Agenda item

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

This PHB report includes an update from Freedom Leisure. 


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


  • Councillor Patrick commended the Leader on his efforts to encourage the uptake of Covid vaccinations, which is important given that the Fenland was the only area in the Country with an enhanced response status. He noted that those who had opted against the vaccination were 10 times more likely to die which placed an even greater strain on the NHS and reminded the Council of the new Omnicron variant which was showing signs of being more transmissible. Councillor Patrick explained that there was a low uptake in areas such as Wisbech North and asked what further actions the Council can take to encourage further people to come forward and have the vaccinations? Councillor Boden stated that the Council work in conjunction with the Combined Authority, Director of Public Health and other national agencies. He explained that it was important to continue to promote the messages around keeping safe in order to reduce transmission and that the communications needed to be hard hitting. Councillor Boden stated that the facts needed to be right and that they also needed to be careful and bear in mind that certain individuals cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. He noted that the statistic provided by Councillor Patrick was not inaccurate and that this had been used widely, with the statistics being even worse when looking at those in intensive care. Councillor Boden reiterated that it was important for facts to be presented in an honest and accurate way in order to encourage more individuals to make rational decisions and the Council would continue to provide services whilst working in close proximity with partners and utilising additional funding to continue to promote the vaccines and boosters. He stated that it was too early to say much about the Omnicrom variant and that more time was needed to study it before predictions could be made.
  • Councillor Patrick noted that from the social media activity of some members of the Council it appeared that there were a few individuals who were against vaccination and asked whether the Leader could assure him that all members of his Cabinet were fully supportive and on board with his efforts to encourage people to vaccinate. Councillor Boden explained that Fenland District Council did not have responsibility for this area of work and that it was through his other roles that he had the responsibility. He explained that it was not a requirement for everyone to have the same opinion, that individuals should not be discriminated against based on their opinion and that they needed to push positive messages and facts rather than discriminating against non-vaccinated individuals.
  • Councillor Wilkes asked for an update on the March to Wisbech Railway line as progress had seemed to stall. He noted that the service would be of great use to those with disabilities and would make Wisbech much more accessible. Councillor Boden replied that the current position was disappointing for the Council, with the suggested line still at the provisional stage and the Mayor of the CPCA advocating a light rail solution, which would only provide a link to March and would not facilitate transport elsewhere. He stated that this was disappointing in terms of ambition and that he had made, and would continue to make, representations to the Mayor to say that the light rail option does not provide the same benefit as a fixed heavy rail one. Councillor Boden stated that he would continue to have discussions to keep the heavy rail option open rather than only considering a study on the light rail option.
  • Councillor Wilkes asked whether the Council had thought about putting a case to East Midlands Railway to increase the frequency that they stop at March Railway Station. He questioned why the other services passing through March could not stop there as it would provide a more consistent service with more direct links. Councillor Boden explained that just because a rail service comes through the station it does not mean that it would be easy for it to stop as it was very difficult to alter rail timetables and that they were worked out well in advance. He explained that services from Whittlesey, Manea and March all needed to go through Ely North which causes capacity issues which would not be resolved until the improvement works take place there. Councillor Boden expressed his disappointment that the Council were currently being outbid for the utilisation of the potential extra slots by other established groups and that the rail line was increasingly being used for freight creating further capacity issues, explaining that far fewer trains stop in Whittlesey and Manea and that they wanted to ensure that trains which do stop in March also stop at these stations. Councillor Boden made the point that there were constant attempts to lobby for improved services and that Member of Parliament for the area had been actively involved with the train companies to attempt to achieve this. Councillor Seaton supported Councillor Boden’s point around the difficulty of getting trains to make extra stops as it affects other trains and services, with there being several different providers that must integrate with each other to run smoothly. He noted that there were current enhancements to the services such as new car parks and improvements to buildings and that he was aware of the need for rail services throughout Fenland. Councillor Seaton also explained that the change of administration at the CPCA had brought a different form of thinking with the possible solution of a light rail option now being promoted by the Mayor. He stated that the Council were interested in the heavy rail option between Wisbech and March as it brought the possibility of freight as well whereas light rail would not enable this. Councillor Seaton assured Councillor Wilkes that the Council was in dialogue with the various service providers and was pushing for better and more regular services within Fenland.
  • Councillor Mrs Bligh noted that members of the Planning Committee had to conduct site inspections on their own during Covid and that some sites were difficult to find. She asked whether it could be considered using a more futuristic approach for site visits and use the What Three Words app as it gives precise areas. Councillor Boden stated that he would take this up with the Portfolio Holder for Planning stating that they would need to see what the costs would be for it. Councillor Mrs Bligh informed Councillor Boden that it was a free app.
  • Councillor Booth thanked Councillor Hoy for the information she provided on the number of long-term empty properties and asked whether this information could be provided on a regular basis as it would be useful going forward with 400 houses currently empty and a waiting list of approximately 1300 according to Clarion. Councillor Hoy stated that she was happy to provide the figures more regularly but that just because the homes were being brought back into use it did not mean that they would be given to someone on the waiting list as some were privately owned. Councillor Booth accepted that they may not be used as social housing but noted that it would help reduce the pressure on the general housing market.

Supporting documents: