Agenda and minutes

Overview and Scrutiny Panel - Monday, 8th November, 2021 1.30 pm

Venue: Council Chamber, Fenland Hall, County Road, March PE15 8NQ

Contact: Niall Jackson  Member Services and Governance Officer

No. Item


Previous Minutes. pdf icon PDF 197 KB

To confirm and sign the minutes of the meeting of 11th October 2021.


The minutes of the meeting of 11 October 2021 were confirmed and signed subject to the following comments:

·         Councillor Booth recommended the minutes make clear that the information regarding apprenticeships is an action for the Combined Authority who act as lead on this area. Councillor Miscandlon noted that an update regarding apprenticeships was forthcoming with the Skills Committee due to meet later that week. 



Update on previous actions. pdf icon PDF 193 KB

Members to receive an update on the previous meeting’s Action Plan.


Members considered the update on previous actions and made the following comments:

·         Councillor Miscandlon asked that Anglian Water be questioned over the licence to discharge and whether this had been, or was planned to be, invoked. Councillor Booth noted that Anglian Water had confirmed they had not been involved in the scheme and Councillor Cornwell supported this stating a similar comment had been made by Anglian Water at another recent local meeting.


2021 Planning Shared Service Annual Review pdf icon PDF 193 KB

To update Overview and Scrutiny on the performance and activity of the Planning Service in 2020/21.



Councillor Mason welcomed Nick Harding, Carol Pilson and Councillor Laws to the meeting. Members considered the 2021 Planning Shared Service Annual Review presented by Nick Harding:

·         Nick Harding noted several small changes to the report including an alteration to table three to read 2014-2021 and noted that the statistics below table five should read that the Council performed better on major and other applications.


Members asked questions, made comments and received responses as follows:

·         Councillor Cornwell enquired to what degree the reduction of resources at Peterborough City Council (PCC) had affected Fenland District Council’s (FDC) need to employ more resources directly, referencing the fact that planning was supposed to be a shared service with PCC. He also noted references to IT failures in the report and asked for a further explanation of the causes and the affects these had. Nick Harding informed the panel that the shared service was contractually limited to his own and Emma Nasta’s employment stating that the shared service was a management level agreement. He explained that FDC had previously received officer support from PCC when capacity allowed but that this was on a short-term, ad hoc loan arrangement rather than a contractual obligation. It was noted that initial attempts to create a shared service at a technical level proved unattainable due to slow and unstable IT connections between PCC and FDC. Nick Harding provided an update on the current situation and informed the panel that, due to an increase in applications, a growth bid was being submitted to Corporate Management Team for assessment and that current practices and procedures were being reviewed to improve efficiency. Regarding the IT issues, Nick Harding explained that these were primarily due to a software upgrade which had taken time to install and had introduced some bugs which need to be addressed before going live. He noted that the only persisting bug revolved around customers using a specific redaction software which resulted in unreadable documents when provided to FDC.

·         Councillor Yeulett asked which problem listed in the report had the greatest impact on the planning service and how it had been addressed. Nick Harding explained that an additional temporary resource had been deployed to deal with the validation backlog reducing the time behind to four weeks. He also noted the turnover of staff as a part time officer had been replaced by a fulltime officer to help ease the workload and explained that the service is conscious a permanent solution is needed hence the growth bid. Councillor Laws commended the tech team working on the validations and explained that the volume of work had been unprecedented and was not helped by the quality of submissions received. She noted that the Fenland Developers Forum had attempted to educate agents and developers through workshops to improve the submission of their application which had stood at four percent correct first time and has now rose to nine percent six months on.

·         Councillor Yeulett asked whether the review of PCC’s services was requested unilaterally  ...  view the full minutes text for item OSC21/21


Progress of Corporate Priority - Communities pdf icon PDF 1 MB

This report sets out the Council's progress in delivering the corporate objectives.


Councillor Mason welcomed Councillor Clark, Councillor Hoy, Councillor Lynn, Dan Horn, Phil Hughes and Carol Pilson to the meeting.


Members asked questions, made comments and received responses as follows:

·         Councillor Miscandlon asked how the aim of bringing empty houses back into use was progressing. Councillor Hoy said that she was very happy with the current progress. She informed the panel that changes had been made relating to Council Tax so that individuals buying long standing empty homes did not have to pay the 300% Council Tax. She noted that the project was up for review at the end of November.

·         Councillor Miscandlon enquired around the number of properties available to bring forward for occupation. Councillor Hoy noted that she did not have the answer to that at the current time and explained this was partly due to the difficulty of knowing how many empty homes there were in the area.

·         Councillor Booth asked why Councillor Boden was not in attendance as he was listed as a portfolio holder. Councillor Mason informed him that Councillor Boden had sent his apologies as he was on holiday.

