Questions without Notice under Standing Order No 7 (Agenda item 7)
- Meeting of Budget & Council Tax Setting, Council, Thursday, 25th February, 2021 10.00 am (Item 21/21)
Councillor Jermy was aware that the Chancellor would be delivering his budget very soon and asked the Leader what he hoped the budget would contain to help the Breckland area, residents and businesses to get back on their feet post Covid.
The Leader felt that there would be a great deal of excitement and anticipation around the budget statement made by the Chancellor on 3 March. For Breckland, he hoped for a further extension to the furlough scheme, an extension to the stamp duty for those trying to get a foot on the housing ladder and a deferral of business rates for those much needed businesses.
Councillor Atterwill directed his question to Councillor Claussen, the Executive Member for Planning. He stated that the Planning Committee had recently considered a large development in Dereham that had been the subject of much legal correspondence concerning alleged deficiencies in the signed S106 Legal Agreement. This had not been the first time in recent history that the Breckland community had felt let down by the Council’s management of such Agreements and indeed some had lost out on important amenity space. To provide Breckland’s communities with renewed confidence in the planning system, he asked Councillor Claussen if he would commit to undertake a thorough internal review of the Council’s S106 processes including the outsourcing of such important work.
In response, Councillor Claussen explained that S106 Agreement issues was a non-executive decision, but he would have further dialogue with the Chairman of Planning to take this concern forward.
Councillor Birt’s question was in relation to the New Homes Bonus that had been in place for a number of years. He appreciated that the Council was removing its reliance to support its revenue budget but when it was launched it stated that it would benefit communities by a reduction in Council Tax, the redevelopment of town centres and improvements to play parks etc - a consequence of excepting the New Homes Bonus. Also, as part of the scheme it was the communities who would decide how the monies would be spent. He asked if a written response could be provided on whether the communities of Watton, Saham Toney and Carbrooke had been involved in this process, and how much had been collected in those areas over the last 10 years.
The Leader advised Members that the Government was reconsulting on the New Homes Bonus across the whole of the country and Breckland Council was involved in that process along with the District Councillors Network. Many councils were reliant on their New Homes Bonus for their base budget but Breckland was not. The Council had been able to deliver some fantastic activities across the District including £750k for the Market Town Initiative, £1m towards the Vulnerability Programme and £300k had been set aside for the Town Delivery Plans, all supported by Breckland’s New Homes Bonus. It was the role of elected Members to represent their local communities and discuss any ideas or concerns through the correct process, either through the Committee process or to the relevant Officer or Cabinet Member of this Council.
The Leader did not apologise for how this money was being spent as he knew how much of an impact this funding had and would have on improving the lives of residents within the District.
Councillor Colman asked the Leader if he would join him in congratulating Swaffham’s Saturday market that had recently won a National Association of Britain Market Authorities Award. A great deal of effort had gone into the market to make it Covid safe and was a real asset to the town and continued to be a fantastic resource for not only the town but for the surrounding villages too.
The Leader was more than happy to do so. Swaffham had a fantastic market and he had been privileged to be in Swaffham when the Shop in Confidence Campaign was launched. All the market traders worked in conjunction with a number of community-leads and to receive this national recognition was something to be proud of.
Councillor Clarke’s question was directed to the Executive Member for Planning in respect of flooding and related issues. He asked if the Executive Member for Planning agreed that a re-invigorated County Strategic Flood Group chaired by Lord Dannatt and the re-establishment of partnerships with the District Councils was good news. He also asked if he was confident that at District level this Council was using all its existing powers and opportunities in all aspects of flooding, and did he also agree that a task force of politicians was not needed to resolve flooding issues instead there needed to be a commitment made at a local level in the same way that West Oxfordshire District Council were doing to reduce local flooding issues. Councillor Clarke said that he was keen to support any initiative in conjunction with Norfolk County Council.
Councillor Claussen, the Executive Member for Planning felt that one of the issues was that everything was very fragmented and anything that was going to pull it altogether was something to be welcomed. The response was then deferred to the Leader of the Council being a member of Lord Dannatt’s Panel.
The Leader informed Members that Lord Dannatt had set up the initial meeting in which everyone in attendance had three questions to respond to. The second meeting had already been convened, working with those partners individually to understand what their needs and challenges were. The outcomes of those meetings would have a very clear and definitive position on where roles and responsibilities sat.
He agreed that the current process was very confusing and felt that if a resident was flooded or had flood concerns, all they really wanted to know was where they could get help and support from, or when properties were flooded who would come and help them. He believed that this had been the premise of the first initial piece of work, the second part would be about how everyone could work together to ensure that any future flooding could be mitigated. The Leader assured Councillor Clarke that all his points were being picked up and that he would be more than happy to update Members at the next meeting.
