Venue: A virtual meeting via ZOOM Video Conferencing System
To confirm the minutes of the meeting held 6 August 2020.
The minutes of the meeting of 6 August 2020 were confirmed and signed, subject to the amendment on page 9, where reference is made regarding Wisbech Boxing Club receiving the Queens Award, which is incorrect and it should state that March Boxing Club were the recipient of the award.
To receive any announcements from the Chairman of the Council and/or the Head of Paid Service.
Councillor Miscandlon made the following announcement:
Members may already be aware that I have had to take the difficult decision to cancel this year’s annual charity coffee morning and will seek alternative opportunities to raise money for the Chairman’s Charity Macmillan Cancer Relief. It is my intention to ask Member Services colleagues to share the link to the Macmillan Cancer fund raising page with Members should they wish to make a personal donation. I will ensure that the link enables any donations made to remain within the Fenland area.
To receive questions from, and provide answers to, councillors in relation to matters which, in the opinion of the Chairman, accord with the provisions of Procedure Rules 8.4 and 8.6.
This item was withdrawn from the agenda due to the absence of the Leader of the Opposition, Councillor Michelle Tanfield.
Members asked questions of Portfolio Holders in accordance with Procedure Rules 8.1 and 8.2 as follows:
· Councillor Sutton referred to the last meeting of Full Council, where Councillor Mrs Laws advised that only 4% of planning applications received fulfilled the validation requirements. He added that since that meeting he has analysed the systems and he is concerned about how there still appears a lengthy timeframe. He would like to know how this delay can be rectified going forward and made the point that there is only one note on the Public Access system against an application from the Validation Team which details the status of the application. Councilllor Mrs Laws stated that validation rate is still at 4%, with the Planning Team operating a fair and open approach, where they will assist the agents and developers and at the present time there is a 2.5 week backlog with submissions of applications, with the planning portal dictating that it has been the busiest summer on record and this also being the case with some of the neighbouring authorities. She stated that the Local Validation List was adopted in August 2020, following a period of consultation in February 2020, which has resulted in some applications being registered as invalid, whilst agents are provided assistance to understand the new requirements and this has affected the Council’s performance, as it is dealing with applications two or three times before they can be registered as valid as well as an accumulation of invalid applications, annual leave, and record numbers of applications having an impact. Councillor Mrs Laws expressed the view that the situation could be improved if applications were submitted and valid on receipt, however, any applications which require amendments are dealt with as soon as the requested information is received. She added that the validation figures in April 2020 were 94.43%, May was 21.83%, June was 79.13% and July was 68.54%, with staffing levels currently being investigated, and made the point that the Developer Forum have received a presentation with regard to validation to enlighten the agents on the process, which does not appear to have had an impact, so other measures are now being looked into. Councillor Sutton thanked Mrs Laws for her response and asked whether all of the interventions, consultations and actions taken by the Validation Team should be documented on the Public Access system? Councillor Mrs Laws stated that it is something that could be considered, however, the Council is trying to build relationships with agents and developers.
· Councillor Sutton asked Councillor Benney whether the motion being determined under agenda item 7 at today’s Council meeting has any relevance to the report that was withdrawn from the Cabinet meeting held earlier today? Councillor Benney confirmed in the affirmative.
· Councillor Sutton asked Councillor Murphy whether he could provide an update with regard to Waste Vertical Integration (WVI) and also with regard to the abolition of the charge for brown bin collections as was indicated during the election period? Councillor Murphy stated ... view the full minutes text for item C21/20
Motion submitted by Councillor Tierney regarding the proposal of a moratorium on sales of FDC land in Wisbech within 500 metres of the track of the decommissioned railway line or within 500 metres of any part of the site of the proposed new incinerator.
Councillor Tierney presented a motion regarding the proposal of a moratorium on sales of Fenland District Council (FDC) landin Wisbech within 500 metres of the track of the decommissioned railway line or within 500 metres of any part of the site of the proposed new incinerator and stated that:
FDC has consistently supported the reintroduction of a rail service into Wisbech, and has opposed the proposal to build a mega-incinerator in Wisbech. In the near future, both schemes will reach critical milestones.
To help promote the re-instatement of the railway line, and to help defeat the incinerator proposal, Full Council recommends that those exercising delegated authority for decisions connected with the disposal of land observe a six-month moratorium on all sales of FDC land in Wisbech within 500 metres of the track of the decommissioned railway line in Wisbech or within 500 metres of any part of the site of the proposed new incinerator unless either:
(a) the proposed sale assists in the promotion of the re-instatement of the railway line and does not assist in the promotion of the incinerator OR
(b) the proposed sale assists in the fight to oppose the proposed incinerator and does not harm the proposal to re-instate the railway line.
The moratorium above shall not apply in respect of transactions which FDC is obliged to complete by a Court, or under the terms of a Compulsory Purchase Order, or under threat of legal action against FDC which FDC is unlikely to be able to defend successfully.
Councillor Meekins seconded the motion and Councillor Miscandlon opened the motion up for debate:
· Councillor Meekins stated that the proposed construction of the incinerator has provoked the residents of Wisbech, like no other issue that he can recall, adding that prior to the Covid-19 lockdown, the rallies and public meetings that took place saw people of different ages come together to discuss the subject and to make their feelings known. He advised that he spoke to local people at those events and they had informed him that it was the first time that they had ever demonstrated, which in his opinion, shows the strength of local objection and the large amount of yellow banners which have been placed at various locations around the town of Wisbech against the project, show that the incinerator has little or no support in the town or a place in the town, as the proposed site is in close proximity of Thomas Clarkson School and also many houses, including the future development at the disused College of West Anglia site. Councillor Meekins stated that everything legally possible should be done to prevent this incinerator being built and he supports Councillor Tierney’s motion wholeheartedly.
