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.


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


1.    Councillor Bligh addressed Councillor Boden saying she is aware of a small community grant fund of £500 available from Fenland District Council and asked if this has been exhausted or if any monies are still available. Councillor Boden said the fund does exist although it has almost run out, but he is trying to eke out what remains to those wards which have not yet received any money from it in the last three years and would welcome any applications received.

2.    Councillor Bligh addressed Councillor Hoy saying she is concerned about the number of empty properties owned by Clarion, particularly given the previous comments regarding homelessness. She stated that empty properties can encourage anti-social behaviour, and this is happening in Thorney Toll which has about seven empty Clarion homes in a small area.  Councillor Bligh asked if Councillor Hoy could help by ensuring Clarion refill their homes. Councillor Hoy thanked Councillor Bligh for advance notice of the issue so she had been able to ask about the Thorney Toll situation and although she could not say much publicly, she will ask officers to update Councillor Bligh as she understands there are plans for a scheme there. Also, representatives from Clarion are coming to a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Panel in January so members can ask for an update on that and other schemes then. Regarding the number of empty homes, this was discussed at the last meeting of Council, and we had the number across all providers not just Clarion, being about 40 out of 400 empty homes across the district. A large proportion of that number belongs to Roman Court in Leverington, which members are aware is due to be demolished, so the numbers will come down, but Councillor Hoy agreed with Councillor Bligh that this is something we need to keep an eye on because those empty homes do need to be filled. Councillor Bligh thanked Councillor Hoy for her support which is appreciated.

3.    Councillor Bligh thanked Councillor Murphy for mentioning the Guyhirn play equipment in his portfolio holder report and that it is having a complete overhaul. She would also like to thank the officers involved and put on record her thanks to Galliford Try Highways England and C R Civil Engineering without whom the entire project would have fallen flat on its face as they removed the existing play equipment.

4.    Councillor Patrick asked Councillor Boden if he is aware that Wisbech is considered the most dangerous middle-sized town to live in within Cambridgeshire with a crime rate much higher than both the local and national average. He also asked what actions will be taken if any to try and help reduce crime in Wisbech. Councillor Boden said he is not sure about the definition ‘most dangerous middle-sized town in Cambridgeshire’ as it seems a subjective comment, but ultimately it does not matter because it has been recognised that there is too much crime and antisocial behaviour in Wisbech. Additional resource is coming in, specifically in Medworth Ward which covers most of the town centre, to enable more action concerning this. Responsibility for maintaining order does lie with the police, with whom we have regular discussions, and we will continue to challenge both them and the Police and Crime Commissioner about the situation in Wisbech. The statistics are startling when compared with March, Whittlesey and Chatteris and shows there is a significantly disproportionate problem in Wisbech, but this is not new, and Councillor Patrick will be aware of a number of initiatives which can be taken to reduce the problem which exists. Ultimately it does depend on more policing although the Council is directing some additional support into the town centre. Councillor Boden added that he does not want to underplay the seriousness of the situation and how it affects Wisbech residents, but neither should this Council give the impression that Wisbech is a lawless place which people should not live in or visit or where people are fearful all the time; there are a great deal many more places that are worse in the country. However, we must take action to try and reduce the amount of illegal activity and antisocial behaviour that exists within the town. Councillor Boden added that Councillor Patrick is right to draw attention to the fact that the situation in Wisbech is significantly worse than the three other Fenland towns combined but he does not want to overplay that either.

5.    Councillor Yeulett asked Councillor Seaton about the March to Wisbech Railway Line, noting that a report was due this Summer, and he asked if this was ongoing or had been kicked into the grass. Councillor Seaton advised that unfortunately several meetings have been cancelled but the CPCA are meeting on 16th October; Wisbech Rail is on the agenda although he has not yet seen a paper. Councillor Seaton assured Councillor Yeulett that this is still ongoing, the CPCA are still working on it, and he will be able to report to Councillor Yeulett and Council after that meeting should it go ahead.

6.    Councillor Yeulett asked Councillor Benney if he can give any information on a proposal for a commercial park in March. Councillor Benney said there is a local businessman looking to do some development work in March and he put him in contact with the Economic Growth team and senior officers some time ago. Currently there is some sensitivity around commercialism, with negotiations ongoing between the businessman and landowner which are in their infancy. Although Councillor Benney would like to talk about the benefits of this proposal, he cannot currently give any further information due to the sensitivity of the subject. If the proposal goes ahead, it will be very good for March, and he will then be happy to share further information with members and keep them informed as things progress.

