Councillor Archer asked the Leader if he had considered that the Whittlesey supermarket application should be redetermined by another authority to which Councillor Melton replied that he had spoken to officers regarding this matter but it would be very difficult to achieve. Another planning committee in another area would be dealing with Fenland officers' reports and that there is also the question of possible challenges and litigation to any decision made. Councillor Archer stated he understood Councillor Melton's reply but that there would be no confidence if the application is redetermined by Fenland as it is still tainted from the previous decision. Councillor Melton stated that he was presently restructuring the planning committee.
Councillor Mrs Bucknor stated that she had heard the coffee shop within The Boathouse in Wisbech would be closing down and asked what Fenland were doing to promote it. Councillor Melton stated he had only heard about the closure yesterday and therefore not had time to look into the matter but that he was concerned and that it would be looked into.
Councillor Mrs Bucknor stated that Paint Store in March was due to close but had been given a three month extension. This organisation employs several people and needs the support of District Councillors; Councillor Count is aware and working to support the organisation and could the relevant Councillors please offer their support too. Councillor Melton stated that he was sure those Members had taken note of this situation.
Councillor Yeulett stated regarding the planning process and the speculation surrounding the recent Whittlesey supermarket application and decision; he was aware Counsel had been consulted and asked what their opinion was on the situation and officers advice during this process. Councillor Melton confirmed that Counsel had been consulted for the best possible advice and it had been proved that officers had given safe, sound and good advice throughout the process but Fenland had wanted to protect the Council and its assets.
Councillor Yeulett stated that there had recently been publicity regarding the relaxation of planning regulations with regard to extensions and asked Councillor Owen if Central Government were just floating the idea as he would like to see a full debate and Members fully consulted before the Council took this forward. Councillor Owen replied stating that the Core Strategy consultation had recently finished and that comments were currently being considered and would be submitted to a panel on 8 December to look at a way forward and if a document did come forward from Central Government then Members would be consulted.
Councillor Mrs Bucknor stated that she had raised her concerns regarding representatives on outside bodies some months ago and asked:
- If the feedback form designed by officers was now being used and had any been returned;
- Why had the representatives not been looked at as asked in the previous Council meeting;
- Is the Council paying any other expenses to these representatives;
- Why are they representatives if feedback from them is not being received;
- Can these representatives that do not feed back be removed in the next 30 days;
- Why are no reports received from Members on outside bodies; one Member has been on an outside body for ten years and not been to one meeting;
- Are these Members being paid;
- Will feedback be received from the new panel set up regarding Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel;
- That a working group be set up to go through these issues.
Councillor Melton gave his undertaking that these issues would be addressed but this would not happen in 30 days. He stated that:
- Each post would be examined and if it was not in the interest of the Council then the post would be stopped;
- He agreed that those serving on outside bodies should report back to the Council;
- Councillor Curtis is Fenland's representative on the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel and once the panel is up and running then he would report back to keep Members updated.
Councillor Miscandlon stated he was concerned regarding the timescale of processing housing benefits as reported at the last Council meeting and asked for an update. Councillor Owen stated he was pleased to report an improvement:
- New claims target - 17 days/achieved 19 days;
- Changes target - 10 days/achieved 5.07 days;
- Overall target - 12 days/achieved 7.66 days;
- As of 21 October 10281 applications received whereas 1 April 10093 received resulting in a 2% increase;
- There is a significant difference between new claims and changes to claims due to more information required for new claims rather than existing ones;
- Congratulated the benefits office on these achievements
Councillor Booth wished to congratulate staff regarding the good news on housing benefit claims. He asked the Leader toconfirm how many times in 2011 and 2012 had the planning committee voted against officer recommendations to which Councillor Melton stated from January 2011 the committee had overturned officers' recommendations 55 times (24%).
Councillor Booth asked the Leader to confirm what costs had been incurred by the Council in defending appeals that had gone to the planning inspector and how much had the Council had to pay in relation to costs incurred by other parties. Councillor Melton stated that:
- From January 2011 the council had dealt with 29 appeals, the majority of which would have been determined via the Written Representations method which incur little or no cost above that of officer time;
- Total costs which do not include officer time are £56,199.25. The majority of this cost relates to Public Inquiries where barrister and specialist consultants have been required;
- In terms of costs awarded again the Council this equates to a sum of £4,590.50.
Councillor Archer asked how much legal advice had cost thus far and what the cost of this would be to the tax payer. Councillor Melton replied that once this figure is known Members would be informed.
Councillor Curtis explained that the Police Crime and Commissioner Panel have met in shadow form only to discuss how the panel will operate and stated that when the panel is up and running he would be happy to provide reports for Members.
Councillor King paid tribute to the work that both Councillor Melton and Councillor Mrs French had done with regard to derelict buildings in Wisbech; there has been some great progress. He asked if Councillor Melton would give his undertaking that this focus would not be lost and that the rubble behind the building at the rear of Orange Grove in Wisbech would be looked into. Councillor Melton stated that he would like to make it clear that the focus on these buildings would not shift and gave his reassurance that the work would continue. Councillor Seaton added that the Council was doing everything it could but that it did not own the buildings, there were ongoing problems regarding insurance and that compulsory purchase orders cannot easily be undertaken. Councillor King explained that the rubble was at the rear of the Five Bells Pub and the last update from Councillor Mrs French had been that an enforcement officer would look at getting the rubble moved by the owner. Councillor Seaton explained that a recent visit to the site confirmed that it was still safe and secure, the rubble was a private matter between property owners and that the owner had indicated that rebuilding works would not happen until there is an improvement in the economic climate. Councillor King stated he was disappointed that there was not more that could be done and that the Council has a responsibility to encourage property owners to keep their properties in a reasonable state of care. Councillor King asked if lottery funding had been looked into to help improve derelict buildings to which Councillor Melton replied that a bid would be made shortly.
Councillor Booth asked Councillor Garratt if the Youth District Council had any plans to raise awareness with regard to a recent road safety campaign that had been presented at their last meeting to which Councillor Garratt explained that the Youth District Council had taken the campaign very seriously and intended to help raise awareness.
Councillor Booth asked for an update on the Nene Waterfront Project to which Councillor Owen replied that this would occur when the economic climate improved and that the aim of the project meetings was to continue monitoring the situation.