Questions without Notice under Standing Order No 7 (Agenda item 7)
Councillor Atterwill’s question was in relation to Barnham Broom. He reminded Members of the meeting held in February where this matter had been discussed and felt that it would be very helpful if the Executive Member could provide all Members with a below the line up to date response.
Councillor Hewett said that he would oblige this request, but Members had already been provided with a further update in April.
Councillor Atterwill’s second question related to the Government’s highly controversial proposals to reform the planning system that had recently been published. His particular concern was the proposal to remove the right of local residents to object to individual applications in their own neighbourhood. He asked the Leader if he agreed with this Government proposal, and if not, would he undertake, on behalf of Breckland Council, to write to the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) and to Breckland MPs George Freeman and Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss to object to these proposals.
Members were reminded that this Council had responded to the Government’s emerging White Paper in September 2020. The Leader assumed Councillor Atterwill was referring to the deliberate misleading letter sent by the MHCLG Shadow Secretary of State in which the ‘front bench’ of the Government had offered no policies of their own. The Government’s Reforms thus far was a desire to make the planning system more engaging not less, and to make the process much quicker to provide certainty. These were all emerging ideas and no final decision had yet been made. The Government also wanted to ensure that planning applications that fell outside of the remit of local plans or varied from it would continue, as was mentioned in the consultation document, ensuring full public engagement and enhancing it by ensuring that digital tools were transparent and uniformed across the whole country. Planning applications would be required in the usual way and in the usual form going forward and the Leader did not feel it necessary to write to the MHCLG as he had been working closely with the District Councils Network (DCN), the local MPs and with Members on this planning reform and would continue to do so to ensure that Breckland’s voice was heard at the highest levels.
Councillor Birt raised a question about Covid-19 security and the return to Elizabeth House. He then held up a Covid-19 certificate that had to be signed by oneself and felt that there must be some evidence that allowed someone to sign this form. He had also found that this certificate only applied to employees of the Council, but the Council also consisted of Members and just as importantly members of the public. Just recently, the Prime Minster had indicated that everyone should be taking personal responsibility but in order to take personal responsibility evidence would be required and urged the Leader to publish the evidence that verified that the Council was operating in a Covid secure manner. Councillor Birt said he was still waiting for responses on the new air handling system within Elizabeth House.
The Leader advised that this section was designed to ask questions of the Cabinet and Officers. He himself had never gone into Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s or to his local coffee shop and asked the proprietor to present their risk assessment or their Covid compliant or their documentation on air filtration. He trusted those establishments to protect their workers and the public. The Council had very clear processes in place, it had a dedicated Health & Safety Officer and along with the Head of Paid Service and the Monitoring Officer all would ensure that the building was Covid complaint. If Councillor Birt had a concern or had issues about these matters he suggested that these be raised directly to the said Officers The Executive Member for Property & Projects advised that the Council did have Covid compliant certificates displayed around the Council building as well as a risk assessment in support.
Councillor Borrett raised a point of order as this forum was not the only opportunity for Members to ask the Executive questions. He had emailed Executive Members on numerous occasions and had received a thorough response. If all Members availed themselves in the way that some Members had by asking disproportionate questions and taking up precious meeting time, this item on the agenda, although legitimate would become very longwinded and very ‘creaky’.
As the Council was installing electric car charging points across the district, Councillor Gilbert wanted to know how many were planned for Watton and when. Councillor Sherwood, the Executive Member for People, Communications & Governance advised that the Council was about to commission a piece of work to look at electric charging points across the whole of the district taking into account other charging points already installed to ensure that they were in the right place and could be easily accessed. He could not provide the answer as to when these would be installed in Watton but he would be happy to provide further information in due course.
Councillor Eagle asked the Leader if he would write a letter on behalf of the Council in support of a new hospital in Kings Lynn as this hospital was used by many residents who lived in the Breckland area.
The Leader stated that he had been working with Councillor Wilkinson, a member of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Trust on behalf of the Council, who had been keeping him up to date with the latest developments on this matter. The Leader said that he would be delighted to write a letter of support to the Secretary of Health and the Chief Executive of the hospital. Norfolk County Council and the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk had been working immensely hard with the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and NHS East to develop this programme at pace to ensure that the required works and the new build took place in the required timeline. It was noted that Councillor Colman would have asked this question too if he had been present at the meeting.
Councillor Terry directed his question to Councillor Bambridge, the Executive Member for Waste & Environment. He stated that it was a well-known fact that food waste caused much damage to the environment as single use plastic. When throwing away food it disposed of all the energy that had gone into producing it and transporting it. Domestic households produced the majority of food waste more than restaurants, hotels and supermarkets and on average just under three quarters of all food waste was still edible and could be used further down the food chain. In the Borough of Kings Lynn & West Norfolk and Norwich City Council and parts of Broadland District Council households were having their separated food waste collected each week. In the wake of Breckland Council’s climate emergency, he asked if it was time that Breckland Council followed suit to introduce a food waste collection for its residents.
In response, Councillor Bambridge said he would be happy to send Councillor Terry further details but pointed out that across the district community fridges were available and in Thetford there was a community supermarket that assisted with such matters. It was very difficult in a rural area to collect food waste in the same way that an urban area could; however, it was, of course something that Breckland Council was looking at and this was considered in some details a number of years ago at the time of the new waste contract and there was a clause in the contract that it could be introduced at some point but at the moment, it had been found that more energy would be used on the collection process.
Councillor Wickerson who had indicated that he wanted to ask a question said that his question had already been answered as it was in respect of the Kings Lynn hospital and thanked the Leader for agreeing to send a letter of support.
Councillor Borrett asked if the Executive Member for Waste & Environment agreed with him that all those who had home composting facilities for their food waste should be encouraged by Members to do more given that we were in a rural area and the disproportionate use of energy to collect such waste members of the public should be encouraged not to put their food waste with the rubbish but to compost it instead and then spread it on their gardens. This was endorsed accordingly.