service was being used to take people to and from the vaccination centres. He asked if the Mayor had any statistics on the service’s use for this purpose and would this service be used to take Watford residents to vaccination centres outside the Borough.
The Mayor replied that to the best of his knowledge, that people were already able to use the service to travel to vaccination centres outside the Borough and named specific centres. If Councillor Bashir was aware of any issues then to let him know. He stated that he did not have figures for usage to take people to and from vaccination centres. However it was an important service to ensure people were able to get their vaccinations. He hoped that as the lockdown eased the service could be expanded. The government had made a recent announcement about expanding similar schemes in the country. He agreed with Councillor Bashir that it had been a difficult time, but it was good to be able to support residents to get to their vaccinations.
3) Councillor Bell also thanked the Chairman, Councillor Aga Dychton, for her service over the past year and paid tribute to all those standing down. He noted that the Mayor had mentioned Watford’s heritage in his report. He asked if the Mayor agreed that the demolition of the Sun Printers clock tower would be a blow for the town’s heritage.
The Mayor replied that this was a locally listed building and had a strong connection to the town’s printing heritage. He pointed out that any person was able to apply for planning permission to alter any building. However, there was a rigorous planning process in place and residents were able to feed back their views about an application. He agreed that it was important to conserve the town’s heritage. He gave a number of examples where locally significant buildings had been preserved.
Councillor Bell thanked the Mayor for his response. He asked that the council tried to preserve the clock tower in any future development for the western gateway.
The Mayor responded that it was agreed it was important to preserve the town’s heritage and a number of officers worked on this matter. He advised that there was an ongoing legal issue around that location, which needed to reach its conclusion.
4) Councillor Turmaine said his question also related to the death of Sarah Everard and the events on Clapham Common. As a man it was important to stand in solidarity with women and to condemn any discriminatory behaviour. The government had just announced a new better lighting and CCTV fund of £25 million. He asked if the Mayor would be ensuring if the council bid for its share of the £25 million fund.
The Mayor replied that he would see if it was possible to access some of that funding. There were hundreds of CCTV cameras within Watford, however he did not feel the solution was to have thousands of cameras. Councillor Ezeifedi had referred to a cultural change and changing people’s behaviour. He agreed that there was work to do in this area. He said he would look at the fund and find ways to improve Watford; CCTV was not the only solution. There was more to be done including educating people about respectful relationships.
5) Councillor Dhindsa stated that his question had already been asked. However he took the opportunity to thank all those colleagues who were standing down for their service to Watford and its residents.