Agenda and minutes

Venue: The Bowls Room, Watton Sports Centre

Contact: Committee Services  Tel: 01362 656870

Items
No. Item

30.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 119 KB

To confirm the Minutes of the meeting held on 24 July 2008.

Minutes:

(a)         HM Revenue & Customs Change Programme (Minute No. 26/08)

 

         The Chairman announced that he had no update to give about the Dereham office situation but confirmed that he would keep Panel Members informed by email.

 

(b)         Adoption 

 

         The Minutes of the meeting held on 24 July 2008 were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.

31.

Apologies

To receive apologies for absence.

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Mr M Griffin.

32.

Empty Dwellings Policy (Agenda Item 6) pdf icon PDF 68 KB

To receive a report on the Council’s Empty Dwellings Policy.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Principal Environmental Health Officer presented the report on the Council’s Private Empty Dwellings Policy, which explained that the current policy needed updating to reflect changes in legislation.  The Panel’s views were sought prior to consideration of the report at the Cabinet meeting on

9 September 2008.

 

Whilst a certain number of empty dwellings would always be part of the normal housing market process, there were some which remained empty for longer periods and which therefore potentially posed problems in terms of safety, targets for anti-social behaviour etc.   Such dwellings were essentially a wasted resource and it was considered practical for them to be brought back into use as accommodation as soon as possible, either through renovation or via demolition with some form of rebuild.

 

The Principal Environmental Health Officer explained the processes followed in dealing with empty dwellings, and the range of options open to the Council, including enforcement.  The Housing Act 2004 brought into effect a fundamental change with the introduction of Empty Dwellings Management  Orders (EDMOs).

 

EDMOs enabled an authority to take over control (but not ownership) of a property for an initial period of twelve months, in order to bring it back into use as a dwelling in one form or another. The Council would pay for the refurbishment of the dwelling and then either hand it back to the owner or, if the work had not been completed within the year, or if the Council felt that the owner would let it revert to a neglected and empty state, then the Council could apply for a longer term Empty Dwellings Management Order, allowing it to have control for up to seven years (longer in extreme cases).  At any time the Council could hand the property back to the owner – for example if the latter wanted to sell the property.

 

A specialist agency was employed to deal with such cases (i.e. responsibility for the work as well as the collection of rent).  The Council would regain any costs through the rent or by submitting a bill to the owner if they took back possession of the dwelling. 

 

Members raised the following points in general discussion, most of which were countered with the arguments that the Council has a power, but not a duty, to intervene; that it does so only as a last resort or in extreme cases where public safety etc had become, or was likely to become, an issue; and that all cases were dealt with sensibly and in terms of relative priority.  The Principal Environmental Health Officer also stressed that any action would only be taken after following a transparent and very specific process through the Residential Property Tribunal, and that any extreme cases (e.g. demolition in the absence of an owner) would only be taken forward after careful consultation with the Council’s legal team.   

 

  • There was concern that any tendency to knock down one property and replace it with several dwellings went against the Council’s basic planning policies.    In  ...  view the full minutes text for item 32.

33.

Breckland Voice - Review of Distribution (Agenda Item 7) pdf icon PDF 83 KB

To receive a report on the Review of Distribution and associated costs.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Corporate Consultation and Communications Officer presented the report on distribution options for ‘Breckland Voice’.  

 

As background, a survey earlier this year had revealed that Breckland residents valued ‘Voice’ as a highly informative publication.  It was their preferred method of receiving information about Council services and benefits.

 

As it had become apparent that the current method (left with bins as part of the Serco contract) sometimes failed to deliver ‘Voice’ to every Breckland resident - for example when bins were not left out for collection or where blocks of flats were involved - the Panel had commissioned a report to look into alternative methods of distribution, together with the costs involved.

 

In compiling the report, past and current delivery arrangements had been compared, as well as delivery arrangements used by other Councils.  The results, giving clear advantages and disadvantages in each case, were summarised in Appendix 1.   From this it could clearly be seen that, bearing in mind the need for optimum flexibility (for example concerning deadlines, occasional extra copies, as well as the desire to retain the ability to add inserts etc), the current arrangements were generally satisfactory and certainly the cheapest option.   However, it was apparent that adjustment needed to be made to accommodate those residents living in flats. 

 

If, on the other hand, Members wished to pursue one of the more expensive options illustrated, then further careful research and solid evidence would need to be gathered in order to justify such increases.

 

In general discussion, Members agreed on the importance of ‘Voice’ and the need to ensure that it reached every resident.  The latter point was particularly important since ‘Voice’ was the one publication over which the Council had ultimate control in terms of style and content.  Additionally ‘Voice’ reached a far wider audience than other forms of media.

 

It was also felt that if the existing contract was to be amended to provide for delivery of copies through letterboxes in certain cases, then not only would this incur additional expense but there could be practical difficulties of access to flats and some rural properties.   

 

It was suggested that it might be worthwhile for the Council to leave some copies of ‘Voice’ in village post offices/shops/pubs etc.   However, it was noted that this would incur further costs.     

 

A Member also pointed out that although each edition of ‘Voice’ was available to view on the website, it was not easily apparent or with the latest copy at the top.    The Corporate Consultation and Communications Officer agreed to look into this. 

 

There was some discussion about the revenue received from advertising.    This was a relatively new feature in Voice and an agency was used to handle this.  It was felt that income generated from advertising could be used to offset any increased costs incurred through using postal delivery options.  However it was also generally agreed that too much advertising could deter  residents from reading their copies.   A careful balance needed to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 33.

34.

Work Programme (Agenda Item 8) pdf icon PDF 60 KB

To consider the work programme.

Minutes:

Future items were considered and agreed as follows:-

 

Item

Meeting

 

Feedback on the Breckfest event, to review outcome and any lessons to be learned for the future.

 

16 October

 

 

Progress report on Sports and Arts Development activities.

16 October

 

 

Update report on Member Development and Training.

27 November

 

35.

Date of Next Meeting

To note that the next meeting will be held on Thursday, 16 October at 10.00 a.m. in the Norfolk Room.  

Minutes:

Arrangements for the next meeting on Thursday, 16 October 2008 were noted.