Agenda item

Questions without Notice under Standing Order No 7 (Agenda item 7)


Given this was a Conservative led Government and Conservative led County Council, Councillor Jermy, the Leader of the Labour Group, was sure that the Leader had been fully briefed on the Devolution Deal and asked him if he could provide more details. 


The Leader was aware through the press and media that the Secretary of State was paying a visit to Norfolk County Council to sign a Devolution Deal offer but as a District Councillor and a Council Leader he had not been privy to what was being included. He was sure that in time the information would be shared with him and in turn the information would then be shared with Members of this Council.  He had been encouraged by the work of the Conservative Government in respect of the Levelling-Up Agenda and what it was striving to achieve around the twelve themes, and the monies it would be pumping into towns and high streets, and he hoped that the deal that was being negotiated with Norfolk County Council would be positive and would be supporting residents and businesses across the County.


Councillor Atterwill, the Leader of the Independent Group was aware of the recent statement by the Government where it was announced that housing targets for District Councils were going to be scrapped and asked Councillor Suggitt, the Executive Member for Strategic & Operational Planning how this would affect Breckland’s Local Plan review and if it was going to be paused or the direction changed.


The Executive Member for Strategic & Operational Planning did not know the exact details, but the Local Plan process would not be halted and would continue to be reviewed.  Much of the information that had been released had been quite positive as it would put more emphasis on local matters and therefore the work would continue and would not be aborted. 


The Leader stated that as part of the written statement received from the Secretary of State to Westminster on 6 December, it laid out some of the aspirations of what he wanted to achieve through the Levelling-Up Bill and part of that included a consultation process.  As Councillor Suggitt stated, a great deal of the information presented had been very positive, and he knew that this District Council had been lobbying hard through the District Council’s Network (DCN) to get many of those changes’ forthcoming, but he was not going to get excited and start to chalk this up as a success until he saw this within the Bill.  The challenge for Breckland Council, was to ensure that it was using the knowledge as Members to ensure that through the consultation process that the responses were robust, and the proof would be in the Bill.  No abortive work would be undertaken, and all Members would be kept regularly informed.


Councillor Atterwill thanked the Leader and the Executive Member for their answers but was disappointed that district councils were being kept in the dark.


Councillor Birt felt that over the years central government had been besieged by lies and did not want to see this filtered down to local government and asked the Leader for the definition of a lie.


The Leader informed Councillor Birt that if he had any concerns about the conduct of Members or Officers there was a clear complaint process in place.


Councillor Turner asked Councillor Webb, the Executive Member for Health & Communities a question concerning community hotspots and wanted to know if there was going to be another round of funding applications.


In response, the Executive Member for Health & Communities was pleased to report that there was already a further round of funding, but the closing date was the 12 December 2022.  She urged any organisation who wished to apply to do so now, all information could be found on the Norfolk Community Foundation website.  In the first round, the Norfolk Community Foundation had been inundated with over 150 applications and feedback had been received from many residents who were now enjoying the community hubs warm spaces and making new friends.


Councillor Wickerson asked if the Leader, the Chairman and all Councillors would join him in congratulating Swaffham market as being listed in the Daily Telegraph as one of, the 10 greatest market towns in the UK.  He hoped that such an inclusion would bring more visitors to Swaffham and the surrounding Breckland area to the benefit of the district as a whole.  All wholeheartedly agreed.  The Chairman said that he would like to see all market towns working together as all had the support from Breckland Council.  The Leader had been delighted for the market town of Swaffham and all of the traders.  The newspaper had talked about all the independent shops  and the auctions that took place as well as all the activities held throughout the year and he was pleased that Breckland Council had been able to work in partnership with the County Council and the Town Council, the market traders and the businesses in lifting the town’s profile alongside the Market Town’s Initiative and the Heritage Action Zone  and he hoped that there would be many more market towns in Breckland receive the praise and recognition they deserved in 2023.


Councillor Borrett asked the Executive Member for Health & Communities if it was correct that Breckland Council was looking to recruit a number of FSA qualified debt advisors, given the difficult economic situation that many people were finding themselves in.


The Executive Member for Health & Communities Members said that this was true, it had been recognised that organisations such as the Norfolk Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) needed some extra help, and this had been taken on board and it had been agreed to recruit two qualified debt advisors funded by Breckland Council and working in and out of the Council’s offices alongside the CAB.


Councillor Morton mentioned the plans for the leisure facility in Attleborough and asked Councillor Crane, the Executive Member for Environmental Health, Licensing & Sustainability why the plans did not suggest that it should be challenged to design a net zero carbon building.  He felt that the design and professional fees ought to cover that but whilst the Council did not own the building but was underwriting £2.6m of the costs an example should be set in respect of carbon emissions, and he asked the Executive Member if she could confirm that the feasibility report on sustainability options would be brought to Members for final approval.


Councillor Webb responded on behalf of Councillor Crane.  The Executive Member for Housing & Communities said that Members had been made aware of the need for sustainability and this had been recognised and she asked Councillor Morton to be patient as the report would be coming forward that would include the sustainable measures and the financial aspects that would have to be considered.


Councillor Grey asked the Executive Member for Strategic & Operational Planning what was next with the Local Plan.


