Leader's Announcements (Agenda item 6)
To receive a verbal update from Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen, Leader of the Council.
The Leader made the following announcements:
Covid-19 – National Guidance
Following the recent changes to the national guidance announced by the Prime minister earlier in the week, Norfolk’s overall rate remained lower than England’s average; however, the Leader urged everyone to follow the new guidance as it was paramount not to become complacent. A new National Health Service App had just been launched and again he urged all Members to download it as this had been designed to help track and trace. Businesses were now required to display QR codes to allow customers to easily check in to ensure that the virus was able to be controlled.
Officers had been working with local businesses across the District to raise awareness of this new requirement and support them so that they could become compliant in respect of the new rules and regulations.
The Council would continue to deliver all essential services that had been highlighted in the earlier presentation in the same manner as it had throughout the pandemic. For now, the vast majority of staff would continue to work from home and would continue to serve customers remotely either on-line, on the phone or, and if absolutely necessary, face to face.
These had been extremely challenging times for everyone, not just in Breckland but across the country and of course, the world but he had been pleased by the way everyone in Breckland had risen to the challenge. Until life returned to some normality, it was uncertain what the forthcoming months might hold; however, Breckland Council’s priorities would continue, supporting its businesses to thrive, to be safe and successful whilst also providing protection for its residents, and in particular, those who were most vulnerable.
Members were then reminded of the Banham Poultry outbreak.
Regular updates had been and would continue to be provided to all Members. Officers involved in handling the outbreak had worked with partners across Norfolk including Norfolk County Council’s Public Health to ensure that the outbreak was successfully managed. To date, there had been 135 confirmed positive cases but thankfully, there had been no evidence of any further outbreaks within the community. He was pleased to inform Members that the peak of the outbreak had now passed, and data had shown that levels had now returned to what they were prior to the outbreak. As a result, Norfolk was no longer on enhanced support, the factory had returned to full production with approximately 80% of staff now back on site. This was good news for all those people affected, for the company and for the community. The outbreak had been well managed but there were still improvements to be made to ensure that Breckland and Norfolk were safe and well prepared for any future outbreaks.
Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) System
The Leader reminded Members of the discussions held in 2019 in respect of ANPR that was mainly used by the Police. Further progress had been made in respect of Breckland’s commitment through its vulnerability programme. The Council had invested £60,000 to support the installation of cameras within the District in support of Norfolk Constabulary to deter, detect and disrupt criminal activity particularly around County Lines. The Police were now deciding where the best strategic locations were for these cameras - it would be inappropriate to confirm, for operational reasons, where these cameras would be situated. Going forward, he asked Members to be confident in the knowledge that the investment made by this Council would detect and deter criminal activity to keep Breckland’s communities and its residents safe.
Another way that Breckland had been supporting its residents was the prevention of domestic abuse as part of the Council’s £1m vulnerability programme Breckland Council funded the Daisy Programme to enable the establishment of Community Support Teams for residents within the District and increased access to information. Dereham Football Club was now sponsoring the Daisy Programme by having the logo displayed on their football shirts which would help to promote awareness of domestic violence.
Government White Paper and Changes to the current Planning System
The proposals contained in the recently released Government White Paper and the separately published document ‘Changes to the current Planning System’ had raised many questions from the community, and from this Council, and responses to those questions were continuing at pace.
Some of the proposals were valid and warranted change, but others, if implemented, would have an impact on Breckland and a very serious impact on the community. The imposition of a 75% increase to the annual build rate target from 612 to over 1000 dwellings per annum would be detrimental to the District as the lack of infrastructure to support this large increase would be near impossible to manage and would also be a blight on the communities.
The Executive Member for Planning had already sent a letter to the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) asking for clarification in respect of what these proposals would mean to the Council’s Local Plan; and had asked that the requirement under planning policy INF03 be suspended. Additionally, another letter of concern had been sent to MHCLG setting out Breckland Council’s headline concerns about the increase in housing numbers, the lack of infrastructure, the lack of support for the Local Plan, as well as concerns about S106 agreements in respect of affordable homes and what that would mean for Breckland when there were developments of less than 50.
