Venue: Anglia Room, The Conference Suite, Elizabeth House, Walpole Loke, Dereham
Contact: Committee Services 01362 656870
To confirm the minutes of the meeting held on 30 January 2014.
Councillor Rogers noted that he had still not received an answer to the question he had raised under Minute No 5/14 (third paragraph on page 6).
Councillor R Richmond asked for Minute No 8/14 to be amended from Basic to Patient Participation Group in the final sentence.
Subject to that amendment the Minutes of the meeting held on 30 January 2014 were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.
Apologies and Substitutes (Agenda Item 2)
To receive apologies for absence and to note substitute Members in attendance.
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors C Carter, Irving and Bambridge (who had been due to attend as Substitute for Councillor Carter).
Councillor Bowes was present as Substitute for Councillor Irving.
To note the names of any non-members or public speakers wishing to address the meeting.
Councillors Chapman-Allen, Gould, Sharpe, Turner and Wassell were in attendance.
Mr Roger Atterwill, Chairman of Swanton Morley Parish Council had requested the opportunity to address the Commission. He was invited to speak for up to three minutes.
Mr Atterwill read from a list of questions (copy attached). As the Commission had not received a copy of the list in advance of the meeting he was advised that some answers were not immediately available. He confirmed that he was happy to provide the list in writing and receive the replies in the same format.
The Executive Member for Planning, Building Control and Housing advised that a rolling programme of training was provided to the Planning Committee and some training on Housing would be taking place soon to explain how the planning process could contribute to affordable housing. Training was carried out by the best source available, which could be Officers, Lawyers or external providers, depending upon requirements.
The Director of Planning & Business Manager (Capita for Breckland Council) was able to advise that Capita currently had 49 full and part time staff. He acknowledged that they were experiencing some turnover.
With regard to response times to telephone enquiries he confirmed that the department did not operate an answerphone service as generally people did not like to leave messages. The target was to respond within 48 hours. Turnaround on calls was good and he could supply statistics on that and on Customer Satisfaction.
Regarding the website upgrade they were taking a collaborative approach. There had been some teething troubles. The upgrade was intended to make the system more user-friendly and enable a document search on larger applications. Some functionality had been lost, including the ability to bookmark, and the Project Group were working with the software provider to address those issues.
Councillor Kybird had used the system earlier in the day and found that only one document could be opened at a time whereas previously many documents could be open at the same time.
Councillor Joel was pleased that the upgrade included dates which made it easier to follow the chronology of the application.
Councillor R Richmond agreed with Councillor Kybird that it seemed to have been a step in the wrong direction only being able to open one document at a time. He reiterated the concern about the failure of designated officers to get back to the Clerk. He gave a recent example where it had taken three weeks for the officer to respond and said it was not an acceptable situation and it was not an isolated incident.
For clarity, the Chairman noted that the Town or Parish Clerk was the single point of contact for all communications between the Parish and the District.
Mr Atterwill asked where that was written down in the Council’s policies and he was advised that it was Local Authority practice. Councillor Rogers confirmed that Norfolk County Council procedures also channelled all queries through the Clerk.
The Director of Planning & Business Manager agreed that it ... view the full minutes text for item 15.
Executive Member Portfolio Update (Agenda Item 6)
Elizabeth Gould, Executive Member for Planning, Building Control & Housing, has been invited to attend the meeting to update Members on key ongoing issues and policies within her portfolio and to answer any questions.
Elizabeth Gould, Executive Member for Planning, Building Control & Housing, provided the Commission with an update on her Portfolio.
A major planning application for the Thetford Sustainable Urban Extension (Thetford SUE) would be considered at a Special Planning Committee meeting to be held in the Carnegie Rooms in Thetford on Friday 4 April 2014. Due to its significance it was considered proper that the meeting should be held in Thetford. The agenda would be published well in advance of the meeting to give all parties an opportunity to engage in the process. A site visit had already been held and Members had also received a presentation from the applicants, following the previous Planning Committee meeting, which had been confined to matters of fact and had been held in open forum. It would be a significant decision and all Members were invited to participate at the Special Planning Committee meeting.
