Agenda item

Questions on Notice under Standing Order No 6 (Agenda item 9)

Questions on Notice have been received from the Members listed below and the responses will be presented to Council at the meeting:

 

·        Councillor Helen Crane

·        Councillor Tim Birt

·       Councillor Harry Clarke

·       Councillor Keith Gilbert

·       Councillor Roger Atterwill

·       Councillor Terry Jermy

·       Councillor Mike Brindle

·       Councillor Stuart Terry

·       Councillor Susan Dowling

·       Councillor Chris Harvey

Minutes:

The Chairman explained the process of how the questions and responses would be provided.

 

Councillor Birt was pleased that so many questions had been raised but pointed out that he had been informed by a Chief Officer in November 2019 that any responses provided would be made available prior to the meeting to allow the author of the question time to consider a subsequent response.  As this had not been demonstrated at this meeting, he asked if the correct procedure could be explained. 

 

In response, Mark Stinson, the Executive Manager for Governance explained that procedurally, there were two options available, the question could be responded to at the meeting or within 5 working days after the meeting.  Under normal circumstances, where there was sufficient time, the questions would be circulated and responses provided prior to the meeting.  On this occasion, there had been a large number of questions and with everyone working remotely it had been difficult to co-ordinate; however, from a strictly procedural perspective, Councillor Birt was informed that there was no requirement to circulate such questions and responses prior to the meeting.

 

Question 1: Councillor Helen Crane to the Executive Member for Planning – Cllr Paul Claussen

 

The residents of Breckland need to have confidence in this council that S106 obligations are monitored and invoices sent to developers on time and chased accordingly if payment not received. The delay in this meant that Saham Toney did not receive a substantial sum of money when the developer submitted a planning obligation application some years after the development was completed and had never received an invoice from this Council, it only coming to light when I became District Councillor for Saham Toney and spotted a large sum of money on the available list, which turned out to actually not be available, having never been invoiced at the trigger point.  Can we confirm to the Council that there is now a robust system in place to ensure that this will not happen in the future?

 

RESPONSE: Cllr Claussen thanked Cllr Crane for her question and apologised for the issues surrounding the payment of monies to Saham Toney Parish Council.

 

The S106 process in the Council has been undergoing change in the last 12 months and updating all its records. There is improved co-ordination between the Planning Department and Finance to ensure that all received monies are properly recorded and kept up to date.

 

Invoices have been issued on old applications where monies have not been received following an extensive audit exercise.

 

Inevitably some developers, once they have been reminded of their obligations, choose to seek to modify the obligation. Any such application has to be assessed against the Local Plan and National Planning Guidance.

 

From the end of this year, we will be required to provide an Infrastructure Funding Statement which will detail how monies received from S106 payments has been spent.

 

The work is underway to ensure this is done in line with the requirement.

 

This, together with the measures introduced over the last 12 months will ensure that the monitoring of S106 Agreements is robust and the problems you have experienced are not repeated.

Councillor Crane was satisfied with the response and she hoped that going forward that no other Parish Council would lose the amount of money that Saham Toney unfortunately had.  She had received an apology from Rob Walker, the Executive Director of Place which she had passed on to the Parish Council but of course this had been of little help at that point in time. As Breckland Council did not have a legal obligation to monitor S106 Agreements monies, she asked what advice the Council should give to Parish Councils in monitoring such funding. 

 

The Executive Member for Planning felt that Councillor Crane had done a good piece of work by raising awareness of these matters but reminded Members of what he had said towards the end of his response in respect of the Council providing an Infrastructure Funding Statement detailing how monies received from S106 payments had been spent.  This work was already underway and would be available from the end of 2020.  In the interim, Councillor Claussen said that he would be happy to send some form of communication about this to all Parish Councils.

 

Question 2: Councillor Keith Gilbert to the Chairman of Planning Committee - Cllr Nigel Wilkin

 

Can the Executive Member for Planning please explain why the members of the Planning Committee Chairman’s Panel found it appropriate for Planning Application 3PL/2019/1554/D, land at Thetford Road, Watton, for 180 dwellings, one of the largest and most controversial and sensitive applications seen in Watton, to be determined under officer delegation, rather than for it be considered by the Planning Committee, thereby denying members of the public who had many concerns about the application the right to address the Planning Committee and raise their concerns.

