Agenda item

Executive Member Portfolio Update (Agenda Item 14)

Mr M Kiddle-Morris, Executive Member for Assets and 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.

 

If the Commission wish to ask questions of the Executive Member concerning the item discussed at the Special Cabinet meeting to be held on the morning of 9 February 2012, it will be necessary to pass a resolution to exclude the press and public.

Minutes:

The Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development presented a brief overview of his portfolio.

 

He noted that the Economic Development presentation to the Commission had been very good and it would be a great shame if the Council did not have that team.  However, they were a discretionary service and were therefore at risk.  He had asked the Economic Development Manager to concentrate on making the service cost-neutral and to that end they were working on rolling out the REV Active project to other authorities.  Both Luton and Great Yarmouth had expressed an interest.

 

With regard to Strategic Planning, the policies would be reviewed once the National Planning Framework details were known. 

 

The Thetford Area Action Plan would be examined in public on 6 and 7 March.  Six public speakers were expected.  If approved the Council would achieve its five year land supply, in fact it would provide a twelve year supply.

 

The Attleborough & Snetterton Heath Area Action Plan had been held up for more work on highways and the travelling infrastructure.  A link road proposal was still under review and it was hoped that this would be ready for consultation in April.  Attleborough Town Council was doing work in parallel to the Council and an Officer group had been set up to talk to all stakeholders.

 

Work had been done on the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and four separate charging areas had been identified.  There was concern that land and house prices in Thetford had been skewed and extra work was being done on that area and would be presented to Cabinet.

 

The Brecks Special Protection Area (SPA) Forum had been looking at the issue of Stone Curlews and the consensus of opinion was that some agricultural buildings could be built within the buffer zone.

 

The Asset Management team had granted access to Council owned land in Swaffham for Tesco’s, and it was hoped this would address the current problem of people travelling out of Swaffham to shop.

 

The Thetford Skate Park was going ahead.

 

With regard to investments, the Council had divested itself of £1.3million of property which had been in poor condition/unlettable, etc.  £680,000 had been reinvested to provide a better return and the team were looking for further opportunities to invest.

 

On a note of caution, changes to the treasury financing rules meant that there was a risk that negative leases might lose revenue. 

 

Although the property market was poor, retail property transactions were doing well.  The commercial property portfolio was 92% let.  The two Business Centres in Dereham and Thetford had just above 80% occupancy.

 

The Council had about 6,000 pieces of land to dispose of and had raised half a million pounds through land disposal in the last year. 

 

With regard to affordable housing, the Council had some large pieces of land which if granted planning permission, could provide the money for the Council to build two bedroom properties itself.

 

Finally the Executive Member referred to car parking charges and said that they were not the only thing under review.  All discretionary and mandatory services would be looked at.  The Council wanted to take all views into consideration.  He noted that over the past six years it had cost the Council £308,000 per year to run its car parks and if they were to continue providing free parking that money would have to be found elsewhere.

 

The Vice-Chairman queried the figures which he said included a figure for depreciation which was not a real cost.  Another large part of those costs was Business Rates.  He asked if the Council would consider other ideas.  He had done some research and one way to reduce costs would be to allow a charity to run the car parks, thus avoiding Business Rates.

 

With regard to the 92% occupancy he noted that although the premises were occupied the actual income had reduced because they were being let for less.

 

The Executive Member said that to be a prudent landlord the Council had to look at the external situation.  The District Valuer provided a report on the market rent for each town.  Although there were some tenants paying less, this was considered better than having empty premises which would attract empty business rates.

 

He acknowledged that the figures did include depreciation and rates.  Business Rates on the Council’s car parks would cost about £110,000 over the next year.

 

The Chairman thanked the Executive Member for his update and encouraged all Members to share any information or ideas that they had.