Executive Member Portfolio Update (Agenda Item 6)
Councillor Mark 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.
Key areas for Members’ attention include:
- Thetford SUE and what that means going forward
- Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL)
- Community Interest Company (CIC)
- Local Asset Backed Vehicle (LABV)
- Investment for growth
Mark Kiddle-Morris, Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development was in attendance to update the Commission on his Portfolio. He gave a brief overview of the areas covered by the Portfolio and then focussed on the items listed on the Agenda as key areas for attention.
The Asset side of the Portfolio covered commercial property, marketing and leases and the Local Asset Backed Vehicle (LABV) as well as Land Management, which dealt with sales, transfers and rentals of Council owned land and car parks, footways and roads maintenance. Strategic Planning covered the Local Plan, Neighbourhood Plans and Strategic Housing (which had previously been known as Housing Enabling) and Economic Development which included Business Support, Grants 4 Growth, Enterprise Norfolk, Thetford Growth Point and the A11 Corridor.
The procurement process was very prescriptive. The initial stages had already been completed and successful bidders had been invited to submit outline solutions by 15 May 2014. At that stage the bids would be sifted and evaluated and those that met expectations would then be invited to submit detailed solutions. If all the criteria were met the Council would then be in a position to select a partner with a view to the LABV being incorporated into a Company within five years.
In response to a question from Councillor Joel the Executive Member advised that despite having to alter parts of the process it was still on track and the partner should be selected by September.
Councillor Armes asked how many bidders were in the pipeline and whether the Riverside development would be brought forward promptly. It was explained that commercial confidentiality was paramount and that kind of detail could not be divulged. However, the Executive Member confirmed that there were several bidders and that Thetford Riverside was still the Flagship project to be brought forward, hopefully within the first year.
The Vice-Chairman noted that some of the Moving Thetford Forward money was available, but had to be spent before March 2015. The Executive Member explained that there would be detailed planning and some ‘de-risking’ works to be done before then, which would cost between £1.5 and £2million.
Councillor Armes mentioned that the shops on Riverside Walk had been sold and were being gutted. It would enhance what they were doing if the Riverside project was developed.
The Executive Member agreed entirely and said that preliminary talks had been held about investing in the frontage to create a café culture, but unfortunately the site had been sold. He hoped that the new owners would do something worthwhile with the properties.
Councillor Rogers asked the same question he had asked the Executive Member for Finance & Democratic Services at the January meeting, which was how much money was being invested in the Watton area compared to other market towns?
The Executive Member asked the Asset & Property Manager to find out the answer and respond direct to Councillor Rogers.
Commercial Property Portfolio
The properties were mainly factory, storage and workshops. Despite the current financial climate those properties were 92% let. Thetford had only five vacant units. There had been a slower recovery for offices and the Dereham Business Centre was currently 67% let and the Thetford Business Centre was 85% let.
Land Management had achieved about £137,000 in revenue income, mainly from the sale of small areas of land being added to people’s gardens. The Council had also received over £2million in capital income from sale of land, mainly at Castle Acre Road in Swaffham. Further money was expected from that site.
The Leader of the Council noted that income from the Council’s commercial property was equivalent to the Council Tax collection which was a credit to the Team and helped the Council to maintain its low Council Tax rates.
The Chairman asked whether the number of units had increased and he was advised that more had been bought; some in Thetford and a Warehouse in King’s Lynn which had a sitting tenant and was providing an excellent return.
Councillor Kybird asked if the income quoted was before or after provision for repair and renewal and the Executive Member explained that repair and renewal were covered by capital resources. There was a backlog of about £1.4million, but as all properties had fully repairing leases shifting liability to the tenants, the actual amount for the Council to pay was about £80,000.
Councillor Joel asked what was happening with Barnham Broom and was advised that after lengthy negotiations the tenant would be investing £2.5million in the property which should improve the outlook for the future.
In January 2013 the Council had agreed to replace the Local Development Framework with a new Local Plan. The Plan would run until 2031 and would be local evidence based. A Local Plan Working Group had been appointed and they held public meetings. Consultation would take place later in the year with a view to adoption of the Local Plan in 2016. A major factor which was causing some delay was the Duty to Co-operate with other Local Authorities and higher level providers. Some were not in a position to negotiate yet and evidence of co-operation was vital or the Plan could be found to be unsound.
Breckland had prepared a Strategic Housing Market Assessment but it now had to consider a wider market area. The District was a ‘net exporter’ with many residents commuting out of the area to work. The A11 corridor would be expected to support a large amount of housing.
One problem was that not enough houses were being built. People wanted to live in the District and the A11 improvements would bring more. Other infrastructure improvements were also required.
The Chairman noted that another problem was the change to the Permitted Development rules from 6 April 2014. He asked how that would impact on the new Plan.
The Planning Manager said there were many new rules and the two most likely to affect the Council were the flexibilities regarding Change of Use to redundant farm buildings (which, subject to certain floorspace restrictions, would not require planning permission) and to offices. The Local Authority would no longer have any control over the parking provision, appearance or amenity space of such developments and a lower fee would apply which would impact on income for the Council. Other changes were A2 uses to retail and retail to children’s nurseries – neither of which would require any consent.
The Chairman noted that another side effect of that would be a reduction in Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) or S106 money.
Councillor Armes asked if an empty car showroom met the requirements and was advised that such a use was ‘sui generis’ which meant that it didn’t fall into a specific use class and it would therefore still require planning permission to change.
