Agenda item

Public Questions and Requests to Address the Cabinet

(Director of Governance) To receive any questions submitted by members of the public and any requests to address the Cabinet.


(a)        Public Questions


To answer questions asked by members of the public after notice in accordance with the provisions contained within Part 4 of the Constitution (Council Rules, rule Q3 refers) on any matter in relation to which the Cabinet has powers or duties or which affects the District.


(b)       Requests to Address the Cabinet


Any member of the public or a representative of another organisation may address the Cabinet on any agenda item (except those dealt with in private session as exempt or confidential business) due to be considered at the meeting, in accordance with the provisions contained within Article 7 of the Constitution (The Executive, paragraphs 27 & 28 refers).


Public Questions


(a)        Mr T Blanks asked the following question:


The Council are proposing that vulnerable people can be housed in ‘pods’ that will be sited in the grounds of Norway House. The Council has perceived that there was some risk to the staff, the other residents, and by extension to the people of North Weald and had estimated a sum of £5000 per annum for security.


My question is how has this risk assessment been made, by whom and when?”


The Portfolio Holder for Housing provided the following answer:


“As with any Cabinet Report, officers are duty-bound to assist me – as the Portfolio Holder – to identify and set out for me, in a balanced way, all the relevant issues relating to proposals that I put forward to the Cabinet for consideration.


In bringing this report to the Cabinet, I have been advised by the Council’s Director of Communities on the policy and strategic issues that the Cabinet needs to consider.  As you can see, the report sets out both the financial and operational benefits of undertaking the proposed Pilot Scheme, as well as the potential risks and concerns – the latter of which are set out at Paragraphs 18-22 of the report and in the Risk Management section at the end. 


In addition to identifying the potential risks, the report sets out - at the strategic level - how these could be mitigated, including a proposed budget for the provision of additional security if required and an approach to the selection of occupants for the pods.


If the Cabinet agrees the proposal tonight, as usual, there will of course be a full risk assessment undertaken and implemented relating to the risks at the operational level, and how these can be mitigated. 


It is a regrettable fact that the Council currently has 29 single homeless people temporarily accommodated in bed and breakfast hotels, for whom the Council has a legal duty to secure housing. Not only is this an inappropriate form of accommodation, it is also very expensive to the council tax payer – for which all residents in Epping Forest are currently having to pay over £250,000 each year.


The proposed Pilot Scheme would accommodate a small number of single homeless people, in a new form of modular accommodation that, I believe, will provide good quality housing - at a lower cost than traditionally-built accommodation and at a lower cost than accommodating them in hotels.


Whatever the Cabinet’s decision on this issue tonight, what is beyond doubt is that the Council has a legal duty to secure accommodation for single vulnerable homeless people - and that they therefore need to be housed somewhere.  The proposed pilot scheme suggests that it would be better to accommodate a small number of single people in specialist accommodation where there are trained staff, whose purpose is to manage the accommodation and to support residents, rather than in unsupervised accommodation or in expensive bed and breakfast hotels.


Therefore, to summarise, the risk assessment will be made through consultation and assessment with staff and officers. It would be made by an EFDC senior housing officer and community safety officers. Once Cabinet have made their decision and if granted, planning permission would have to be obtained and if planning permission was granted then before anyone moved in the risk assessment would be made.”


Mr Blanks thanked the Portfolio Holder for her answer and asked a supplementary question if the proposal for the pods was implemented, what would be the impact on the requirement to  pay the DCLG the unspent 1-4-1 receipts of approximately £350,000 by 31 March 2017.


The Director of Communities responded that at the Finance and Performance Management Cabinet Committee Meeting on 6 March 2017, it was agreed to recommend to Cabinet to continue with the Council Housebuilding Programme. A report would be submitted to the next meeting of the Cabinet and, if it was agreed, the £330,000 estimated 1-4-1 receipts would not have to be paid to the DCLG. It was also noted that 30% of the cost of funding the proposed pods at Norway House would be funded from 1-4-1 receipts.


Requests to Address the Cabinet


(a)        The Cabinet heard from Parish Councillor Sheila Jackman, representing North Weald Bassett Parish Council, who wished to express concerns regarding the proposal to house homeless vulnerable people in pods in the grounds of Norway House. She advised that she was speaking as a housing professional with a wide knowledge of mental health issues and the undesirability of housing people in such a way. She said that vulnerable people needed support with their medication and dietary requirements and the staff at Norway House were not trained for dealing with people with mental health issues.


(b)        The Cabinet heard from Parish Councillor Mary Dadd, representing Ongar Town Council, who stated that all the work put in to produce the Local Plan by Members and Officers was greatly appreciated but wished to highlight the following three recommendations for consideration:


            (i)         Several national bodies have asked for more assessments to be completed in parishes and towns across the District. Sport England say the method used to predict demand for leisure and sport facilities was flawed and out of date. The Environment Agency recommended more detailed assessments of flood risk zones and sewage capacity levels around proposed developments such as the Roding and its tributaries. National Grid have questioned the viability of sites with high pressure gas pipes. We ask that you look at these recommendations and amend the Local Plan accordingly;


(ii)        The 2017 Housing White Paper was late for the Epping Forest Local Plan but recommendations should be considered and amendments made. The White Paper stated that housing should be aware that there was employment to avoid long commutes and further protection of the greenbelt and neighbourhood plans should be respected to make developments more palatable; and


(iii)       That Epping Forest planners should start to use the draft Local Plan as policy even before it was approved and in place. We would ask that you delay the next stage of the Local Plan until these recommendations have been put in place.


(c)        The Cabinet heard from Howard Dawson, Managing Director, representing the Peer Group Plc. Mr Dawson advised that since the early 1990’s the Peer Group have owned the freehold of the Ongar Park Estate lying to the East of North Weald. In partnership with Epping Forest District Council the Peer Group delivered the Tempest Mead development in the late 1990’s. At no cost to the community the Peer Group gave land to the Bowls Club and also gave land to create the Weald Common and Nature Reserve. Our ownership extended to over 500 acres and included the land occupied by Blakes Golf Club, adjacent to the A414, the Redoubt and the land close to the Village Hall.


Since 2011 and through the Local Plan process we have promoted parts of our estate for residential allocation. In late 2013 the Council commissioned Allies and Morrison to undertake a Master Planning Study for North Weald. Since that Master Plan was published in mid 2014, the Peer Group has promoted the exact two sites identified by Allies and Morrison as being the most suitable for helping to meet the District’s objectively assessed housing need. The two sites total 38 acres and could provide up to 300 homes on previously used, non-agricultural land. The sites are in our sole ownership and are entirely deliverable.


By its own admission, the Council has not assessed the actual sites we have been promoting and I would welcome a commitment from the Portfolio Holder, Cllr John Philip, about exactly when our sites are going to be properly assessed.


Our detailed Regulation 18 submission included an assessment of the environmental and social benefits of allocating land to the east of North Weald, in preference to the Council’s present strategy to allocate large swathes of the “best and most versatile” agricultural land to the west of the settlement.


Paragraph 34 of the report submitted to this meeting stated a new project plan had been developed. When will this “new project plan” and the “new timeline for the work” be made public? 


Paragraph 32 of the same report includes a statement that “further Site Selection Work has been commissioned, and will provide an opportunity to correct any errors that have been identified, revisit site assessments where information or proposals have changed [and] assess any new sites submitted to the Council as part of the consultation...”. Given that Developer Forums have already commenced and Peer Group have been refused an opportunity to participate, when does the Council intend to carry out the further site selection work and how does the Council intend to engage with landowners whose sites have not been allocated but were to be allocated prior to Regulation 19 consultation?