 

RESPONSE: Councillor Nigel Wilkin thanked Councillor Gilbert for his question.

 

The scheme of delegation requires only the following types of Planning Applications to be considered at Chairman’s Panel:

 

·        Applications which are called in (subject to the criteria as set out in the constitution)

·        Where a development is contrary to Policy

·        Applications where it is known that the applicant or agent is a Councillor or a member of staff.

Officers can also decide to take further applications to Panel to obtain a view on whether they should be held at Planning Committee if it is considered they raise sensitive or potentially contentious issues.

 

Members of the Panel are asked to consider the ‘sensitivity’ of application and make a recommendation to officers as to whether these should be heard at Planning Committee or not.  In this instance the application and its sensitivity were discussed, and the members of the Panel came to the view that the application was not so significant it warranted a hearing at Planning Committee. 

 

Of specific note was that the application was a reserved matters application, where the principle of development had already been established by the granting of the outline planning consent.  Members noted that any outstanding issues could be adequately dealt with and resolved by planning officers.

 

A supplementary question raised by Councillor Gilbert:

 

Councillor Gilbert asked whether, given this was a controversial application that had caused a great deal of anger in Watton due to the lack of transparency, the Chairman believed that now was the time to look again at the role and remit of the Chairman’s Panel and also the scheme of delegations for planning applications. 

 

Councillor Wilkin responded that many of the queries raised on this application had already been dealt with and had consequently been brought to Members’ attention at the Chairman’s Panel.  One of the most significant concerns related to the properties on Cannon Close in respect of overlooking and the distances between the new and existing dwellings that had been addressed accordingly in the Reserved Matters application.  There had been a great deal of debate between Members and Planning Officers at the Panel meeting where most of the concerns had been covered.  In view of this, the Chairman felt that it was unnecessary to bring the application to the Planning Committee to be debated even further.

 

Councillor Gilbert felt that his question had not been answered and accordingly repeated what had been missed.

 

In response, Councillor Wilkin advised that a review of the Panel and the subsequent delegations was coming forward.

 

Question 3: Councillor Tim Birt to the Executive Member for Planning – Cllr Paul Claussen

 

The members of Local Plan Working Group (LPWG) were selected without disclosure of a brief or invitation to the opposition groups for discussion. At Cabinet of 1-June-2020 Cllr Claussen said Members were asked to volunteer to work on the LPWG and he would ask them to disclose their “credentials”, so:

 

a.     To whom was the request to volunteer to serve on the LPWG submitted?

b.     How was the selection of the LPWG members made?

c.      What are the skills, attributes and expertise do the selected members bring to the LPWG?

 

RESPONSE:  Councillor Claussen thanked Councillor Birt for his question.

 

There are no legal or constitutional rules in respect of the allocation of seats to the working group.

Membership of the LPWG was approved by Full Council at its meeting on 28 November 2019. It does not appear from the Council minutes as though there was any challenge to the membership put forward to Full Council.

 

The request for Volunteers for the group was canvassed amongst Members of the Ruling Group. The selection was based upon what attributes the members of the group could bring to the working group and I am aware that Members have indicated at previous meetings of the working group what those attributes are. I am satisfied that they bring experience of working on such groups previously, a willingness to challenge and a desire to produce a Local Plan that will serve the residents of Breckland for years to come.

 

As a pre-amble to the question, Councillor Claussen stated that he had been very disappointed with the way the membership of the Local Plan Working Group had been politicised and undermined.

 

Following the response, Councillor Birt looked forward to a further written response to his question above which he would follow up with letter with a supplementary question contained within it.

 

Question 4: Councillor Terry Jermy to the Leader as Chairman of Cabinet – Cllr Chapman-Allen

 

Could the Leader, as Chairman of Cabinet, confirm what alternative governance structures were considered in relation to the Working Plan Working Group prior to determining that a working group consisting of solely members of the ruling group would achieve the best outcome for Breckland residents?

 

RESPONSE: The Leader thanked Councillor Jermy for his question.