Work had been suspended on the CIL Charging Schedule in October, whilst new regulations were awaited. Changes to the self-build and residential extensions requirements meant a considerable reduction in the amount of income that would be generated. It was still not known what the Government would do about that.
Affordable housing was another area for concern. The Council’s policy was to require 40% affordable housing but that percentage could be reduced if viability was jeopardised and the Planning Inspectorate were allowing appeals where Local Authorities had not carried out viability assessments. The Council was dealing with such matters on a case by case basis and the average for affordable housing was down to 23%. The Government was consulting on removing S106 agreements on affordable housing developments of ten houses or less and from annexes and extensions. If self-build houses were not to be charged CIL they would not be liable to legal agreements either and so it was a very big impact and would cause a serious shortfall.
The Chairman agreed and said it would have a significant effect as there would be no contributions of any kind on many developments and there was a huge sum needed for infrastructure.
The Executive Member said that the Thetford Sustainable Urban Extension (SUE) alone would bring in £210million in contributions funded by the S106 agreement. With CIL the average house would be charged £65 which was less than with a S106. They would therefore have to be managed in a much more labour intensive way. With CIL, 15% went to the community and 5% to the Council. CIL had been designed to put money in for specific needs, but if there was no CIL, it was not known where the money would come from and without money it would be very difficult to get infrastructure.
Neighbourhood Plan (NP)
The only designated NP currently was for Attleborough & Besthorpe. The Council was obliged to assist with NPs and would receive between £5,000 and £30,000 for that help, capped at five NPs a year. An application had been received for an NP covering Croxton, Brettenham & Kilverstone and that was currently out for consultation.
Members were reminded that NPs had to be advertised. They also had to conform with the LDF, pass an examination in public and be subject to a referendum before going ahead. They were not easy to do.
Currently work was going ahead to include Attleborough in the new Local Plan, but if the NP went ahead it could take precedence. However, there had been no progress with it yet.
Councillor Kybird noted that the Croxton/Brettenham/Kilverstone NP included most of the SUE area which was covered by the Thetford Area Action Plan (TAAP). It was pointed out that the NP would have to follow the TAAP and could only influence design.
Councillor Joel asked if there was guidance for NPs and the Executive Member suggested that Members visited the DCLG website which had some very good guidance. Otherwise they could contact the Deputy Planning Manager and he would give advice on how to start the process.
A monthly Strategic Housing report was produced which gave advice and an overview of house prices and the sort of properties the market required, to inform the planning process, housing associations, the Planning Manager and Capita.
The Chairman noted that the Housing Associations had attended the previous meeting and they were not providing the right types of housing.
The Director for Commissioning confirmed that the information was being used robustly at the regular meetings held with the Housing Associations.
The Vice-Chairman was concerned that no houses were being built and he asked how land could be identified for the housing associations.
The Executive Member said that there were rural exception sites which were only suitable for affordable housing under current policies. They fed into the process to provide what communities needed.
This was a Discretionary service but it was vital to stimulate and encourage businesses to come to the District. When the decision had been made to keep the service, work had started on making it ‘cost neutral’. Three years ago the service had cost £390,000 per year. That was down to £90,000 for 12 employees, as Breckland only paid for 2.4 of those. It was delivering a better service.
Rev-Active had been a good model, where other people’s money had been used to get businesses to invest in themselves. Now Grants 4 Growth (G4G) was carrying on that work and had been used as an exemplar. Members were handed packs of information about G4G and the contents were explained.
Community Interest Company (CIC)
The Council had started up a CIC which was now known as Enterprise Norfolk. It was a resource for growth which increased income by contracting out the Council’s expertise for getting European funding. One contract had already been won and the Team were in the running for a second.
The electricity deficit in Snetterton was being addressed by on-site regeneration. Planning permission had been approved for a biomass unit which would open the area for development.
The Chairman asked for confirmation that the unit would only burn straw as there had been a report in the local paper that the planning permission was being mutated to include energy from waste.
The Planning Manager confirmed that any change would require further planning consent.
The Chairman asked if the CIC could generate profit and it was confirmed that it could.
The Executive Member said that the Council supported tourism by advising enterprises like Bed & Breakfasts on how to save money. The economy was growing and businesses were starting to invest in themselves. The Team gave help, advice and small grants, targeting the things that would save money.
The Vice-Chairman thanked the Executive Member for a very informative presentation. He asked about the repair arrangements for street lights as there were 50 not working in Thetford. He was advised that Norfolk County Council were responsible for carrying out the repairs.
He asked what could be done to improve the appearance of Thetford as some areas were not looking their best, including footways, shrub beds and communal areas.
The Executive Member said there was not much money in the budget for footways but asked the Member to highlight areas of particular concern and they would be looked at.
The Chairman asked what the expected timeframe was for the Thetford SUE and it was noted that the first Reserved Matters application for 550 houses was expected later in the year with a view to development starting in 2015. However, the Planning Manager advised that the approval was subject to a legal agreement and that would take some time. Simon Wood had been the officer that had presented the application to the Committee. He was an excellent officer and it was hoped that he would continue to oversee the Reserved Matters applications. There was also a new Principal Planning Officer who would be responsible for monitoring the progress of the SUE.
The Chairman thanked the Executive Member for a comprehensive update which showed the scale of what was being done and the return it was providing to the ratepayers of Breckland.