Agenda item

Unsightly Sites (Agenda item 11)

To receive a presentation from the Communities and Environmental Services Manager.


A presentation was provided by Stephen James, the Communities and Environmental Services Manager. 


Cabinet had asked the Overview & Scrutiny Commission to take the lead on this matter and report any un-slightly sites in the Breckland area that were causing a detrimental impact on community well-being to the Communities and Environmental Services Manager. 


Since March 2017, 58 sites had been identified out of which 14 had seen some improvement without going through an enforcement process. Slides were shown of the improvements carried out in Thetford, Watton and Swaffham.


The Communities and Environmental Services Manager shared some of the difficulties and challenges Officers faced when dealing with these unsightly sites.  Some could be resource intensive particularly when dealing with the historic and complex sites that could lead to the legal team being involved. The first stage of the process was to engage with the owners; however, some owners had no intention of doing anything with the sites/land that they were responsible for. 


On-going cases were highlighted some of which were quite complex and the progress that had been made was reported.


Councillor Crawford had noticed works being carried out on St Mary the Less Church on Bury Road in Thetford and asked if it was Breckland Council who had brought that forward.  It was noted that Andrew Gayton, the Historic Buildings Officer, had been involved in this case for many years due to the historic nature of the site.  The Communities and Environmental Services Manager explained that although the process seemed very long winded, Members were assured that it was not always the fault of the Council.


Councillor Jermy sympathised with the hard work involved but felt that this was a huge opportunity to get rid of these unsightly sites and anymore that could turn up in the future.  He mentioned the Flagship case studies that formed part of the presentation and felt that these should be used as examples to affect change. In response, the Communities and Environmental Services Manager agreed with this approach as it would enable people to see what was going to happen with these unsightly sites and prove that the Council was trying its hardest to address these issues.<1>


Councillor Clarke was pleased to hear that the unsightly site in Dereham was finally being addressed as it was having an adverse effect on the area and the building was hard to let.  As it stood, it could put people off visiting the town which would then have a knock on affect to the Council’s Market Town Initiative.  He mentioned the pigeon problem too in the town but applauded all Officers involved in the process.  The Chairman reminded Members of the budget that was now available for the unsightly site process.


Councillor Dimoglou also congratulated the Team and he hoped that it would be resourced accordingly.  He also wanted to see more regimented policies coming through for such matters.


Councillor Wilkinson had a lot of sympathy for the Officers carrying out this work but wanted to know why there were two lists of unsightly sites.  Members were informed that it was the intention to prioritise the list and get end results for the most important ones so that the people were aware of what the Council was doing and raise the profile.


Councillor Robert Richmond asked if there were many sites where grant funding could be utilised.  Members were informed that at the moment, there were no cases that he was familiar with that would be suitable for grant funding.


The Executive Director of Place felt that the Council could be better with its Public Relations in regard to these matters and publicise its successes to encourage other owners to take a more positive approach. The most common unsightly site had been the one along the A47 at Necton and on this occasion, the open market did it itself, It was about encouraging owners to engage with the Council and do something positive for the site as it had in Necton.  The Team had the right approach but it was just about patience.


Councillor Brame asked when Ward Members would be notified of any improvements to these unsightly sites.  An email once a month would be appreciated so that residents’ could be responded to accordingly when asked. 


Councillor Claussen did not agree with this approach as it would put more strain on Officers’ invaluable time and felt that the Commission was the best forum for an update.  The Chairman agreed, emailing Ward Members would put an extra burden on Officers and would be a poor use of their time.


The Chairman thanked the Communities and Environmental Services Manager for his presentation.