 

As there are no legal or constitutional rules in respect of the allocation of seats to a working group nor is it a decision-making body. It is the decision of Breckland’s Cabinet with what they felt will be the best outcome for Breckland residents.

A supplementary question was raised by Councillor Jermy.

 

Given that the Local Plan was such a sensitive topic throughout Breckland and as such everyone involved should have faith in the process, Councillor Jermy asked the Leader if he would commit to reviewing what other governance structures were in place with planning authorities nationally to ensure that Breckland’s residents were getting the best possible result.

 

The Leader stated that democracy was key and the democratic mandate for Breckland residents were under a Conservative ruling Group and as such it was a Cabinet decision to establish a Local Plan Working Group which he hoped supported all residents and businesses across the District.  He would be more than happy at the right juncture to work with any Members of the Council and more importantly with the communities and businesses through the Local Plan Working Group to ensure that Breckland had a most suitable Local Plan.

 

Question 5: Councillor Stuart Terry to the Executive Member for Planning – Cllr Claussen

 

Could the Cabinet Member for Planning confirm whether the Local Plan Working Group will be completing a review of the effectiveness of the previous Local Plan Consultation and Engagement Strategy?

 

RESPONSE: Councillor Claussen thanked Councillor Terry for his question.

 

The Council will agree a new Statement of Community Involvement that will govern the nature of community engagement in the preparation of the Local Plan Review. It is important to note that whilst the Council wishes to engage all statutory and non-statutory stakeholders in the preparation of the Plan there are aspects of the Plan that will be fixed (for example, the housing requirement and need for the Plan to conform with legislation and national planning policy) and that there will be competing views expressed on aspects of the Plan where a judgement will need to be made.

Question 6: Councillor Chris Harvey to the Executive Member for Planning – Cllr Claussen

 

Could the Cabinet Member for Planning confirm what additional resources the Council would need to allocate to complete the full refresh of the local plan and what the cost of these additional resources will be?

 

RESPONSE:  Councillor Claussen thanked Councillor Harvey for his question.

 

The cost of the Local Plan has yet to be established and will be dependent on the agreed content of the Local Plan and the areas it seeks to cover. Much of the cost will be the production of evidence bases to inform the plan and underpin it at Examination. The work is being done to understand what will be required and what the cost implications over the next four years will be. It should be noted that the majority of the work required would be the same for a partial review of the Local Plan and that it will be more cost-effective to do a full review than to do a partial review and have to start work almost immediately on reviewing those areas of the plan that did not form part of the partial review. 

Question 7: Councillor Mike Brindle to the Executive Member for Planning Cllr Claussen

 

Could the Cabinet Member for Planning confirm if there are any risks associated with undertaking a full review rather than a partial review? Will those risks apply equally to the whole district?

 

RESPONSE:  Councillor Claussen thanked Councillor Brindle for his question.

 

There are risks associated with any review of a Local Plan. However, it is considered that these are significantly reduced if a full review is carried out. A longer time period provides greater opportunity for risks to be managed and mitigated. This is particularly important where the risk is out of the Council’s control. The main risks are as follows:

 

·        Understanding the housing requirement. It is not yet known what the housing requirement for Breckland will be or when it will be published.

·        Agreeing a viable and deliverable Development Strategy that delivers a 5-year housing land supply

·        Changes to National Planning Policy / Planning White Paper (uncertain as to when and implications). 

·        Any further consideration around the implications of the recent Covid-19 outbreak

·        Duty to Co-operate / securing statements of common ground with key external stakeholders in developing the Plan

·        5 Year Housing Land Supply:  If the Council does not submit the review in accordance with Policy INF 03, or is unable to demonstrate a 5-year supply of housing land then para 11(d) of the NPPF will apply. That refers to the ‘tilted balance’ which is applied when ‘the policies which are most important for determining the application are out of date’ It does not follow automatically that just because one of the policies for determining an application is out of date, the tilted balance must be applied and permission granted.

·        Financial, staff Resources and Project Management

These risks will also apply to a partial review but will have significantly greater impact in terms of programme and the robustness of the final document.

