Agenda item

Progress of Corporate Priority - Communities

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 to move on post-Covid. Carol Pilson explained that there was still a lot of uncertainty regarding Covid and that the Council was currently attempting to restart the positive projects which were placed on hold due to the pandemic including the Active Fenland programme and the Four Seasons events. She noted that the Council plays a role in encouraging communities to undertake events safely through the Community Safety Advisory Group and that the volunteer Street Pride groups had begun to meet again with initial plans made moving forward. She also noted that there were a variety of funds available to help people return to the community and that all these activities could act as a springboard for further involvement when there is less uncertainty around the Covid situation.

·         Councillor Mason noted that events undertaken so far had been very successful and suggested that future events such as the Golden Age Fair be incorporated with other community events. Councillor Clark confirmed that this was a possibility under consideration following the success at Whittlesey.

·         Councillor Booth surmised that part of the issue regarding the uncertainty around Covid lay with the overall guidance available. He noted that guidance from the Community Safety Group on how to undertake a successful event would be useful for communities. Councillor Clark also mentioned that it was difficult to find enough volunteers for events as many people were still worried about the pandemic.

·         Councillor Yeulett asked whether there were any other initiatives regarding the Post-Covid period from other portfolio holders. Councillor Lynn noted that the Community Champions scheme was back up and running and that they were in contact with the minority groups across Fenland. Dan Horn noted that a project had been successfully undertaken in the past year regarding illegal money lending which had helped inform young people in Wisbech about how to prevent the practice in the community. Councillor Lynn explained that they were currently looking at ways to expand these projects to include other areas such as scams and drugs.

·         Councillor Yeulett asked Councillor Hoy whether there were any problems caused by Covid regarding housing. She explained that the pandemic had not had a huge affect on housing other than preventing eviction which could increase the amount of work for housing options now that eviction is possible again. She noted the true effect of this is unlikely to be observable for several months.

·         Councillor Yeulett asked whether there had been any challenges or notable increases in domestic violence due to the pandemic. Councillor Lynn noted that he had engaged in the walk a mile in their shoes event to help raise awareness. Dan Horn explained that detecting domestic abuse formed a large part of the Community Safety Partnership‘s work and that there had been a coordinated approach across all public sector partners in dealing with these issues. He noted that the role over the past 12 months had revolved around workplace development and that training sessions had been held online for key staff who might be in contact with domestic abuse victims.

·         Councillor Miscandlon asked whether there was any further information on how to apply for the money made available for tree planting from central government. Carol Pilson explained that the Council would be liaising with Town and Parish Councils over suitable locations and that members would be consulted during this process.

·         Councillor Miscandlon informed the panel that free fishing lessons are being provided on the 27th November at the Manor in Whittlesey as the previous event had proven popular.

·         Councillor Booth asked what the Council was doing to pressure Clarion into bringing housing association stock back into use as there had been lengthy delays attributed to Covid. Councillor Hoy mentioned that Clarion are due to attend the next meeting and that this would be a good question to ask them. She noted that the Council will continue to place pressure on Clarion to complete repairs and that improvements had been made with urgent appointments now being completed on the same day.

·         Councillor Booth noted the figures provided regarding memberships for the learning to swim programme. He asked why the August figures for 2021 were being compared to January 2020 instead of August 2019 as this would provide more meaningful data. It was agreed that this would be adopted going forward.

·         Councillor Mason thanked Councillor Clark, Councillor Hoy, Councillor Lynn, Dan Horn, Phil Hughes and Carol Pilson for their time.


The report was noted for information. 

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