Executive Member Portfolio Update (Agenda Item 6)
Mr M Kiddle-Morris, Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development, has been invited to attend the meeting to update Members on key ongoing issues and policies within his portfolio and to answer any questions.
Mr Kiddle-Morris, Executive Member for Assets and Strategic Development gave the Commission an update on his Portfolio which had recently changed title and now also included Strategic Planning and Parkwood PFI.
The Council owned over 200 properties, most of which were commercial. As at 22 August 2011 97% of the premises were let providing annual revenue of about £2.3million. However, it was acknowledged that there were likely to be vacancies in the future due to the economic situation and cuts in grants. Therefore expectations were being downgraded with regard to targets for lettings and some properties were being sold.
The property portfolio was constantly reviewed and the property department did a very good job. They concentrated on investing in properties which offered a 7-10% return. Money received from the sale of properties would be re-invested.
The Council also owned over 6,000 parcels of land. Some of these were being investigated under the Active Land Management scheme for possible capital/revenue return, but most were former Highway Surveyors land, which would be looked at in the future.
The Rev Active Project, which advised small to medium sized enterprises on how to lower their operating and utility costs, was working well and the savings they were helping to find were safeguarding jobs. The project would be receiving a Green Apple Award in November and had also been shortlisted for an EDIE award.
The team were continuing to encourage power provision for the Snetterton Heath area. A planning application for a straw burner was in the pipeline which might provide electricity for thousands of jobs. The team were also involved in the Attleborough and Snetterton Heath Area Action Plan (ASHAAP) and in the Moving Thetford Forward project.
The latest stage in the Local Development Framework had been the submission of the Site Specifics proposals. Breckland was one of only 22 local authorities to have made such a submission. The Inspector’s report was awaited.
The Thetford Area Action Plan (TAAP) had also been approved for submission and was currently out for consultation until 11 October. It would be examined in November 2011 with any hearings taking place in early 2012. The Inspector’s report was expected in April and it was hoped that the plan could be implemented in June 2012.
Further consultation would take place on the ASHAAP during the winter. Additional transport work was needed.
Development of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) was at stage one. Only one other authority had already implemented a CIL and they were experiencing problems. There were various issues to be addressed.
Currently the Council only had 1.9 years Housing Land Availability. When the Site Specifics proposals were approved there would still be slightly less than the required five years of availability. However, when the TAAP was published the amount would increase to 12 years’ worth.
The effects of the National Planning Policy Framework on the LDF needed to be assessed. The draft document was only 58 pages long. It would replace over 25 Planning Policy Statements.
A benchmarking process was due at the end of the year with regard to the Parkwood PFI and Officers were working on stage one already.
Members were then invited to ask questions of the Executive Member.
Mr Rogers was concerned that land at Blenheim Grange was not being developed. He suggested that if the Council bought the land they could put small units on it to bring it into use. The Executive Member said he would look into it.
Mr Bambridge raised three points:
1) had any investment been made in villages yet particularly with regard to commercial properties?
2) if land was freed up in the villages for housing development it would help the current housing land shortage and
3) when the Parkwood Leisure project was approved, it had been proposed that there would be a bus service provided. Was there any chance of transport from the villages to the pools?
The Executive Member responded that:
1) he had been looking to invest in villages but the problem was that the LDF was very prescriptive and might need to be changed before development could take place
2) the National Planning Policy Bill contained a Local Development Order which meant that if communities were minded to they could potentially develop land
3) he did no know about the provision of a bus service but he was aware that the 40% rebate for buses was to be reduced to 20% next year.
Mr Gilbert thanked the Executive Member for a good and thorough report. He mentioned that it wasn’t just villages that needed access to the swimming pools, Watton residents did too. He asked if any re-investment in property would be purely within Breckland.
The Executive Member said that the Council did own one asset outside the District and he had looked at a retail opportunity in Bury St Edmunds, but had decided against it. He did prefer to re-invest in the district. The Council was known as a good landlord and got a good return for its money. Tenants often moved on from small Council units to larger Council units. He thought it was good for the District that the Council was a substantial landlord.
Mr Childerhouse asked if the Thetford housing land supply would all be developed within five years and the Executive Member advised that the figure was up until 2026 and it was hoped that development would take place in stages.
Mr Joel asked whether the proposed planning application for the Snetterton power supply would generate enough power for the area.
The Executive Member thought not. About 40 megawatts of power was needed but it depended on what was developed as some uses required less electricity than others.
The Chairman noted that Snetterton Heath was designated as an employment area and he hoped that it would not be used as a distribution area as that would not generate enough jobs to meet the need created by the additional 5,000 houses to be built in Thetford. He also urged caution with regard to the proposed incinerator plant.
Mr Byrne asked how the CIL was progressing and the Executive Member advised that he would know more by the middle of the month. There were eight front runners being assessed. In consultation with Capita he would be looking at all the options.
The Vice-Chairman noted that under the Active Land Management (ALM) proposals there was no option to retain the status quo. He felt that representations made by Ward Representatives were not being taken into consideration. Historically there had been a Commercial Property Committee which had made decisions about land sales which had been a fairer method.
The Executive Member explained that an option to retain the land would have cost implications. There was an option to transfer the land to Town or Parish Councils if they were not suitable to provide a capital receipt. The ALM scheme was investigating the constraints through a legal process which provided a clear audit trail. Some land was likely to prove unsuitable for development and other options would be considered when that was confirmed.
The Chairman asked if future re-investment could be in smaller parcels of land – or larger areas that could be sub-divided to provide starter units. He also asked if there would be any investment in housing.
The Executive Member confirmed that that it was the intention to invest in smaller premises, particularly in villages. With regard to housing he noted that at Cabinet when the ALM was discussed it had been decided that suitable land would be developed as design and build by the Council.
Mr R Richmond said that some older citizens were unhappy that they might need to use a car to access amenities if their local areas were developed. He was therefore glad that the Executive Member had confirmed that other options were available.
The Chairman thanked the Executive Member for his report.