7.    Councillor Yeulett addressed Councillor Mrs French on the March Area Transport Strategy (MATS) and asked if the dates reference procurement to complete in December and start date around March 2023 are still on schedule. Councillor Mrs French responded that funds have been drawn down from the Combined Authority from County Council and the marketplace will be started in January/February with the agreement of the market traders and will last about 6-8 weeks. Regarding the MATS work, members are aware that March recently had a series of gas leaks and new gas pipes are going to have to be laid across the town before the MATS work can start around summertime. It is anticipated that the work renewing the gas pipes will commence on 31st March 2023. Councillor Yeulett expressed his concern about all the different utility companies digging up the town and stated he hoped the MATS work or funding would not be delayed because of the gas pipes having to be renewed. Councillor Mrs French gave her assurance to Councillor Yeulett that the work needed to be done and advised that the MATS team at County Council and FDC officers working on the High Street project have been working with the utility companies. The gas pipe work will take two to three months to complete but will not delay or affect the funding through the Combined Authority and this is still on track. 

8.    Councillor Booth addressed Councillor Hoy in reference to Councillor Bligh’s earlier question and stated that he raised the issue about Thorney Toll at the last meeting of Council. He had a response from Clarion on 26th August, but Councillor Hoy’s response had indicated something different to what he had received so it would be interesting to find out what they are proposing when they come to the Overview & Scrutiny meeting. Clarion had asked him to keep confidential the information he had received, but it sounds like things have been moved on further since then. With reference to the number of empty properties in the Portfolio Holders Report, this is something he has raised several times, and it highlights when there is a turnover of potential properties. He said this is why the information is so important because we can keep track of whether we are on top of this issue or not. It is good to see 32 properties coming back into use but if, for example, we have 50 going out of use the net position is worse. Councillor Hoy agreed it is important to keep track of this and that is why the figures are now in the report as something to keep an eye on. Regarding the Thorney Toll issue, Councillor Hoy said there is nothing cloak and dagger going on it is just that she had just literally received an update and is only saying what she knows and is sure that Councillor Booth will be able to have that update also.

9.    Councillor Booth asked Councillor Murphy about recycling rates. He referred to the 27% recycling rate stated in the Portfolio Holders Report and asked why the Council does not use the DEFRA reporting rate, which we have to report to central government every year and is actually a higher rate. Councillor Murphy responded that it is done this way currently because it is easier for all the councils in RECAP. There was a RECAP meeting last week where Councillor Murphy found there to be uncertainty because of what is happening with government and food waste. Therefore, there is a difference in the way councils operate. Some councils collect food waste, some do not, or it goes in a general rubbish bin and is not counted. Councillor Murphy stated that he is hoping that in the next year or two all councils will be dealing with food waste in the same way. Also, there was a meeting with Recoup in Peterborough last week which was attended by the heads of Morrisons and Tesco, and they are trying different ways of recycling, but they are also dealing with it differently. Ultimately it is all down to Government to tell us what they want so that we can all get on an even keel.

10. Councillor Cornwell asked Councillor Hoy what can be done to speed up the recovery of fines owed by private landlords as the report indicates that there is a significant sum outstanding. Councillor Hoy responded that there are a number of measures that can be taken such as bailiff action and additional charges but some of the issues mentioned in the Portfolio Holders Report are long term. What has been done over the last six months is that when tenants have been found to be subletting then they have been fined too, which is only right because a landlord should not have to pay the price for that. The problem is they then do a ‘moonlight flit’ and disappear leaving that money most likely unrecoverable. However, Councillor Hoy is confident that although it is a slow process, most of the money will be recovered.

11. Councillor Cornwell addressed Councillor Mrs French regarding the Civil Parking Enforcement report and said he was surprised to see that there are problems with 86% of TROs being incorrect. He finds it incredible that a county council can operate at that level of incorrectness. He asked what steps are being taken to improve the situation. Councillor Mrs French agreed she was appalled with that figure and to find there were so many errors and these need to be corrected before going further down the line. She added that there is now another stumbling block in that County Council want an additional £150k on top of what has already been agreed which she finds ridiculous. However, Cambridge Greater Partnership are prepared, and this is going through the Combined Authority currently to put in the £150k but we do have the Fenland Walking Cycling and Mobility Aid Strategy which was agreed at Cabinet today and a lot of the lining is covered in that. Councillor Mrs French stated that she has been asking County Council for over a year to fulfil their statutory duty and get the white lines painted but sadly the Highway Committee are dragging their heels. A license should have been submitted to Government in October, but it is appalling that they have put that back to April next year, therefore she feels she has been banging her head against a brick wall for the last 12 months and it is not for the want of trying. This was discussed at the MATs meeting, and finally they have agreed as a matter of urgency they will repaint the zebra crossing outside St Peters Church and the keep clear sign outside the Fire Station which she has been asking about for 14 months.

12. Councillor Booth addressed Councillor Mrs French and said that the report refers to Capital streetlights replacement works but it does not make any reference to the parish council street lighting that is being undertaken, which is also being delayed by shortage of personnel of the provider, Fenland District Council. Although updates have been requested, any information is very slow in forthcoming. He asked if she could ensure that service is improved as parish councils are trying to get their street lighting stock up to a certain standard and are not getting a good response. He wonders if this is the right provider given that they have such key person dependencies that if someone is not around, they cannot provide that information. Councillor Mrs French thanked Councillor Booth and said that she would take this up with officers and get back to him.


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