Council Procedure Rule 10.6 provides for questions by any member of the Council to the Leader, Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee or any Portfolio Holder, without notice on:
(i) reports under item 6 above; or
(ii) any other matter of a non operational character in relation to the powers and duties of the Council or which affects all or part of the District or some or all of its inhabitants.
Council Procedure Rule 10.7 provides that answers to questions without notice may take the form of:
(a) direct oral answer from the Leader or, at the request of the Leader, from another member of the Cabinet;
(b) direct oral answer from the Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee or, at their request, from another member dealing with that issue as part of an Overview and Scrutiny review;
(c) where the desired information is in a publication of the Council or other published work, a reference to that publication;
(d) where the reply cannot conveniently be given orally, a written answer circulated later to the questioner; or
(e) where the question relates to an operational matter, the Leader, Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee or a member of the Cabinet will request that a response be given direct to the questioner by the relevant Chief Officer.
In accordance with the Council Procedure Rule 10.8, a time limit of twenty minutes is set for questions. Any question not dealt with within the time available will receive a written reply. The Chairman may extend this period by up to a further 10 minutes to ensure that all political groups and independent members may have their questions answered.
(a) Local Businesses Rateable Values
Councillor Mrs L Wagland drew attention to the meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee of 28 January 2010 at which members had questioned the District Valuation Officer in relation to the setting of local business rateable values. She advised that the Valuation Officer had confirmed that he would be impartial between the Government and business rate payers in the setting of rateable values and that he had agreed to reconsider the recent increases in the area and the effect they were having on local businesses. She asked the Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee what steps would be taken to ensure that the position was reconsidered.
Councillor Morgan, Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee advised that he would pursue the matter and report back to members.
(b) Gritting of Highways
Councillor P Spencer asked the Community Safety and Transport Portfolio Holder to confirm that Queen’s Road, Buckhurst Hill would in future be on the schedule of roads to be gritted at times of adverse weather.
Councillor Ms S-A Stavrou stated that she would raise this matter at the next meeting with Highways Officers.
(c) Shared Ownership of Residential Properties
Councillor Mrs J H Whitehouse drew attention to the report of the Housing Portfolio Holder in relation to Leader Lodge, North Weald. She questioned why the building was being converted into flats to be sold on a shared ownership basis to first time buyers and asked the Portfolio Holder what he considered to be the right balance between rented properties and properties which could be sold.
Councillor Stallan stated that some members would recall that his predecessor (former Councillor Michael Heavens), had proposed that Leader Lodge be demolished and sold for private residences. Councillor Stallan continued that Area Plans Sub-Committee East had refused permission for that scheme and that when he had become Housing Portfolio Holder he had pursued a scheme to retain the building and to convert it into four flats with an annex providing an additional two flats. He said he was always aware of the need to balance the provision of social housing with the opportunity of assisting those wishing to acquire their own property. In relation to Leader Lodge it had been decided that sale of the flats on a shared ownership basis to first time buyers was more appropriate. Councillor Stallan continued that he did not know what was the right balance between social housing and making provision for those wishing to get onto the housing market and that on each occasion all appropriate options were considered before a decision was reached.
(d) Waltham Abbey Swimming Pool – New Sports Hall
Councillor Mrs P Brooks asked the Leisure and Wellbeing Portfolio Holder whether the proposal to build a new Sports Hall at Waltham Abbey Swimming Pool was still going ahead.
Councillor B Rolfe, Leisure and Wellbeing Portfolio Holder, stated that a feasibility study was being undertaken and that pending consideration of that study nothing definite had been decided.
(e) Performance Improvement and Savings
Councillor K Angold-Stephens asked the Performance Management Portfolio Holder how he proposed to achieve £600,000 savings in 2012 and further savings in future years as the written report which he had provided did not identify any savings of that level.
Councillor R Bassett, Performance Management Portfolio Holder, advised that together with officers steps were being taken to identify areas where it might be possible to improve efficiency or save money. He advised that within two to three months approximately £100,000 of savings had already been identified towards the target figure of £300,000 for the current year. He advised that other areas were being investigated but that figures were not yet available. He pointed out that officers were very receptive to finding savings and were reviewing all areas to identify ways in which efficiency could be improved or money saved. He stated that he would continue to update members on progress throughout the year.
(f) Waste Recycling Sacks
Councillor R Frankel asked the Environment Portfolio Holder if residents could be advised that they could use stocks of garden waste sacks for dry recycling.
Councillor Mrs M Sartin, Environment Portfolio Holder, stated that she saw no reason why this advice could not be given and she would approach officers.
(g) Waste Management – Review of Collection Service During Recent Adverse Weather Conditions
Councillor S Murray drew attention to the review to be undertaken with a report to the Safer, Cleaner, Greener Standing Scrutiny Panel.
He asked the Environment Portfolio Holder if arrangements could be made for a wider input from Councillors not on the Panel and suggested that a pro forma could be included within a future Council Bulletin.
Councillor Mrs M Sartin, Environment Portfolio Holder, advised that officers were currently collating information following which reports would be made to SITA and the Waste Partnership Board before the matter was considered by the Safer, Cleaner, Greener Standing Scrutiny Panel. She confirmed that all members could contribute to the review either in response to a pro forma in the Bulletin if that was thought appropriate or by email or letter to the Environment and Street Scene Directorate.
(h) Epping Parking Review
Councillor J M Whitehouse asked the Community Safety and Transport Portfolio Holder when she expected notice to be given of the Epping Parking Review.
Councillor Ms S-A Stavrou stated that it had been expected that notice would be given by mid February but that the matter was still with legal officers and hopefully notices would be displayed by the end of the month.
(i) Forest Road, Loughton – Bus Service
Councillor Mrs P Richardson asked the Community Safety and Transport Portfolio Holder if she was aware of concern being expressed by residents in Forest Road regarding the use of that road as part of a proposed new bus route and whether the residents could make representations to seek a diversion of the route.
Councillor Ms S-A Stavrou stated that she was not sure whether the Councillor was referring to public transport or possibly to the Shopping and Leisure Bus which was being trialled from High Beach Village to Loughton with County Council support. She stated that this bus would be running once a week but that she was not sure whether the route had yet been finalised. She advised that if the proposal related to public transport the matter should be taken up with Essex County Council but that she would investigate the situation regarding the Shopping and Leisure Bus and that if any residents wished to express their concern to her she would take forward those concerns.
(j) Mother and Baby Unit – Ongar
Councillor G Pritchard asked the Housing Portfolio Holder if the Mother and Baby Unit in Ongar was still on course to be delivered in June 2010.
Councillor D Stallan, Housing Portfolio Holder, stated that although a recent planning application had been refused he understood that the opening date was still set for June 2010.
(k) Buckhurst Hill Parish Council – Lease of Land in Roding Valley
Councillor P Spencer asked the Leisure and Wellbeing Portfolio Holder about the budget implications of the Buckhurst Hill Parish Council not having signed a lease in relation to the recreational area.
Councillor B Rolfe, Leisure and Wellbeing Portfolio Holder stated that he was aware of the situation but that no provision had been made in the budget. He agreed to advise members when he had further information about the situation.