Agenda and minutes

Council - Thursday, 6th August, 2020 4.00 pm

Venue: A virtual meeting via ZOOM Video Conferencing System

No. Item

Councillor Miscandlon welcomed members of the public and press watching the livestream of the Council meeting via YouTube due to Government guidance on social distancing. The meeting was held in accordance with the provision set out in the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 and with Fenland District Council’s Virtual Meeting Protocol.



Previous Minutes pdf icon PDF 231 KB

To confirm the minutes of 17 June 2020.


The minutes of the meeting of 17 June 2020 were confirmed.


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 postpone this year’s Chairman’s Civic Reception. As far as I am aware the Civic reception has never been postponed previously, however in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and Government guidance in relation to social distancing I thought it would be appropriate to postpone and rearrange a date in the future which will enable greater numbers of people to attend and enjoy the event.


Sadly I have also had to take the 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.



Paul Medd, Chief Executive, made the following announcement regarding Customer Service Excellence re-accreditation:


I am delighted to announce that the Council has again been reaccredited for Customer Services Excellence or “CSE” following a remote annual inspection in June.


CSE is a national standard that recognises public bodies that provide customer-focused, high quality, excellent services. Fenland is one of the few councils across the country that have consistently achieved this rigorous standard for all its services.


The CSE assessor said “despite working to tight budgets the Council has continued to deliver excellent customer focused services thanks to the tremendous resolve of staff who always strive to put the customer at the heart of everything”.


He added “Councils are by their nature required to interact with wider communities. However, with the onset of COVID-19 it is clearly apparent that Fenland has managed this situation extremely well.”


The assessment feedback noted the following strengths:


1.    How the Council has utilised and extended consultation using social media platforms.

2.    The success and effectiveness of a dedicated COVID-19 response hub.

3.    The empowerment and use of staff insight in delivering and improving services.

4.    Many customer access channels to enable residents to access services, including during the coronavirus pandemic.

5.    Partnering arrangements remain strong with a wide range of partners working with the Council resulting in tangible benefits for customers and communities.


Moving forward, the Council is keen to explore new ways of working and technology to further improve the cost-effectiveness of services to residents post COVID-19.”


Councillor Miscandlon thanked Paul Medd and said on behalf of all the members he would like to thank all staff for their diligence and work ethic that has produced this excellent result for Fenland District Council. Councillor Mrs Dee Laws said she would like to second Councillor Miscandlon’s comment.


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.


Councillor Miscandlon stated that no questions had been received submitted under Procedure Rule 8.6 and asked if there were any questions under Procedure Rule. 8.4 from Councillor Tanfield as Leader of the Opposition. 


Councillor Tanfield said that she also wished to express her thanks to all the staff of Fenland District Council. The last few months have been unprecedented and service provision has been amazing. She also wanted to highlight the great work of getting grants to local businesses which has been vitally important; our businesses are the heart of Fenland and any issues have been dealt with efficiently and effectively.


Councillor Tanfield addressed Councillor Boden regarding rural broadband, saying that home working and zoom meetings may be here for some time to come and, although not something we deal with specifically, it has highlighted the struggle for decent internet connection in some rural areas. This issue has also been experienced by some members, and therefore she asked if this is something that could be pushed. Councillor Boden agreed the importance of broadband not only in rural areas but in towns also. He said understandably there has been a great deal of additional use of broadband over the last five months and there will be greater demand going forward. Therefore broadband provision is increasingly one of the vital infrastructure provisions which has to exist for business and community success. He agreed that unfortunately there are some rural “not spots” which are poorly served by broadband within the district but surprisingly on average Fenland does have remarkably good broadband support. However, he stated that we do have to do better and whilst it is not our responsibility we do have a voice at various tables of those who do have the responsibility; the most important of which is the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.  Councillor Boden added that both he and Councillor Count, speaking on behalf of the County Council, never stop asking for further investment in broadband to make sure that it is brought up to adequate standard and continues to be improved.  Councillor Boden thanked Councillor Tanfield for the question. 


Councillor Tanfield said Councillor Wilkes had brought to her attention the isolation that people with disabilities feel during the pandemic. Councillor Tanfield therefore asked what facilities are in place for people with disabilities, particularly those who have been unable to get out because of the social distancing rules. She added that Councillor Wilkes had further experienced struggles when contacting local charities and so she wondered if the council could work to make more helpful information available in a better structured way. Councillor Boden said this was a very valid point with national and local implications. He agreed there are a number of communities that are particularly susceptible to isolation and loneliness and people with disabilities form a significant proportion of that number, and the situation can be very debilitating. However, the Local Resilience Forum is aware of this and has made attempts to reach out. We do also have  ...  view the full minutes text for item C11/20


To receive reports from and ask questions of Cabinet members with portfolio holder responsibilities, in accordance with Procedure Rules 8.1 and 8.2. pdf icon PDF 635 KB


Members asked questions of Portfolio Holders in accordance with Procedure Rules 8.1 and 8.2 as follows:


·         Councillor Purser addressed Councillor Sam Clark and asked what has been the feedback and attendance since the leisure centres reopened. Councillor Clark said the response had been overwhelming; there has been no negativity and the staff are doing an excellent job. They are pleased to be back at work and have adapted to the new way of working. The attendance has been positive in that sessions were booked to capacity in the first week of reopening so extra hours have now been added in the second week. Councillor Purser thanked Councillor Clark. 