 

As a supplementary question, Councillor Brindle stated that the purpose of the question was to try to justify the reason for having a full review rather than a partial review as he could not see the logic in having a partial review.  The review would include transport and not green issues yet the two were wholly interlinked; therefore, all he was really asking Councillor Claussen was whether he was correct in thinking that the Council was travelling in the direction of a full review.

 

Councillor Claussen stated that the simple answer was ‘yes’ a full review had been agreed at Cabinet.

 

Question 8: Councillor Roger Atterwill to the Executive Member for Planning – Cllr Claussen

 

Can the Cabinet member for Planning please confirm the advantages and disadvantages of the Council undertaking a full review of its Local Plan compared to a partial review.

 

RESPONSE:  Councillor Claussen thanked Councillor Atterwill for his question.

 

The main advantages of preparing a full review of the local plan are:

 

·        Council decisions will likely be better informed (based on an appropriate evidence base and more effective duty to co-operate).

·        Public consultation could be more extensive than that required to meet the minimum required to meet statutory requirements. A longer timetable allows time for greater and more effective community engagement including on different options for development and policy development if this is deemed to be appropriate.

·        There is more robustness in undertaking a full review as critical risks (including for example, changes to national planning policy) are more likely to be able to be more successfully managed given the extended time period for production.

·        Enables the Council to consider additional strands of new policy development over and above those required by the Inspector (including aspects of design and climate change).

·        The Council is required to undertake a full review of the Plan within 5 years. By undertaking this task now, it enables full consideration to be given to all aspects of the Plan Review in a single document thereby removing any concerns that the planning Inspectorate may have regarding examination of a split Plan.

 

As a supplementary question, Councillor Atterwill mentioned the disadvantages which he believed had not been properly conveyed to all Councillors.  The disadvantages of a full review being undertaken was that in November 2022 it was likely that 10 policies would be out of date and would therefore carry less weight in terms of decision making in respect of planning applications.  He felt that the Council should be made aware of this as it would have an effect on every community.  Councillor Atterwill read aloud the relevant policies. He felt that this was a grave concern for all communities that the Council represented.  All had thought that a final Local Plan had been adopted but within 3 years they could all suddenly be vulnerable to aggressive development applications.  

Councillor Atterwill also felt that even as an opposition member, all should work together as everyone, whatever the political affiliation, wanted this to work and be the best Local Plan for the District and for all communities.   The opposition would scrutinise and put forward suggestions in the hope that collective decision-making would be better for Breckland’s communities.  All had tried to engage but at the first meeting of the LPWG, Members were denied access to the meeting, and at the last meeting, it was stated that members who were not appointed to the LPWG would be muted and unable to speak.  This had obviously caused some consternation. 

 

Councillor Claussen stated that the Local Plan Working Group was an informal meeting, it was not a formal Committee and it had no decision-making powers and as such, was not subject to rules on public access, publication of agendas, minutes or political proportionality and going forward the ruling Party and the Cabinet would be making the decisions.

 

Question 9: Councillor Harry Clarke to the Executive Member for Planning – Cllr Claussen

 

The Capita contract is due to finish part way through the process of undertaking a full review of the Local Plan. Could the Cabinet member for Planning confirm that contingencies will be put in place to ensure continuity of service should council resolve to change course with regard to the provision of planning services.

 

RESPONSE:  Councillor Claussen thanked Councillor Clarke for his question.

 

The Capita contract is due to expire in June 2024. As part of the contract the Council has the option to provide 12 months’ notice to Capita to extend the contract for one additional period of 5 years after which the contract would automatically terminate.

 

The Council has several options:

 

·        Extend the contract

·        Take the service back in house

·        Find another supplier

In any of these scenarios the officers within the existing service will be protected under employment and contract law and will continue to provide planning services and ensure continuity of all those services.

 

As a supplementary question, in terms of contingencies and the outlined legal position Councillor Clarke asked if he could be sent other models of planning provision including in-house provision. Notwithstanding the legal position of the contract but taking into account the Government White Paper that was forthcoming that could affect the planning service; therefore, he hoped, as part of the contingency, that this was also looked at in terms of risk of delivering the Local Plan.

