Agenda item

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 written questions had been submitted under Procedure Rule 8.6 and asked if there were any questions under Procedure Rule 8.4 from Councillor Cornwell, Leader of the Opposition.


·         Councillor Cornwell began by acknowledging the work of Eric Lewis noting that, alongside Ernie Thompson, they handled the pressures of combining the different local authorities well when Fenland District Council was formed and proclaimed that this was a huge achievement in his work.

·         Councillor Cornwell said that he was pleased to hear that the Council was due to receive £48,500 from the Forestry Commission but expressed his disappointment that this would only fund around 4000 whips and 80 standard trees. He noted that the environmental benefits of the award will, therefore, be very slow and that there was only a 2.3 percent tree coverage compared to 16 percent nationally. Councillor Cornwell asked how the Leader planned to address the environmental deficit and increase tree planting on top of the initial grant? Councillor Boden stated that he was reluctant to increase tree planting across Fenland despite the low coverage and this was due to the geography of the area. He noted that historically Fenland was overwhelming made up of peat bogs and has never been a heavily wooded area as the soils are mainly peat or peating so the area requires the right types of trees in the right places. Councillor Boden explained that planting trees in the wrong area, which are not specialised for the peaty soils, results in the withdrawal of water from the peat soils which can cause subsidence and allows the release of more carbon from the soil negating their usual environmental impact of carbon capture. He added that the trees provided must be planted carefully and selectively due to these factors and that Fenland will never be an area with a high coverage of trees. Councillor Cornwell noted that peat originated from forests that were flooded and compressed so there must have been trees in the past but accepted that as long as there was some action in instigating tree planting that they would have to be specialised.

·         Councillor Cornwell said that at the Overview and Scrutiny meeting of 8 November 2021 he and other members were surprised to hear that the Planning Shared Service only related to the Head of Planning and the Technical Team Manager. He noted that the promised integrated service had never come to fruition as was originally promised and asked whether Councillor Boden would instigate a review of the current arrangements alongside Peterborough City Council’s review to ensure that the original promised financial and service improvements can occur? Councillor Boden explained that he had already asked the Planning Portfolio Holder to consider how to proceed in future arrangements, which he hoped would still include Peterborough City Council but that it was actively under consideration. He explained that they were looking at the cost and efficiency of the service and reviewing the current arrangements to get the most cost-effective service whilst maintaining the high quality of service. Councillor Cornwell stated he was happy that there would be a review as there were current shortcomings in the planning service which required actions and outcomes. 

·         Councillor Cornwell noted the change of dates for Council in September and reminded the Leader that Councillor Maul had asked about vehicle charging points. He stated that Councillor Boden appeared to have misunderstood the question, instead providing an answer regarding car park charging. Councillor Cornwell noted that there was an increase in green registration plates on vehicles in Fenland and that figures produced by the Government indicated that the numbers are growing at a considerable rate. He expressed the view that the Council must react appropriately if they wished to attract people to the area and that the relevant infrastructure must be provided. Councillor Cornwell asked that the issue be revisited with some urgency and report back on the plans to reduce this environmental deficit. Councillor Boden stated that there was an increasing amount of third party electric charging points in Fenland but that it was unreasonable to expect that garages would be replaced by the Council organising charging points in the future. He explained that there were three concerns that needed to be balanced with electric charging points. The first was funding and making sure that appropriate types of charging were provided, which is constantly developing and that there could be some interesting offers in the near future. Councillor Boden made the point that there did not seem to be the demand for electric charging points in Fenland, citing Whittlesey Town Council which had two charging points that were sparsely used, and finally, he explained that there needed to be coordination with the plans for car parks which had been slowed down by Cambridge County Council and that they would have to consider how electric charging points would fit with the overall plan. 

·         Councillor Cornwell congratulated the Leader on the investment and infrastructure developments awarded to Chatteris, March and Whittlesey over the past months. He proceeded to ask what was happening in Wisbech as previous plans such as Wisbech 2020 and Wisbech rail seemed to have gone quiet. Councillor Cornwell asked whether Wisbech had been overlooked and whether previous work had been wasted as they did not seem to have anything to show for it? Councillor Boden explained that not all towns and parishes receive money at the same time. Regarding Wisbech he noted that there were a number of plans in preparation which, if successful, would be transformative for the area, but he could not go into too much detail as the plans were currently being worked up and would be subject to a bid process but if they went ahead more would be invested into Wisbech than any other town in Fenland. Councillor Boden assured that the money for the High Street refurbishment was still available and hoped that the other plans would become more public in the next two to three months.

·         Councillor Cornwell reiterated that the public have seen massive sums of money going into the other market towns but that it seemed as though nothing was going into Wisbech and that they needed some answers. Councillor Boden thanked Councillor Cornwell for his comments and reiterated that as far as Wisbech was concerned it had not been forgotten and it was simply a matter of time before they saw the investments.

·         Councillor Cornwell noted that comments had been made by Councillors appointed to the Combined Authority committees concerning Fenland business and issues that had not been shared with other councillors previously. He asked the Leader whether he would consider incorporating Combined Authority updates in the portfolio holders reports so that councillors all receive the same information, noting that the Mayor was producing updates which were useful, but it would be helpful to receive updates in the portfolio holder reports as these were the regular communication methods. Councillor Boden agreed with Councillor Cornwell’s point and stated that it would be helpful to the workings of the Council if councillors were more aware of the items discussed and decided upon at the Combined Authority. He explained that he had been giving consideration as to the best way to incorporate this but that he had not made a decision as of yet.

·         Councillor Cornwell offered his seasonal greetings to the Conservative Group.