As part of the Capita contract monitoring a fresh set of Critical and Key Performance Indicators had been agreed with the aim of ensuring that decisions were made in a timely manner to guard against the potential for fee reimbursement to applicants. Other indicators had been introduced which monitored the quality of appeal decisions; improved the speed of determining simpler householder applications; improved the speed of pursuing enforcement action when expedient; and secured the delivery of the Local Plan to agreed timescales.
The speed, efficiency and responsiveness of Enforcement had long been a thorny subject. Since the recruitment of the new Enforcement Team Leader there had been significant improvement. The Planning Committee and other Members now received regular Enforcement updates and it was the Executive Member’s view that the service had improved substantially.
The service continued to deliver on its performance and retain its customer base. Service delivery was essential to retain market share as competition within the Building Control market was very active. There had been numerous calls for ‘out of hours’ dangerous structure provision during the recent bad weather. The team had met and exceeded all of its performance targets up to January 2014.
During the summer of 2012 the Housing function had been reviewed and restructured into two main areas: Private Sector Enforcement and Options. Options included homelessness, allocations and advice, whilst Private Sector Enforcement included housing standards, Gypsies and Travellers and housing grants.
By streamlining processes a net reduction in staff had been achieved. The housing enabling function had also been moved from Housing to sit within Planning.
The intent of the review had been the creation of an Options Hub, utilising new IT information handling to allow improved information flow and the identification and realisation of cashable savings.
A number of new officers were recruited to the Options side and staff received regular training to ensure effective operational capability and to keep resilience. Two Occupational therapy staff from Adult Social Services were now co-located within the Housing Team.
Several projects had been running including Empty Homes, a ... view the full minutes text for item 16.
Housing Review (Agenda Item 7)
To see if housing policies considered by the Housing Task & Finish Group have made an impact on the housing register.
Representatives from the Housing Associations have been invited to attend to answer questions.
Stephanie Davis from Broadland Housing Association and Lynn Riddoch from Flagship Housing Association were present at the Commission’s invitation to advise Members how the Policies, which the Housing Task & Finish Group had helped to shape, were working.
The Principal Housing Officer advised that the Allocations Policy had been reviewed in line with recent legislative changes regarding serving Forces personnel. There had also been guidance issued by the Secretary of State with regard to local connection. Those issues had been incorporated in the Policy and a report was being prepared for Cabinet recommending formal adoption.
Councillor Kybird asked if the part of the Policy focussing on local applicants had been successful and the Principal Housing Officer said that it had. The requirement to have lived in Breckland for three years or to have a specific local connection (job or family) had reduced numbers on the waiting list by 15/20%.
Ms Davis said the numbers were very positive. She was proud of the fact that there were no ‘hard to let’ properties in Breckland, even the older properties and bedsits were let quickly.
Ms Riddoch who covered Thetford and Dereham agreed. Sheltered accommodation was the hardest to let and they were investigating why those customers were not on the Register and were working with the Council to address that. The changes were positive and people were being housed more quickly.
Councillor Joel asked if the local connection applied to affordable housing provided on exception sites. The Planning Manager explained that the Local Lettings Policy (LLP) restricted eligibility to within a specific locality.
The Chairman clarified that Councillor Joel was asking about a development in Old Buckenham and the desire for local people to get precedence. He asked how the Allocations and Local Lettings Policies functioned.
The Principal Housing Officer explained that the Allocations Policy applied throughout Breckland, across the whole District, whereas the LLP had geographic restrictions down to village level where there was an identified housing need.
Councillor Matthews asked what triggered the LLP and was advised that it was a combination Planning/Housing issue and the restrictions were applied at the development stage. The Deputy Planning Manager said that in simple terms the LLP applied at site level on exception schemes and was controlled at village level.
Councillor R Richmond noted that such developments could also be delivered through village Action Plans. He asked how people wishing to return to villages, to live near parents for example, could be assisted.
The Chairman thought that the answer could be in the site specifics of the Local Plan by allowing villages to build some houses. The Deputy Planning Manager agreed although he said that there were other mechanisms outside the Local Plan process such as Neighbourhood Plans.
