Questions without Notice under Standing Order No 7 (Agenda item 8)
Councillor Jermy, the Leader of the Labour Group asked a question relating to a recent report in the Telegraph newspaper where it stated that one in ten Councils had written to the Government objecting to the latest planning proposals particularly in respect of the new algorithm that had been devised. He asked the Leader, Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen if he believed it was now time for the Government to scrap the Planning White Paper and go back to the drawing board.
The Leader did not feel that it was the time for the Government to scrap the Planning Consultation White Paper as there had been a phenomenal amount of work carried out by civil servants and local government which, if scrapped, would all be wasted. Local Government had provided Central Government with a wealth of responses and he believed that the Government should now go through all that information in great detail to formulate their response. If it turned out to be unfavourable to the residents of Breckland and Norfolk as a whole, then there were various lobbying forums in place such as the DCN and the LGA and through local MPs to ensure that our voices were heard.
Councillor Atterwill asked the Executive Member for Planning if he would join him in urging those community groups who were producing Neighbourhood Plans to carry on with their work despite the uncertainty created by the Government’s Planning White Paper.
In response, the Executive Member for Planning said the simple answer was yes.
Councillor Atterwill’s second question was directed to the Leader of the Council. He pointed out that in the last 10 years, Norfolk County Council’s Conservative Group had cut Youth Services, the Connection Service, Children’s Centres and was now closing Holt Hall. He asked the Leader if there was any scope for Breckland Council to provide additional help for the young people of Breckland.
Members were informed that Breckland Council made youth provision both within its leisure facilities and outreach activities across the District. All Councils had statutory responsibilities but whilst looking at budgets going forward all must ensure that the finances were targeted to those most in need whilst continuing to deliver its statutory services.
Councillor Birt addressed his question to the Leader of the Council. He had a number of outstanding issues including a complaint against a Senior Executive Officer of the Council but had not, as yet, had a response. He asked the Leader if these matters would be dealt with and there was sufficient time and resource for the new Head of Paid Service to complete this work.
The Leader advised that a Full Council meeting was not the appropriate forum for such matters to be discussed. There was an internal process through which such complaints could be addressed. In relation to any outgoing member of staff where a complaint had been made against them this would be looked at to establish whether the complaint was substantive enough to spend time and resource investigating.
The Leader asked Councillor Birt to have a further conversation with the Council’s Monitoring Officer outside of this meeting as he was not fully aware of the details.
Councillor Wickerson directed his question to Councillor Sherwood the Executive Member for Community Engagement & Member Champion for Breckland Sustainability Strategy. As the Council moved into Christmas and the New Year period, he asked if Members would be provided with any update on the appointment of the Climate Change Officer as he understood that a shortlist had been produced and he wanted to know if an appointment had been made and when this person would start.
Councillor Sherwood advised that he had taken part in the final shortlisting interviews where he had been incredibly impressed by the calibre, knowledge and experience of all candidates. These interviews had recently been completed and the successful candidate would be notified shortly, and it was anticipated that this individual would commence employment early in the New Year. Once the HR process had been completed Members would be notified accordingly.
Councillor Crane asked the Executive Member for Customer Engagement if he agreed that Breckland Council had shown complete commitment to residents ensuring that all could access the Council more easily either on-line or by appointment and by offering and operating evening calls also by appointment.
Councillor Sherwood was pleased to state that his Portfolio recognised that no resident in Breckland should be missed and many people now used the internet and website and the on-line forms to engage with the Council. There was still a high volume of calls and the Contact Centre had adapted during the pandemic with the majority of the Call Centre Team working from home. It had been recognised that there was always going to be a vulnerable element of residents who could struggle with on-line forms etc and trying to get help had proved difficult. A scheme had since been introduced where appointments could be made to have someone call back out of hours, this was a trial process which was being monitored.
Councillor Borrett felt that Councillor Atterwill’s question had been based on the premise that there had been a reduction in youth services by Norfolk County Council and asked the Leader if he would agree, in light of the following, that this was not the case. Norfolk County Council was moving from being a provider to being a facilitator of outdoor learning, and there were other opportunities for outdoor learning than those provided by Holt Hall. NCC would be using the money it saves by closing Holt Hall to increase the provision and access to outdoor learning for Norfolk’s youth and he named a number of these initiatives.
The Leader completely agreed with Councillor Borrett’s comments.
The Chairman felt that a list of youth initiatives taking place in Breckland and wider Norfolk should be sent to all Members.
Councillor Clarke was very grateful to Councillor Claussen, the Executive Member for Planning and the Officers for their work behind the scenes with different agencies in respect of flooding. He asked if the Executive Member would meet with him via Zoom to explore some of these issues prior to the conclusion that was expected in January 2021, and particularly, how this information should be communicated to residents and how this might be improved.
Councillor Claussen said that he would be happy to meet to discuss this further and he thanked Councillor Clarke and Councillor Duigan for raising this concern.
Councillor Brindle directed his question to the Leader of the Council. In his role as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Charles Burrell Centre in Thetford he thanked the Leader of the Council for his support of the recently opened Burrell shop on site and asked if he could confirm what benefits would he hoped would materialise from this new service for Breckland residents.
The Leader said that he had recently been invited to speak on Radio Norfolk to promote what he felt was a fantastic scheme and initiative that proved, by working in collaboration and partnership, so much could be achieved for residents and communities. This was a trial pilot scheme in a prime location in Thetford that would transform the lives of those individuals who found themselves in financial hardship. Following the review, and if successful, Breckland Council would be looking to replicate similar schemes.
Councillor Terry asked the Leader of the Council if it was possible for meetings of the Council to be held in the evenings, as some Members being in full time employment struggled to have time off to attend.
In response, the Leader explained that this would have to be a decision of this Council, but his personal view was that it would be immensely complicated and difficult as many Members were Parish Councillors whose meetings were always in the evenings and to try and juggle both would be challenging. However, he would be happy to write to any employer to explain the importance of being Councillor and the benefits for allowing them to attend. He reminded Members that all Councillors received an allowance that was a remuneration for taking time off from their employment to cover any loss of earnings for attending daytime meetings.
Councillor Colman asked Councillor Hewett, the Executive Member for Contracts & Assets if he agreed with him that the recent work completed in Swaffham by the Council’s Facilities Team should be welcomed as it had allowed additional market traders to attend the town’s popular Saturday market. He also asked if his thanks could be conveyed to the relevant Officers.
Councillor Hewett agreed it had been very worthwhile to get the dropdown bollards installed. Swaffham Town Council had been updated and hopefully this work would improve the whole vista of the marketplace.
Councillor Atterwill thanked Councillor Claussen for his earlier response in respect of urging communities to carry on with their Neighbourhood Plans but asked if it could be explained why Breckland Council was not leading by example and carrying on with the work of the Local Plan Working Group.
In response, Councillor Claussen said that it was very difficult to carry on with this Group as no-one knew what the new Local Plan was going to look like. The Local Plan was going to look completely different going forward following the publication of the Planning White Paper and therefore, for now, the Local Plan Working Group had been stood down.