Thursday, 26 September 2013

Minutes for South Cambs DC Full Council Meeting 25-JUL-2013

The minutes from the 25th July Meeting of South Cambridgeshire District Council were agreed and approved at today's meeting - the document is available, with the text extracted, here (via Google Drive).

The answers to the questions asked at the previous meeting are included;

33 (a) From Councillor Tumi Hawkins
Councillor Tumi Hawkins asked the Portfolio Holder for Planning Policy and Localism the following question: -
“The Cambridgeshire Future Transport project was supposed to be working with communities to come up with alternatives to replace subsidised buses in the district. Unfortunately, that work came to a screeching halt in May, and is currently in limbo because the County Council officer leading the project left and has not been replaced. During the months before it stopped, a lot of effort had been put in by our officer working in partnership with the County Council lead officer, to use the Demand Responsive Transport scheme proposed by this authority, as a basis for alternative solutions. That work, particularly in Area C, is now in jeopardy and residents are in despair due to the uncertainty of the situation. What is this authority doing to encourage its “partner” the County Council to restart the project and what help is being offered to our officer to keep the project alive?”
Councillor Pippa Corney, Portfolio Holder for Planning Policy and Localism, informed Members that the County Council had lost key staff with regard to this project at the same time as the elections in May 2013, which, she reminded Members, had brought significant changes to the political makeup of the authority. Councillor Corney was much more confident, however, that this piece of work would pick up the pace over the coming months following a meeting she had recently attended and emphasised that things had not stopped from the District Council’s perspective. She reported that the new County Council officer should be in post by September 2013 and that the County Council’s team had been invited to use officers from South Cambridgeshire District Council and Huntingdonshire District Council in the interim period to keep the projects moving.
As a supplementary question, Councillor Hawkins asked: -
“Given that the project is now behind schedule for completion by September 2014, can I get an assurance that the project will be finished by that date?”
Councillor Corney was not in a position to give that assurance, but stated that she had heard nothing to suggest that the original completion date would not be achieved. She added that the project was making progress and had been able to deliver successful programmes already.

33 (b) From Councillor Hazel Smith
Councillor Hazel Smith asked the Leader of the Council the following question: -
“I note that the capital estimate for the Environmental Health portfolio shows a reduction of £139,000 between 2012-13 and 2013-14, so reductions in service are inevitable. While regretting the loss of a council service that is very important in this rural area - Pest Control - can the Leader tell us how the council will ensure that council properties that need this service will be treated as quickly and cost-effectively by private contractors, and how are we fulfilling the specific duty to the public under The Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 to deal with rats and mice?”
Councillor Mick Martin, Portfolio Holder for Environmental Services, answered the question on behalf of the Leader of the Council and clarified that the £139,000 was nothing to do with stopping the Pest Control service. When the Council started charging for its Pest Control service, which it was entitled to do, people tended to prefer using private providers instead of the Council’s service. There was a capital cost to take into consideration when subsidised against commercial competition and this was the main reason why a notice to cease the service had recently been issued.

Councillor Martin stated that the Council had a responsibility to survey any buildings or land that it owned and ensure adequate pest control measures were applied when necessary, which it would continue to do. He added that the Council’s Environmental Services section had undergone a significant re-structure, saving the Council £150,000 per annum, resulting in more effective and efficient service delivery and invited any Member of the Council to visit teams within the service should they need any convincing.

As a supplementary question, Councillor Smith asked: -
“Is the Council on track to make its required reductions or are there further cuts in the pipeline?”
Councillor Martin said that no specific solutions had been identified within his Portfolio at this stage and that this was a corporate-wide issue.

33 (c) From Councillor Susan van de Ven
Councillor Susan van de Ven asked the Portfolio Holder for Housing the following question: -
“Can the Portfolio Holder for Housing please clarify the council's policy on self-build housing, as a potentially useful tool in the quest to bring more affordable housing to residents of all South Cambridgeshire villages, and including eco homes which may or may not comply with traditionally accepted standards of appearance?”
Councillor Nick Wright, Portfolio Holder for Planning and Economic Development, answered the question on behalf of the Portfolio Holder for Housing and stated that the Council was very supportive of self-build housing in the district, which was referred to in the draft Local Plan currently out for public consultation. Proposals for eco homes were also welcomed and the first three had already come forward. He informed Members that a project was currently on-going for 40 self-build properties at Orchard Park and the Council was also exploring the prospect of including some as part of the Northstowe development.

As a supplementary question, Councillor van de Ven recommended the encouragement of take-up by including an article in the Council’s magazine and asked: -
“What can we all do to bring this forward, not just in terms of new development sites but for everyone?”
Councillor Wright, whilst agreeing with the need for encouragement, reminded Members that delivery was not always as straightforward as it seemed and cited Peterborough as an example where plots were still empty after ten years. In closing he referred to the fact that Ministers were promoting self-build development, which also had Government support, and that the Council would take it forward through its Local Plan.

33 (d) From Councillor Aidan Van De Weyer
Councillor Aidan Van De Weyer asked the Portfolio Holder for Housing the following question: -
“Can you provide a detailed presentation of the data that you hold on complaints to this Council and to Mears relating to repairs and maintenance of council houses, including numbers of complaints, the nature and severity of the issue, outcomes whether positive or unresolved, the time between complaint and resolution, and who handled the complaint?”
Councillor Mark Howell, Portfolio Holder for Housing, reported that 40 complaints had been forwarded to Mears in the first 12 months of its contract with the Council, with 39 being resolved and one currently with Mears’ insurers which involved a minor injury. He reported that these complaints had all been investigated and resolved within the ten day limit for stage one complaints and confirmed that complaints were handled by Mears and by the Council’s housing staff.

As a supplementary question, Councillor Van De Weyer asked: -
“Are there particular measures in place to encourage complaints or feedback?”
Councillor Howell said that feedback was encouraged, with operatives provided with feedback forms which tenants were asked to complete either in writing, online or via the telephone. The information from these forms, together with any complaints submitted, were very well received by Mears and the Council’s Housing team.