·         Councillor Purser asked Councillor Tierney how the new pay point systems had been received by customers.  Councillor Tierney said he is pleased with the way they are working; we have had to adapt and move forward with the times to give customers more ways to pay, whilst also maintaining face to face contact for those that need it. He can report that the first week some 70 people used the new pay point system, mostly for council tax totalling over £17,000 of bills so overall tt is a good, solid start. Councillor Purser thanked Councillor Tierney. 

·         Councillor Miss French asked if Councillor Mrs Laws could share any further updates of the emerging Local Plan. Councillor Mrs Laws said members may recall that in February 2019 Council approved the Local Development Scheme which confirmed commencement of a new Fenland Local Plan. In accordance with the scheme, the council issued a public consultation document in October 2019 and carried out a call for sites exercise with local land agents, owners and developers. In February 2020, a key report was published with the results of the consultation along with the Strategic Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment report. In early 2020 work commenced on the draft version of the Local Plan and work is well underway on the various evidence-based documents to support it. The Council has also commissioned a strategic flood risk assessment and a water cycle study. The Local Plan team has engaged with neighbouring districts and County Council to fulfil its obligations under the Duty to Cooperate, and identify both infrastructure and housing needs across Cambridgeshire through preparation of a strategic housing marketing assessment. The work to assess 425 individual sites through the call for sites exercise is at an advanced stage. Due to COVID-19 delaying work on aspects of the Local Plan and the additional call for sites process, the timetable has been delayed by approximately 8 months, and this was approved by Cabinet on 28 July 2020. Councillor Mrs Laws added that members are encouraged to visit for the latest information on the emerging plan. Councillor Miss French thanked Councillor Mrs Laws. 

·         Councillor Miss French addressed Councillor Benney and asked how the Economic Growth Manager and Business Account Manager are settling into their new roles and what have they achieved so far. Councillor Benney said they had settled in  ...  view the full minutes text for item C12/20


Treasury Management Annual Report 2019/20 pdf icon PDF 820 KB

The purpose of this report is to consider the overall financial and operational performance of the Council’s treasury management activity for 2019/20.



Members considered the Treasury Management Annual Report 2019/20 presented by Councillor Boden. 


Councillor Yeulett asked for clarification of the last sentence of 5.12 of the report, “It is clear that the Treasury intends to put a stop to local authorities borrowing money from the PWLB to purchase commercial property if the aim is solely to generate an income stream”.  He asked if that affects Fenland in any way in terms of the industrial and commercial strategy going forward. Councillor Boden responded that unfortunately he cannot answer that question as we do not yet know what Government are going to do about the PWLB. Councillor Yeulett thanked Councillor Boden.


Proposed by Councillor Boden, seconded by Councillor Skoulding it was AGREED that the report be noted. 



Budget Update pdf icon PDF 615 KB

To provide members with an update to the 2020/21 budget in the light of the impact of COVID-19.



Members considered the Budget Update Report by Councillor Boden.


Councillor Booth asked how much lobbying we are doing through the Local Government Association to get better clarity from the Government around what additional payments they may be making. Councillor Boden said there are 300 local authorities around the country all having financial issues at the moment.  All have different issues. And they are all being taken up by others who have the same problem, for example leisure services. The financial support given under the income loss scheme does not cover our additional costs because they are set up in such a way that they only really apply to those authorities who still run their own leisure services. We have contracted ours out so, along with many other authorities who have done the same, are liaising together to lobby Government on the same issue. The LGA is doing a good job of lobbying but we are being served well by the Association of District Councils who are lobbying on our behalf on issues that we as a district council have got. We have also been gently lobbying our local MP on the issues that we, as his own local council, are facing.


Councillor Sutton said that he believes that the figures presented before us are made worse due to the actions of Councillor Boden, when as Vice-Chairman of Corporate Governance, he insisted that we have a vacancy factor built into the budget. At that time many of us were not keen on this but we gave way and now the crows have come home to rest.


Proposed by Councillor Boden, seconded by Councillor Booth it was AGREED that the report be noted. 




Parson Drove Neighbourhood Plan pdf icon PDF 5 MB

For Council to formally adopt the Parson Drove Neighbourhood Plan as a part of the Development Plan for Fenland.



Members considered the Parson Drove Neighbourhood Plan presented by Councillor Mrs Laws. 


Councillor Mrs Laws said this plan was the result of several years of hard work of the Parson Drove Parish Council and the local community who have taken the opportunity to shape their local area through the neighbourhood planning process. On behalf of Fenland District Council she would like to congratulate the Parish Council on this important achievement.