A Member Briefing had taken place earlier in September where an extensive discussion had been had between Planning Officers and Members and the Leader thanked those Members who had participated. Breckland Council would continue to work with partners such as the LGA District Council’s Network, and others to ensure that the voice of the District Council was heard. This had been followed by the opportunity for Members to make their own submissions to the Planning Policy Team and he encouraged everyone, if they so wished, to make further comments as the timeline was limited and the consultation period would end soon. There was nothing to prevent individual Members or Parish Councils responding and some had already done so.
As this was the last Full Council meeting that the Chief Executive would be attending, the proposals for Anna’s successor were explained.
In the meantime, the interim arrangements that had already been put into place were working well and would help both Breckland and South Holland Councils to consider the best options going forward whilst taking into account the level of change that local government could see in the coming months, as well as the impact of Covid-19.
Battle of Britain tribute
Breckland Council had a long and proud tradition of supporting the armed forces communities, and the Leader took the opportunity to highlight the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
The Battle of Britain took place between July and October 1940, and 15th September had been officially named Battle of Britain Day and, although in September 2020, the world had been and was continuing to face a very different kind of threat, Members were encouraged to remember those who lost their lives during this iconic battle.
The Chairman thanked the Leader for his announcements, particularly in respect of the Battle of Britain as she and the Vice-Chairman had attended many such virtual events.
Questions based on the Leaders announcements were then invited.
Councillor Ian Martin asked the Leader a question relating to the changes to the Planning System. He believed that the document recently circulated to Parish Councils and to Elected Members that set out Breckland Council’s likely response had been very encouraging. It actively reflected the strength of feeling from the Members’ Briefing, and it had certainly put the points across. He encouraged the Officers to continue their work with the support of the Executive Members.
The Leader concurred with Councillor Martin’s comments. Breckland’s response would be robust and it would continue to be transparent and further information would be shared with Members and the community accordingly.
Councillor Atterwill asked if a response had been received to the letters that had been sent to MHCLG and if those letters could be made available to all Members.
Councillor Atterwill also wanted his thanks to everyone involved in respect of Banham Poultry to be placed on record as he was aware that all had worked very hard to try and avert this crisis and was pleased that 80% of the staff had returned to work. He was also aware that George Freeman MP had asked DEFRA if any financial support could be provided to Banham Poultry for what it had lost during the outbreak and asked if Breckland Council were doing the same, bearing in mind that Banham Poultry was classed as a vital employer in the District.
In respect of the letters being made available to Members, the Leader advised that he would be happy for the Executive Member for Planning to share those with all Members. MHCLG had not yet responded but any response would also be shared once received.
In response to the second question, the Leader advised that he had written to the Secretary of State in respect of Banham Poultry within a week of the incident, but the response was still awaited. Again, the response, once received, would be shared but with Attleborough Members first.
Councillor Jermy also asked a question in respect of Banham Poultry. He knew that self-isolation was absolutely key if a person was displaying symptoms but many who worked at the factory were on low incomes and there had been many concerns raised about statutory sick pay not being sufficient to support those affected. He had noted that with Banham Poultry specifically, the Norfolk Assistance Scheme had provided £32k in cash together with 237 food parcels worth £5k. This support had been absolutely key, and he asked if Breckland Council would be reviewing to what extent this assistance had supported self-isolation and making that knowledge known more widely to help prevent such incidents in the future.
Members were informed of the overarching tactical group that had responded to the Banham Poultry outbreak and how further lessons had been learnt. Breckland Council had already changed some of its processes and procedures, and services had improved in preparation for any future outbreaks. In relation to support for those individuals who had to self-isolate, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care had already announced a change to the self-isolation fund that would come into effect very soon and colleagues across Norfolk were working diligently to ensure that this system was in place and ready to go live on Monday, 28 September. As soon as further details were received he would share this information with all Members and to Parish Councils alike.
Councillor Clarke’s question related to Covid. He was aware that a great deal of work had been carried out behind the scenes and asked the Leader, for public assurance, if he would make sure that the full risk assessment relating to Elizabeth House in Dereham and Breckland House in Thetford was published on the Council’s website.
The Leader said that he would have to get back to Councillor Clarke on this matter.