First of all the Mayor wished to thank the Chairman, Councillor Walford, for being a great Chairman during the year. He had kept all members in order. She felt the tone of the chair helped set the tone of the meetings and this was appreciated. The number of fellow Mayors and Chairman at the quiz showed how popular the Chairman and his consort were with everyone.
The Chairman thanked the Mayor for her comments and added that he would not have been able to do the role without the support of his wife, Tanya.
A report of the Mayor had been circulated with the agenda.
The Chairman invited Members to indicate whether they wished to ask a question of the Mayor. Councillors Bell, Saffery, Turmaine, Laird and Asif Khan indicated that they wished to ask questions.
a) Councillor Bell asked whether she agreed with him that with the cross party support for the Metropolitan Line Extension, the Conservative Government should find the extra money needed for this project. It was vitally important for the employment and growth in Watford.
The Mayor responded that there was a short answer which was ‘yes’. There was another answer which was slightly longer. There had been a change of administration since the scheme had started. Boris Johnson had worked well with the government and she felt promises had been made that Transport for London would absorb any increased costs. She had thought this was good, but was unsure she could have made that commitment. She said it was important to give Mayor Khan his due, as he had come into office and questioned the commitment to pick up the extra costs. She added that it was not a secret the relationship between the Department of Transport and the London Mayor was not good.
The Mayor commented that she considered the amount of money in question was relatively small in comparison to the full cost of the scheme. She felt the scheme would continue.
The Mayor said it was essential that all parties put pressure on their respective contacts. The Mayor had met with Richard Harrington MP and he was doing everything he could for the scheme. She had also spoken to Caroline Pidgeon who was respected at Transport for London for her stance on transport. The Mayor informed council that a professional lobbying organisation had been commissioned to work on behalf of the funding partners who had put money into the scheme. All businesses were concerned about the delay in the scheme and she had received an email earlier that day from Travis Perkins, who expressed their concerns. The county council was also concerned. A coalition was being formed around the line to make sure that the London Mayor and Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling MP were clear that there should be no backtracking on the scheme.
b) Councillor Saffery said that observers of social media may be aware that Watford Momentum had been encouraging its members to sign a petition to move the town’s hospital from its current site at Vicarage Road. He asked the Mayor if she could reassure council that the hospital services were safe from this kind of threat, whether or not it was adopted by the opposition.
The Mayor stated that the Liberal Democrat Group was not sure where the opposition stood with regards to the hospital. When people saw Labour Momentum encouraging people to sign the Conservative MP for Hemel’s petition, which required the hospital to be moved out of the town, there was a problem.
The Mayor informed council that the situation with regard to the hospital was clear. Acute services would be staying in Watford. More community services would be introduced in the localities. More services would be going to St Albans where there would be some rationalisation. She felt that it was time that all parties were behind the plans. The allotments were gone and the Mayor asked that everyone put this matter behind them. She asked that everyone acknowledged that the council had made land available for the hospital to enable the Trust’s plans to be put in place. The Hospital Trust would not be able to say there was no land available to it.
The Mayor said that it was time everyone heard from Labour with their views about the hospital and that the past should be put behind everyone. It was important that everyone was behind the plans to ensure that the town did not have to wait another 10 years.
The Chairman agreed that on this particular occasion Councillor Bell, the Labour Group Leader, could respond to the Mayor.
Councillor Bell replied that he was unaware of the Momentum campaign. He was able to state that Watford Labour Party had always been supportive of the hospital staying in Watford. In 1998/99 the ‘Save our hospital’ campaign was started by Claire Ward, the MP at that time. He could not recall the Mayor or other Liberal Democrat councillors at that campaign. It had always been the Watford Labour Party’s position that the Watford hospital should stay in West Watford.
The Mayor responded that a property in Westland Road still had a Liberal Democrat poster in their window for the ‘Save our hospital’ campaign.
c) Councillor Turmaine stated that his question was about campaigning. He referred to Liberal Democrat leaflets that included comments on the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. He said that the same media sources also included references to the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron. He asked the Mayor what her party leader had against gay people.
The Mayor said that she would not respond by referring to any of the Labour members’ previous political lives. People’s religious convictions could change and evolve. Tim Farron had religious convictions. He had not faked it. He had always been honest about his views. She reminded councillors that it had been a Liberal Democrat MP, Lynne Featherstone, who had taken the equal marriage legislation through Parliament.
d) Councillor Laird referred to the £6 million investment to build modular housing. Representatives in the housing industry said that this would be the future of housing; a way to develop affordable housing in volume. The first site would be in Balmoral Road. He asked the Mayor if she felt this would make a meaningful contribution towards solving the housing crisis.
The Mayor reminded council that there was a housing crisis, in particular a crisis in temporary accommodation. It was not good that families had to be put up in hotels or hostels and at the worst they could be placed outside the borough. In the past the council had approximately 50 or 54 families in temporary accommodation; the normal level now was in the region of 250 families. There was no sign of this decreasing. It would be remiss of the council if it was not preparing for an increase in supply. She was aware that some councillors questioned the building of modular housing rather than permanent houses. The reason was that the accommodation was quick and it was needed now. The sooner people could be moved from unsatisfactory temporary accommodation the better. She knew that some councillors were concerned about the quality of the buildings, however if they visited the Building Research Establishment they would see that the quality had massively improved. She understood that Mayor Khan saw it as a massive contribution towards London’s accommodation crisis. It was important to increase the supply now. They would not be built in large monolithic blocks. The council had opted for the best quality, which had a lifespan of 80 years. It was felt important to spend money on the accommodation. Families currently had to stay in temporary accommodation far longer than in the past.
The Mayor said that both parties on the council should be pushing the government for more affordable and social housing.
e) Councillor Asif Khan referred to the repair of potholes by the county council and Hertfordshire Highways. He noted that the contractor appeared to have thrown tarmac over some potholes, including covering a drain in Vicarage Road. He asked the Mayor whether she would join him in asking Ringway and Hertfordshire Highways to ‘get their act together’.
The Mayor responded that if he spoke to county officers, County Councillor Stephen Giles-Medhurst pressed them over this subject. The Liberal Democrat group had strongly opposed the continuation of the contract being awarded to Ringway. They had been shocked when the contract had been awarded to the company. The Mayor commented that the state of the roads were bad across the county and not just in Watford. Both parties may need to put pressure on the county council’s administration. The Mayor referred to the county council’s method of dividing up the highways budget amongst the county councillors. She was unsure if a review had been carried out to see if this was working or it had got worse. This was an area the county council should look at in the near future.