Councillor Clarke thanked the Leader for his comments and was very pleased that Lord Dannatt, who he felt was an excellent Chair of this Group, would provide some initiative and drive to the process and he hoped that when he had managed to pull together the different authorities and legislative bodies that he would have an opportunity to visit the frontline and possibly talk to residents to provide some reassurance in what was an enormous task.
Following the Prime Minister’s announcement and his roadmap, Councillor James was eager to support the High Streets in the market towns and asked Councillor Robinson, the Executive Member for Community, Leisure & Culture how the Council would be enabling this process.
Councillor Robinson was aware how hard Councillor James had worked to champion retailers and her passion for making the town centres viable. She had lobbied hard to improve the visual impact of Thetford Town centre, particularly by making Button Island a more amenable space. He had been pleased with the Prime Minister’s announcements and the Regeneration Team was working hard to deliver short term projects under the NTI banner to coincide with the Government’s roadmap and enable High Streets to re-open and resemble some normality. Following the recent announcement, he and the Officers had already been in discussion and were currently working towards what would be the 3rd phase of the ‘Enjoy, Explore and Discover’ campaign in support of the retailers as they returned to trading. He looked forward to providing Councillor James and colleagues further details in the near future.
Councillor Brindle asked the Leader a question about roads. He was aware that Norfolk County Council was going to bring in more speed restrictions on the A1075 that connected Breckland’s two largest towns. He implored Breckland Council to work with County to improve the road and/or to work with Norfolk Police to enforce speed restrictions.
The Leader stated that Local Ward Members had County divisional representatives that they could highlight these issues to as such matters did not sit within the District Council’s remit; however, he was aware that colleagues across the Chamber had lobbied in their areas in respect of road safety concerns and he encouraged Members to continue to do so. As far as he was aware, Norfolk County Council had a good track record of responding to consultation and changes to improve safety provisions along the road network, but enforcement issues sat with Norfolk Police and any such concerns should be raised with the Chief Constable.
Councillor Terry asked for his thanks to be passed to Joanna Elks for arranging the webinar in respect of a County Lines presentation with the St Giles Trust. St Giles Trust was commissioned by the Norfolk Police & Crime Commissioner and working through the SOS Plus service in schools to raise awareness around serious crime and violence. This worked equipped young people with the knowledge and tools to stay safe and make positive choices.
Professionally trained staff exposed the realities and deglamourized some of the myths of getting involved in crime, they helped young people stay motivated and take a positive path and raised awareness about the signs to look out for amongst young people who could be vulnerable and at risk. He asked the Leader if Breckland would be keen in the future to work in partnership with St Giles Trust to help protect our young and vulnerable.
The Leader thanked Councillor Terry for his question. He apologised for not being able to attend that webinar but was pleased that Breckland Council was committed to reduce the impact of drugs in county lines within the community and with the £1m Vulnerability Programme he would be happy to link up with the organisation and with Officers to establish what further synergy Breckland Council could offer and facilitate greater future partnership to raise awareness and to ensure that young men and women were protected across the District from these horrendous activities that blighted the lives of so many.
Councillor Gilbert directed his question to the Leader. He referred back to the flooding issue and felt that it was very good to hear that Lord Dannatt was chairing this overarching Group looking at flooding issues and trying to bring people together. He felt; however, looking at it from a strategic level, it was not going to solve the problems locally. Watton and Saham Toney were already working together as a Watton & Saham Toney Flood Action Group an affiliated national flood forum to look at specific issues on the ground and this small group had been working for the last 3 years and trying to get specific issues sorted at local level. However, there had not been a great deal of support from Breckland Council and he asked the Leader if he could look at what Breckland Council could do to support local flood action groups across the District.
The Leader felt that strategy without tactics was the slowest route to victory and tactics without strategy was the noise before defeat. Lord Dannatt was now the head person in charge across the region and once the strategy was known, that would then inform the plan, disseminating from the top.
The Leader implored the hard work of residents and community groups across the District, but such matters had to come from the top. He did not want a postcode lottery to what this should look like as one community had managed to establish a support group and had a greater influence in what occurred when others had not. He noted Councillor Gilbert’s comments and concerns but for now everyone needed to be working together collectively across Norfolk to manage expectations and more importantly making some real changes in the long term.
Councillor Dowling wanted to thank Rob Walker, the Executive Director for Place for his submission to Suffolk County Council regarding North Farm, Elvedon Road in Thetford. Residents had been concerned about the application and the potential for extra HGV activity throughout Thetford and she thanked him for relating all concerns so succinctly.
The Chairman thanked Councillor Dowling for her kind words.