The Leader of the Council thought there was a lack of understanding about the LLP and he said he would ask the Director of Commissioning to write a report to explain it. He would make sure that all Members saw that report. He ... view the full minutes text for item 17.
Capita (Agenda Item 8)
To receive an update.
The Director of Planning & Business Manager said that the recent quarterly review meeting with Senior Officers had been a turning point in developing a stronger working partnership with the Council. Capita did listen to the concerns raised and worked to resolve the issues.
The Enforcement Team Leader had made some changes. He produced a monthly newsletter and had carried out a thorough review of enforcement cases. Process mapping of the way the team worked would help to streamline procedures and provide greater quality control.
A new S106 database had been created to ensure the collection of contributions from developers for community schemes. It had been a big piece of work which had impacted on other Enforcement work. However, it was now a more pro-active service again and with the software update there would be significant efficiencies and smarter working.
Building Control had received a rush of applications to beat new regulation changes coming in on 1 April 2014. That had stretched the team. With regard to fee income Capita had applied to take on Approved Inspector status to be able to compete nationally with others in the market.
A lot of work had gone into the Thetford SUE application which was reaching a crescendo.
The Planning Policy Team was working on the Issues & Options document which would include key evidence on Open Space, Retail, Town Centre and Housing Studies. It was likely that consultation would take place in the autumn. The team had also been out making site visits to review the level of housings starts and completions for the Annual Monitoring review. Finally the Croxton Neighbourhood Plan was now looking to include the parish of Kilverstone and Brettenham and Attleborough was trying to progress their Neighbourhood Plan.
Councillor Gilbert said he had never been in favour of outsourcing Planning which had been sold to Members on the basis of being financially beneficial. He asked how beneficial it had been.
The Assistant Director for Commissioning responded, saying that there had been two elements to the Capita contract. The first part had been that the contract would save the Council money and those savings had been met and were guaranteed.
The second part of the contract had been a profit sharing/income generating arrangement. There had been a specified threshold to meet before that part of the contract became operational and it was fair to say that Capita was still not close to hitting that threshold. There was a clause in the contract that if the threshold was not met then a lump sum would be payable to the Council at the end of the contract. It had been expected that the Council would be receiving income by now (five years into the contract) however the model had been predicated on Capita doing Planning work for a second authority from Breckland’s offices ... view the full minutes text for item 18.
Health Scrutiny (Agenda Item 9)
To receive an update on the Norfolk Health Scrutiny Committee.
Councillor Kybird provided an update. At their last meeting the Health Scrutiny Panel had focussed on the Health & Wellbeing Plan for 2014. There were to be three priority topic areas
They were big topics which would require County-wide actions.
The Chairman suggested that such issues needed to be built into the Council’s policies and the Executive Member for Community & Environmental Services advised that the Communities Team were already working to make people more active and would be creating some allotments alongside the Council Offices.
Scrutiny Call-ins (Agenda Item 10)
To note whether any decisions have been called-in for scrutiny.
Nothing to report.
Councillor Call for Action (Agenda Item 11)
To consider any references.
Nothing to report.
(a) A copy of the Commission’s work programme is attached. The Commission is asked to agree any additions, deletions or amendments to the programme as appropriate.
(b) Member Issues: In accordance with the Commission’s protocol for member leadership, which states that members of the Commission will take the lead in selecting topics for overview and scrutiny and in the questioning of witnesses, members are invited to put forward items for selection for future review.
A copy of the Key Decision Plan is attached for Members’ information.
The Chairman noted that the Executive Members for Assets & Strategic Development was due to address the May meeting of the Commission. However, he might not be able to attend and there might not be anything to report on the Local Asset Backed Vehicles (LABV). If he was able to attend he would aim to update the Commission on the Thetford Riverside and the Community Interest Company (CIC).
Members were encouraged to put forward suggestions for other items for the programme.
Next Meeting (Agenda Item 13)
To note the arrangements for the next meeting to be held on 1 May 2014.
The Chairman thanked everyone for attending, particularly the two Housing Association representatives.
The arrangements for the next meeting to be held on 1 May 2014 were noted.