Councillor Booth thanked Councillor Laws for her kind words. He said the plan was part of the Localism Act and he would encourage other parishes and villages to follow the same route to help influence the way they can grow their communities.  


Councillor Bligh said she has seen the outstanding work that has gone into this plan and to allow the community to have a say in the future development of their village is really important. 


Councillor Mrs Laws said she fully appreciated the amount of work that has gone into this and would agree with Councillor Booth that she would encourage any village to go through with a neighbourhood plan. It can take a lot of time and be very challenging but is worthwhile when it comes to planning decisions and taking local people’s views into account. 


Proposed by Councillor Mrs Laws, seconded by Councillor Bligh Council AGREED to adopt the Parson Drove Neighbourhood Plan (Appendix 1) as a part of the Development Plan for Fenland, and note the Reg. 19 Decision Statement (Appendix 2) which confirms the reasons for the Council's decision.



(Councillor Booth declared an interest in that he helped develop the Parson Drove Neighbourhood Plan therefore will not vote on the matter but reserves the right to speak if anyone has any questions).


Constitutional Amendments (Virtual Meetings Procedure Rules & Business and Planning Bill) pdf icon PDF 672 KB

The purpose of this Report is to notify Full Council of the changes that have been made to the Constitution since its last meeting, and for them to be ratified.



Members considered the Constitutional Amendments (Virtual Meetings Procedure Rules & Business and Planning Bill) Report presented by Councillor Boden. 


Councillor Booth thanked Councillor Boden for taking on board the comments raised at the last meeting and acting to give them the opportunity to help shape what he feels is a more democratic solution.


Councillor Sutton reiterated Councillor Booth’s comments. They both made representations that were taken on board which was good. He added that 8.5c of the Constitution says that a written question should go to all members, so he hoped that Cabinet members responding in writing will take that on board and get back to all of us in a timely fashion. Councillor Miscandlon said that was duly noted. Councillor Boden added that for the sake of clarity he could assure members that the requirement for written responses to all members was not changed by the virtual procedure rules.   


Councillor Booth said it was a minor observation but 19.1 mentions the raised hand function and we must remember that if we do change to a different method of meeting, this will have to be taken into account at that time.



Proposed by Councillor Boden, seconded by Councillor Booth Council AGREED to note and ratify the changes that the Monitoring Officer has made to the Constitution in exercise of the authority delegated to her under Part 3,Table 4, paragraph 47 of the Constitution and as set out at Appendix A and B to the Report.


Constitutional Amendments (Amendment to Planning Scheme of Delegation) pdf icon PDF 285 KB

The purpose of this report is to consider revisions to the Planning scheme of delegation within the Council's Constitution.



Members considered the Constitutional Amendments (Amendment to Planning Scheme of Delegation) Report presented by Councillor Mrs Laws. 


Councillor Sutton said he had a problem with the paper because the key issues at item 2 had used the term ‘Members’ as a sweeping statement. He said this should have read ‘some Members’ as he had not been asked and it did not reflect his thoughts. He also said he had a slight problem with the possibility of overloading the Planning Committee with applications that perhaps should not be there but could end up there.  Therefore, whilst he will support the paper he would like to ask both the Leader and Portfolio Holder that we review this after six months. Already we are seeing uplift in applications through the extended time, which he had not agreed with. Every four weeks would be more suitable in his opinion.


Councillor Booth was going to suggest the same as Councillor Sutton, that this be reviewed in six months’ time to see how it works in practice. However, his main concern is the member call-in process which was only changed a few years ago. His understanding at that time is that it would be a consultation between the heads of Planning and Legal and the Planning Chairman. This is a slight change but seems to put a lot of power on the head of Planning and feels that the other changes put more power onto members’ hands so we seem to be going in two different directions about how planning matters are dealt with. Therefore he would like a review in six months’ time.


Councillor Boden said he had great doubts that there would be the number of occasions when these provisions would end up being used. That is why he believes Councillor Sutton’s concern about the increasing workload on the Planning Committee is not based on reality. Nevertheless as we have a local plan that is out of date it will be the case on occasion that planning officers will have little option but to recommend refusal for some things that we really need to see approved. If in six months’ time, Councillor Sutton or Councillor Booth wish to seek a revision then that is fine but he does not think we will be in that position then.


Councillor Hoy said she fully supported the report. 


Councillor Mrs Laws said we have to be mindful that our local plan is not fit for purpose.  Unfortunately however, it is what planning officers have to go by.  These amendments she believes will be helpful and what we are all trying to achieve is suitable and sustainable development.  Like Councillor Boden, she will be happy to receive a revision request in six months and is hoping that it will not be necessary. We also have to bear in mind we have had a sudden surge because many agents have been working from home and they found applications that have stalled or needed revitalising and she hopes this will  ...  view the full minutes text for item C17/20