·         Councillor Booth asked whether the total number of empty houses was included in the pack. He also enquired as to whether bringing empty houses back into circulation was being achieved at a faster rate than those becoming empty. Councillor Hoy confirmed that the total number of empty houses were not included in the pack and agreed to provide the figure to the panel after the meeting. Regarding effectiveness she noted that the scheme had been successful in bringing empty houses back into circulation and that lessons had been learnt which have helped improve the scheme.

·         Councillor Booth asked for clarification on whether section 215 notices could be used to bring empty homes back into use. Councillor Hoy explained that this was more relevant to planning and that the current policy was based around helping reduce Council Tax for buyers along with proactively contacting owners to see how the Council could assist in bringing empty houses back into use.

·         Councillor Cornwell noted the effect of Covid on community services. He asked what plans there were to promote resident’s wellbeing once the Covid situation has lessened. Councillor Clark explained that the Council was moving forward with plans for Golden Age events and fairs once there was certainty on the safety. She noted there had been increased activity within Active Fenland with activities being held across the District. There was a further discussion regarding what plans were in place to regenerate the general community. Councillor Clark noted that it had been difficult to make plans due to the current Covid climate and that there was no overarching strategy regarding community services. She explained that the Council remained open to offering assistance wherever needed and noted the possibility of supporting Cambridge County Council in the delivery of the Household Support Fund.

·         Councillor Cornwell noted that the Council should be encouraging progression and suggested that there seemed to be a reluctance  ...  view the full minutes text for item OSC22/21


Freedom Leisure Review pdf icon PDF 2 MB

Presentation attached.


Councillor Mason welcomed Councillor Clark, Matthew Wickham, Phil Hughes and Carol Pilson to the meeting.


Members asked questions, made comments and received responses as follows:

·         Councillor Yeulett asked what the Council’s financial contribution was to Freedom Leisure and whether the money would be paid back to the Council. He asked where the funds had come from within the Council’s budget and questioned whether the service had returned to normal levels of activity following the easing of restrictions and if the service was now financially feasible. Carol Pilson noted that the support provided to Freedom Leisure had been reported to Cabinet and committed to circulating this report with the panel. She explained that the management fee owed to FDC by Freedom Leisure had been deferred since the start of the pandemic and that once a certain threshold had been hit, they would begin to repay the Council. She also explained that FDC had covered the cost to keep the service functional over the course of the pandemic. Carol Pilson informed the panel that support had been sought via the National Leisure Recovery Fund to help offset some of the costs which may have fell on the Council due to contractual obligations. She noted that the Government also provided Councils with a scheme related to income so that 75 pence in every pound was recovered from losses during the pandemic. Carol Pilson noted that the balance paid to Freedom Leisure had been taken from reserves and that the affect on the overall budget will be reviewed at Council in February.

·         Councillor Mason asked whether there were any concerns over Freedom Leisure’s ability to repay the money owed. Carol Pilson explained that they were due to begin paying back some of the management fee in January showing that the sector was beginning to recover from the pandemic.

·         Councillor Yeulett asked how Freedom Leisure planned to compete against Pure Gym in Wisbech as they had recently lowered their prices. Matthew Wickham stated that this was a challenge that Freedom Leisure experienced across most of their gyms in England and Wales and that rather than lower prices they compete by selling a more rounded package than their competitors including all facilities not just the gym.

·         Councillor Hay echoed Councillor Yeulett’s concern regarding Pure Gym and asked whether Freedom Leisure believed that the removal of the daytime membership option would have a negative effect on the service. Matthew Wickham explained that the change had been made in the best interests of as many people as possible. He noted that if there was sufficient feedback that it would be open to review as their goal was to help as many individuals stay active as possible.

·         Councillor Hay noted that there seemed to be very little consultation with users when the daytime membership was initially ceased and expressed the concern that the effect of the change would only be seen when individuals decided not to sign back up. Matthew Wickham accepted this point but explained that consultation would  ...  view the full minutes text for item OSC23/21


Future Work Programme pdf icon PDF 119 KB

To consider the Draft Work Programme for Overview & Scrutiny Panel 2020/21.


Members considered the Future Work Programme.


·         Councillor Wicks asked for an update on when Cambridge County Council Highways team would attend a meeting. Amy Brown noted that it had been suggested this wait until the new year due to personnel changes so that a more comprehensive report can be given.

·         Councillor Booth asked for a watching brief on the planning review at Peterborough and any impact this may have on FDC.

·         Cllr Mason noted that the annual review of Clarion was due for the next meeting. Councillor Miscandlon requested that all Councillors be asked whether they had any issues they wished to be addressed at the next meeting of Overview and Scrutiny.