Members were informed that the partial update that had been agreed at the previous Cabinet meeting had been submitted and was now in the hands of the Planning Inspectorate, and Members would be kept informed of the Hearing date.  A Member Briefing had been held on the Issues & Options paper and had been well attended, and Officers were now working to make it more user friendly to allow for better participation from residents and communities and that a report would be presented to the Cabinet meeting in January, and if approved, would go out to consultation between January and April.  These were the current key headlines along with other work that was on-going and the next all Member Briefing would be held on 7 Feb 2023.


Councillor Land directed his question to Councillor Hewett, the Executive Member for Property, Projects & Procurement.  He had noticed that there were several sites within the Breckland Bridge redevelopment within his Boudica Ward and asked what proposals were in place for consultation with residents.


The Executive Member for Property, Projects & Procurement said that an email had been sent to all Members about the small sites workstream that set out the exact process that would be followed going forward and would be more than happy to receive questions from Councillor Land on this matter. The Chairman said that he had seen the email and was very pleased with the process in place as it had been very informative.


Councillor Hambidge asked the Executive Member for Strategic & Operational Planning, if she had any details to share in respect of the extension to the call for sites.


Members were informed that the call for sites extension ended on 1 December. Prior to that the Council received 298 sites for residential development and 68 for growth areas, these had already been included on the Commonplace website.  Due to the extension, 85 additional sites had come forward across 34 different parishes and 14 for growth areas, and the plan at the moment, was to consolidate these and uploaded on the commonplace website before Christmas.  It was important to stress that these sites were still classed as raw data and no decisions have been made.


Councillor Clarke asked the Leader if he could use his influence, to ensure that this part of the agenda as far as possible lived up to the spirit of the Constitution as the clue was in the title, ‘Without Notice’.


The Leader felt that over the course of the many constitutional changes, questions with and without notice had not been exercised to its full extent but now believed that this was a suitable space to ask questions to any Cabinet Members who would provide fulsome responses if they could and as far as he was concerned, the rules of Standing Order No. 7 were being followed.


The Chairman reminded Members that if a written response was required, this would be sent within 5 days.


Councillor Brame asked the Executive Member for Strategic & Operational Planning to explain in more detail, the recent statement made by Michael Gove MP about the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill, to put local communities at the heart of the planning system and asked what affect this would have on this Council.


Members were informed that there was a great deal of information that was still unknown which was frustrating but what this Council was aware of was that there would be mandatory design codes brought in that would have the same weight in the Local Plan and would help guide the development that communities would like to see and would be more reflective of the Breckland area.  This was a piece of work which was already on-going, and would be going out for consultation in the next few months there will also be some workshops which again would be a chance for all Members, residents and communities to get involved; and could be influenced by local knowledge and needs.  Other information included in the statement that Councillor Atterwill had alluded to was around an obligation to end the 5-year housing land supply, if Councils had an updated Plan.  This would allow local authorities to work with local communities, to determine what could be built having regard to constraints in respect of the character of the area, a consultation in respect of the 20% buffer and rewards for local authorities for over delivery.  The duty to Co-operate would be ending, Council Tax measures on empty homes would also be considered; not forgetting that many of these matters would come into effect after various consultations, and this Council would be taking part in as many of these consultations as possible to ensure that local communities thoughts and needs were reflected and some positivity came out of these changes to reflect the Council’s aspirations and its residents in the District.


Councillor Brindle raised some concerns about the Abbey Estate in Thetford.  This was a huge estate for which Flagship had developed a proposal to add 100s of houses, to knock down some houses and commence some large-scale redevelopment.  The community now felt as if they were under attack, this was a 50-year old established community and asked if Members could be assured that Breckland Council would fully consult with Members before providing support or money, or land to assist with the latest version of the scheme.


The Leader advised that Flagship had been open & transparent around the process from start to finish, regarding the engagement that had been undertaking concerning the designs and the options papers have been reviewed in relation to what was taking place, he believed that Flagship would not do anything without the support from the local community.  Flagship had acknowledged that tenants were living in inadequate homes due to the design, quality and build of those properties and they wanted these properties to be brought up to the right specification. There was an option for Flagship to work with the community and other partners such as Breckland Council and Norfolk County Council to see what can be done to regenerate or improve the housing for those residents on the Abbey Estate.  No decision had been made by this Council, and if it reached the planning stage, it would have to go through due process through the Planning Committee to make an informed decision.  In relation to any financial support that may possibly be required, this was unknown, as no final formal offer had been received.  This Council was happy to work in partnership with anyone, and as some of the land in question was in Breckland’s ownership, again this would be a decision when appropriate to do so.


Cllr Brindle thanked the Leader for his response but reminded Members that the Executive Member for Strategic & Operational Planning had previously stated that local communities were at the heart of the community, and he hoped that this re-development would not go ahead.


Councillor Jermy asked the Leader to clarify the difference between a directly elected Leader and a directly elected Mayor.


The Leader explained that a directly elected Leader and a directly elected Mayor was something completely new and had never been seen before.  For example, a directly elected Leader for Norfolk & Suffolk would be using a County Council to deliver those continued services that the County already did, and other bodies may or may not be subsumed in that, for example Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to deliver some of those provisions. A directly elected Mayor, would be a combined authority who dealt with functions delegated from Government around education, infrastructure growth and health and would work in partnership with other parts of local government which would form a committee and/or a Board to support them in delivering for its residents and businesses.  There were two very clear differences in what the models were, and Norfolk as he understood it, was going for a directly elected Leader. This was his interpretation in what he had read through the Levelling-Up Bill and during conservations with colleagues and would wait for the detail of that Bill to come forward.