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Rewind: Live Q&A with Ric Metcalfe, City of Lincoln Council Leader

City of Lincoln Council Leader Ric Metcalfe joined The Lincolnite for a lunch time Q&A live chat, answering your questions.

He answered live questions sent in via social media from midday to 1pm.

This liveblog has finished. Updates are displayed chronologically.

Ric Metcalfe is now with us in the office, ready to start answering your questions.

We’ll start with a question from Richard Schofield, who asked: “What are your plans to regenerate the West Common. It is now shabby looking and deteriorating, wood fences are rotting all over it. Rusty iron fences and gates, etc.”

The West Common is a terrific asset. We have a Commons Management Plan in place and over time we hope to make improvements. We will be working with local residents to identify the priorities for improvement.

Maaike Veenkamp asked: “What and when are the city council going to do something about the effects of increasingly more HMOs and irresponsible private landlords in certain areas of the city?”

This is a very important issue. High on the council’s list of priorities. We are devising a new licensing scheme to drive up standards in the private housing sector and will be consulting on this soon.

A good question from Nick Wiles: “Why don’t you follow the excellent example of the police force and look to get community volunteers to clean, tidy, rebuild, re paint, patrol, visit, water, plant, sweep, etc. ? I am looking at working as a VPCSO and really looking forward to contributing something to my community, I would relish the chance to work with a group of dog walkers to litter pick the common, to wash filthy road signs etc. Give us back some responsibility for our community.”

This is a very good idea. We have considered such schemes before, it’s not entirely straight-forward but I would be willing to reconsider it as a city-wide project. However, our neighbourhood teams welcome the input from volunteers for this and other purposes, and regularly support local volunteering and community initiatives.

A topical question from Kay Gibson: “With the recent spate of incidents around the Portland Street, and Hermit Street areas of the city, would Ric please take a second look at the new gates that have gone up in this area. I understand that the safety of residents is paramount but closing the gap between the Hermit Street Garages and King Street Car park has created a bottle neck around the garages.”

I’m interested to hear that. Council members did a very recent inspection of the area and this wasn’t highlighted at that time, but I’m happy to ask officers to have another look at it.

Pam Cave asked: “Please can we have one really good large skate park (challenging enough for my ten and twelve year olds)? It’ll attract people to Lincoln.”

We have a long held aspiration for a much needed good quality skate park but have continued to encounter difficulty over finding an acceptable site. But we are still determined to pursue this, knowing how popular this activity still is.

Staying on topic, Kate Button asked: “Why don’t we have a leisure centre? Using one attached to a school or gym is not ideal; Gainsborough and Scunthorpe ones are fantastic.”

Kate’s question was seconded by Thomas Roberts, who said: “We do desperately need a dedicated swimming pool facility. I love swimming but do not wish to pay £30 a month in gym fees and Yarborough is a bit out of the way and mixed with too many other uses.”

We have got a good facility at Yarborough, but we have a longer term aspiration to provide a more comprehensive, modern and centrally-based offer and hope that as part of our growth plans for the city we can feature a new facility for the greater Lincoln area.

“Are we really a city?” asks John Horton. He argues Lincoln is “a city with no fountains, no public swimming, no ice rink, no large public concert area, no city centre green space, high parking prices and not enough spaces to choose from. No decent lower priced rail or bus alternative. A bus costs £2.20 from Boultham Park to Argos.”

This is a fantastic city. We’ve got a world-class cathedral, castle and retail offer. We’ve got a lot of green open spaces, including three commons, Victorian parks and city squares.

We have the great asset of two world-class universities, the Brayford pool area and a proud heritage that attracts huge numbers of visitors to the city, both to our world famous Christmas market and throughout the year.

The city is becoming increasingly popular as a destination for inward investment and we will see the city grow. As it does, we can go on improving its offer.

Alan Spencer asked: “Why hasn’t the Council put solar panels years ago on all owned property and the money that goes back to the grid could of built many homes and saved tenants thousands.”

We have installed solar panels on some of our housing units. We’d like to do a great deal more but have been constrained in finding the initial resources that are required upfront. But we are very enthusiastic about it and will continue to look for opportunities.

Alan Spencer also asked: “Where does the city’s recyclled waste go and what does it end up as?”

We deliver the waste to Lincolnshire County Council as the waste disposal authority, who make it available to various companies who deal with different parts of the recycled waste stream.

Has the City Council seen a reduction in green waste recycling rates since the introduction of charges for green bins? Has this affected the council financially, like it has in NKDC?

About half of the original users of the service have opted in to the paid-for service, which is getting us towards paying for the cost of the service. There has been a reduction in the amount of green waste sent to the county council for recycling, but that has not had any financial effect because we were not receiving recycling credits for this waste in the first place.

Paul Sweeney asked: “What’s happening with the toilets on Silver Street — they’ve been closed for ages, a lot of people including myself rely on them daily and due to some people who abuse them, they’re always closing. I’ve been told it’s due to staff shortage…”

Both the mens and womens toilet facilities at St Peter at Arches (Silver Street) are not of an acceptable, modern standard. The council is currently consulting on the proposed closure of both of these for this reason.

Good toilet provision is vitally important for the vitality of the city centre, both for residents and visitors. We have a longer term aspiration to provide a new, central, modern facility when we can find a suitable location and the resources required.

You’ve recently approved plans to build more than 150 council houses. Do you have an idea yet where they will be placed, and how soon?

For the next phase we’re looking at some small and medium size sites. Until these come forward as planning applications I can’t identify where these are. We hope to make a start on one or more of these sites this year. In the longer term we are looking at one or two larger sites and will be consulting about these at a later stage.

Building housing on Swanpool has been widely discussed by local politicians and even ministers. What’s the latest progress with the flood prevention and development plans there?

We’re currently examining options on the remediation of the former tip and any implications those options have for flood mitigation measures. Work is going on apace and we hope to be able to report progress publicly in the next few months.

Annette Edgar asked: “Why can’t you get on at least building the new bus station in Lincoln next to the station, even if they can’t do the whole renovation of the old one?”

We have submitted a grant application for a £22 million project to the Government’s Single Growth Fund, the results of which we expect in the middle of this month. We will need external funding to make a new bus station possible. It’s long overdue!

Bev Hunt said: “Recently there has been concern over deterioration of parks. We have nice parks in Lincoln but with the disbanding of the Urban Rangers I believe undesirables will again frequent the open spaces which already need some tidying.”

We would have preferred to have kept our Urban Ranger service.

However, evidence suggests that we have not seen any worsening of anti-social behaviour.

Our grounds maintenance staff will attend to general cleanliness and maintenance but if there are any specific problems I can help with please feel free to email me about them at richard.metcalfe@lincoln.gov.uk

Sharon Slatcher asked: “Why should we have to pay to park outside our houses? I think we pay enough for road tax and insurance. And also not guaranteed a space either.”

Residents’ parking schemes are only implemented when a majority of those affected have voted in favour of it.

While there is no guarantee of a space they have proved successful in keeping out shopper/commuter parkers and we think 50p a week is a fairly modest charge for the benefits that RPS schemes provide. This is purely to recover the costs of enforcement.

And one final question to wrap up: Do you think all the schemes devised by Lincolnshire County Council to improve roads across the city will help?

The new infrastructure we expect to see for Lincoln in the next few years will bring some huge benefits. We need to make some more progress on widening the choices available for people for greater use of public transport, including the use of park and ride, but also increasing bus use, walking and cycling, so that we secure some long term sustainable solutions to how people get in and out of Lincoln and move around the city.

That’s it for the live chat with Ric Metcalfe this lunch time. Thank you for joining us and sending in your questions.