 

Question 10: Councillor Susan Dowling to the Executive Member for Housing – Cllr Webb

 

Could the Cabinet Member for Housing confirm how many new dwellings have been completed in Breckland for each of the last 10 years, given the local plan target is for 612 per year”

 

RESPONSE: Councillor Webb thanked Councillor Dowling for her question and highlighted the figures below:

2011/12

342

612

2012/13

321

612

2013/14

416

612

2014/15

486

612

2015/16

609

612

2016/17

789

612

2017/18

530

612

2018/19

733

612

Totals

4226

4896

2019/20

Monitoring delayed due to Covid 19

 

Councillor Webb explained that from 2019 to 2020 the monitoring of the data had been delayed due to Covid-19.

 

Question 11: Councillor David Wickerson to the Executive Member for Housing Cllr Webb

 

In view of the current crisis with lack of Affordable Housing and the continuing pressure being applied by developers to reduce the required percentile of same in housing developments can the Cabinet Member for Housing please advise the number of Affordable Homes that have been completed for the last 10 years and what that number represents as a percentage of the total number of homes completed. This could form part of an Affordable Housing review including the question of whether Breckland District Council should consider the option of building council owned properties.

 

RESPONSE:Councillor Webb thanked Councillor Wickerson for his question.

 

The council is keen on delivering affordable housing for our residents and below you can see the housing completions in Breckland for last ten years. The table presents total housing completions per annum which includes within it the number of affordable housing completions. The percentage of affordable homes against this total has been presented in the table, as well as the total number of housing completions against the objectively assessed annualised target of 612 per annum. The figures for the years 2018 – 2020 are estimates at this stage. The number of affordable homes completed includes the delivery of shared ownership and shared equity homes.

 

Over the past ten years the average yearly percentage of affordable home completions is 20% and affordable home completions have been consistently below the average in the past four years. The council reduced the percentage requirement of affordable homes on sites of ten or more homes (or 0.5ha or more) from 40% to 25% in March 2019, which was seen as beneficial to enable more affordable home completions as developers could make this viable on their schemes.

 

Registered Providers and developers have confirmed that schemes on site from March have been delayed by 3 months due to Covid-19. The council wants to ensure that sufficient number of affordable home completions are delivered each year for the needs of our residents and look for creative and new opportunities for delivery by working with RPs, developers, Parish Council, Community Groups, private landlords and landowners.

 

Table 1: Delivery of market and affordable housing since 2010 in Breckland

 

Year

Total Housing Completions

 Affordable Housing Completions

Percentage Affordable Homes Completed

Percentage of Total Housing Completions Against Target

2010/2011

376

80

21%

61%

2011/2012

342

53

15.50%

56%

2012/2013

321

118

37%

52.50%

2013/2014

416

87

21%

68%

2014/2015

486

119

25%

79%

2015/2016

609

61

10%

99.50%

2016/2017

789

143

18%

129%

2017/2018

530

96

18%

87%

2018/2019

733

168

23%

120%

2019/2020

N/A

139

N/A

N/A

 

Councillor Wickerson thanked Councillor Webb for a very full and professional response to his question and looked forward to further dialogue.

 

Question 12: Councillor Philip Morton to the Executive Member for Customer Engagement – Cllr Sherwood

 

Question: Can the Cabinet Member for Customer Engagement confirm how he will ensure that full advantage is taken of the governments retrofitting fund to improve the Housing stock in Breckland and mitigate Climate Change.

RESPONSE: Councillor Sherwood thanked Councillor Morton for his question as it allowed him the opportunity to speak on something that he was passionate about.

 

Breckland Council is not a stock holding authority and all housing was transferred to the Peddars Way Housing Association (now Flagship Group).

 

Breckland Council has declared a climate emergency and is introducing a number of new measures to address climate change as highlighted as a Standing Item at each Cabinet meeting. 

 

As a supplementary question, Councillor Morton appreciated that Breckland Council did not have any housing stock but asked what measures the Council could take in respect of working with Flagship and incentivise them to adopt the Government scheme.  He was conscious of the funding available that the Council should take advantage of. 

 

Councillor Sherwood agreed with the aforementioned remarks, local residents of Flagship would be keen to see this happen and any organisation such as Flagship Housing Group would want to take full advantage of this, and dialogue was being had. 

 

The Chairman thanked everyone for their patience to these questions and she hoped they found them useful.