· Councillor Booth stated that he will support the motion, but he does have concerns that the moratorium is only for 6 months. He made the point that the Wisbech rail project has been ongoing for a number of years and, in his opinion, 6 months is not long enough ... view the full minutes text for item C22/20
To report to Full Council the commitment and effectiveness of the Corporate Governance Committee’s work from April 2019 to March 2020.
Councillor John Clark presented the Corporate Governance Committee Annual Report 2019/20.
The committee is tasked with two key functions:
· Providing independent assurance of the adequacy of the risk management framework and the control environment, and
· Independently scrutinising the authority’s financial and non-financial performance and overseeing the financial reporting process.
Councillor Clark thanked all members of the Committee for their comments and input into the report, and also the help given by officers.
Councillor Boden stated that he is delighted to hear the report from Councillor Clark. Further to the point raised earlier by Councillor Sutton with regard to Chairmanship of committees, he expressed the opinion that both the Overview and Scrutiny Panel and the Corporate Governance Committee need Chairmen who are willing to be honest and be able to challenge and he is delighted that Councillor Clark has risen to the challenge, which proves that the committee is carrying out the function it is in place to do.
Councillor Boden expressed the opinion that with regard to Council Tax freezes and the potential loss of income to the Council of 2.325 million pounds, our residents have a financial gain by freezing Council Tax, which to a certain extent is better than the Council spending it. He added that when previous decisions were made the Council was not aware of Covid-19, or the budget and the implications it would have. Councillor Boden stated that Councillor Clark has correctly stated that the Council faces significant financial challenges as a result of the pandemic and it would be premature for us as a Council to make any medium or long term predications as to the way forward as a result of the pandemic. He added that as a result of previous administrations of the Council and prudent leadership, the Council is in a stronger position to overcome the challenges as a result of Covid-19 compared to many other districts councils’ in the country.
Councillor Boden referred to the point raised concerning the internal audit function of the Council, with Councillor Clark being correct with the point he raised regarding bringing the Internal Audit Team back in-house and how we would ensure it was appropriately staffed. He stated that a key member of the Audit Team was redeployed to assist with the administration of the business grant process and as a result there is a 6 month Internal Audit Plan for 2020/2021, rather than the normal 12 month process, which has been the same route taken by many other authorities across the country. Councillor Boden stated that the staffing issue in the Internal Audit Team will be addressed at the Staff Committee meeting on the 21 September.
AGREED to note and acknowledge the work of the Corporate Governance Committee and it’s compliance with CIPFA’s annual checklist for 2019/20.
To inform Members that public consultation on the Coates Conservation Area Appraisal has been completed and seek approval from Council that these documents are adopted.
Councillor Seaton presented to members the report and detail in relation to the public consultation on the Coates Conservation Area Appraisal.
Councillor Seaton highlighted to members a typographical error on the report cover sheet and stated that it should have stated: Benwick, Coates and Eastrea Ward.
Councillor Seaton thanked members and officers for the considerable amount of work which has been undertaken on this project.
AGREED to approve the Coates Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan.
(Councillor Miscandlon declared an interest in this item, by virtue of the fact that the Coates Conservation Area forms part of his ward and he has been involved in discussions at Whittlesey Town Council, but he will approach the item and any discussion or vote with an open mind.)
(Councillors Boden, Mason and Mrs Mayor declared an interest in this item, by virtue of the fact that they are members of Whittlesey Town Council where this item has been discussed)
(Councillor Connor declared an interest in this item, by virtue of the fact that this area forms part of his ward as part of his County Council position, but he will approach the report and any discussion or vote with an open mind)
(Councillor Mrs Laws declared an interest in this item, by virtue of the fact that she believes she is pre-determined as she has been involved in the discussions regarding this item at Whittlesey Town Council, and she, therefore, took no part in the discussions or voting thereon)
(Councillor Wicks declared an interest in this item, by virtue of the fact that he believes he is pre-determined, and took no part in the discussions or voting thereon)
The Overview and Scrutiny Annual Report reflects what has been undertaken and achieved by the Overview and Scrutiny Panel during 2019/20 and takes a forward look at the programme of work and challenges for the Overview and Scrutiny in 2020/2021.
Councillor Mason presented the Overview & Scrutiny Panel Annual Report for 2019/20 which provides a focus on the work undertaken by the committee during the past twelve months as well as providing a forward look to 2020/21. He stated that all members of the panel remain committed to ensuring it adds value whilst holding the Executive to account and that the panel, both past and present, took an active and enthusiastic role in the overview and scrutiny process.
Councillor Mason drew members’ attention to a few key successes:
· Engagement with a number of external partner agencies to highlight and challenge performance in issues directly affecting residents of Fenland, which has included scrutinising the Wisbech Rail project in conjunction with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Transport Manager, Freedom Leisure, Anglian Revenue Partnership and the Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership in addition to the Police,
· Recently the Panel have moved its focus in order to obtain a better understanding of the response and support provided to the residents of Fenland and businesses as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the stated onset of the Covid-19 pandemic having been unprecedented in its nature and it has already resulted in operational and financial challenges, which will require strong, purposeful and effective Overview and Scrutiny both now and throughout the coming municipal year, which will be a direct result of members engagement and enthusiasm and will that they continue to have.
Councillor Mason thanked all members and officers who have contributed to the success of the panel both past and present and would recommend that Council acknowledge the broad scope of the work undertaken by the Overview and Scrutiny Panel.
AGREED to acknowledge the broad scope of work undertaken by the Overview and Scrutiny Panel during 2019/20.