Agenda item

Issues Raised by Local Councils

To discuss the following matters raised by the local councils.


(a)       Street lighting (Min no 16 (f) – 11 March 2019)


To receive a verbal update from the Council’s Service Director (Contracts and Technical Services).


(b)       Electric vehicle charging


To consider electric vehicle charging and responsibility for future Council and commercial provision.


(c)       Libraries


To discuss Essex County Council’s (ECC) “Essex Future Library Services Strategy: 2019-2024”. The document can be viewed at the following link:


This will likely affect a number of local councils within the Epping Forest District.


North Weald Parish Council has the following general concerns:


(1)       The sum of money allocated, £18,000, is to be spread over five years with funding available over three years. Will there be any dispensation from Epping Forest District Council regarding rateable value for library buildings when run by groups who are not actually Essex County Council and are relying on the £18,000 to run the library?


(2)       The amount of time it is taking to get information from ECC on how this will affect those groups / organisations who have placed ‘Expressions of Interest’.


(3)       The continuing recruitment of volunteers, in communities where volunteers are not that easy to ‘get on board’. How does ECC expect there to be a continuing string of volunteers?


(d)       Unauthorised traveller encampments


Whilst Loughton Town Council has received great support and advice from Epping Forest District Council, the individual parish / town councils must operate on a standalone basis to remove unauthorised encampments which can be expensive in seeking the appropriate legal advice and also weighs heavily on officers’ time and resources. This has proved costly for the Town Council in the past.


The Town Council is aware that the ECC Essex Countrywide Traveller Unit (ECTU) provides a comprehensive service to move on unauthorised encampments and charges a modest sum to each District Council, which then covers every town / parish council within that particular district. This removes the costs and pressure on individual councils.


Apparently only Harlow, Southend and Epping Forest District Councils refrain from using this service.


Loughton Town Council has the following questions:


1.         Why is this historically the case?


2.         Would the District Council reconsider using the ECTU service, given the economies of scale that this service would bring and also the potential benefit to town and parish councils alike?


(a)          Street lighting (Min no 16 (f) – 11 March 2019


The Service Director (Contracts and Technical Services), Q Durrani, reported that Epping Forest District Council had written to local councils at the beginning of January 2019 regarding the costs of night street lighting for their parishes for the hours when Essex County Council (ECC) normally switched them off. An agreement had been reached with ECC that the District Council would collect the funds and there would be a legal contract with ECC. A draft version of the ECC contract had been received, which would start on 1 April 2020. However, the four-year contract could start as soon as it was ready, but prices were dependent on energy prices each year and would likely fluctuate.


Councillor D Wixley was concerned if local councils were paying for night street lighting that this would not delay LED lighting, which used less electricity. The Service Director (Contracts and Technical Services) replied that he could not comment on LED lighting for ECC but hoped this would not be an issue. Councillor C C Pond explained that ECC had got established programmes for LED lighting and a number of street lights had been changed in Loughton.


Parish Councillor S Jackman asked if local councils had been informed of the costs, to which the Service Director (Contracts and Technical Services)replied, yes, by the former Acting Chief Executive, D Macnab. There would be new figures for the coming year.


Parish Clerk, S De Luca, remarked that North Weald Parish Council had not wanted to pay for all-night street lighting as it was too expensive, but had the costs dropped? The Service Director (Contracts and Technical Services) replied that the cost was the same.


Parish Clerk, A Belgrave, said that Chigwell Parish Council had initially wanted to pursue this but it would have cost £16,000. However, the Parish Council was still waiting for a reply to its questions, to which the Service Director (Contracts and Technical Services) replied all responses had been sent last week.


The Service Director (Contracts and Technical Services) asked local councils to confirm in writing that they wanted to pay the additional costs for all-night street lighting, as he was keen to sort out the contracts.


(b)          Electric vehicle charging


Councillor C C Pond said it would be interesting to know what the District Council’s intentions were on electric vehicle charging. Six constituents had asked him, particularly taxi drivers complying with the Mayor of London on electric cabs, if charging points could be provided as they did not have off street parking?


The Service Director (Contracts and Technical Services) replied that the District Council was implementing changes as a result of the Local Plan going through. Local Plan policies were encouraging the installation of charging points on planning applications. The District Council could also install charging points in its own car parks. However, it was difficult to find a suitable charging supplier because if you were not a member, you could get charged excessive amounts. Therefore, a fairer charging system was needed. However, there were also complex technical issues to overcome as the District Council would be struggling with limited parking spaces if electric parking bays were occupied for four to five hours to recharge a vehicle’s battery. The District Council was looking at options and had been in contact with ECC to convert electric charging columns into charging points. Increased cost implications were likely as street lights were not by the roadside but set back on the land side of pavements, but ECC Highways was the best option and the District Council was monitoring the situation.


(c)          Libraries


The Service Director (Planning Services), N Richardson, reported that North Weald Parish Council had raised the following concerns as a result of Essex County Council’s (ECC) publication of ‘Essex Future Library Services Strategy: 2019-2024’.


(1)           North Weald Parish Council had raised this issue as the sum of £18,000 was being allocated by ECC to run a library, which was to be spread over five years with funding available over three years, and would the District Council give any dispensation on rateable value for library buildings.


The Service Director (Planning Services) replied that according to the Service Director (Customer Services), R Pavey, there was a potential for the District Council to be able to give 80 per cent rate relief if a library was occupied and run as a charitable organisation. The advice was either to seek charitable status or to share the premises with a partner.


(2)           Regarding the amount of time it was taking to get information from ECC on how this would affect those groups / organisations who had placed ‘Expressions of Interest’, the District Council had no jurisdiction over Essex library services. Therefore, the County Councillors present might be able to offer advice on this.


(3)          Regarding the continuing recruitment of volunteers to help run a local library was a real issue, but Voluntary Action Epping Forest (VAEF) might be able to advise further on this.


Parish Clerk, S De Luca, explained that North Weald was the only parish council in the District that had put in an expression of interest to run the local library. A number of other local councils in this area had already withdrawn their expressions of interest. She had attended ECC committee meetings and met with ECC Library Services, but was worried £18,000 was too small an amount when it included building maintenance, which was expensive, and rates. North Weald Parish Council would not get charitable status. ECC’s forward strategy that no libraries would close needed to be read because this might mean a library could be moved into a different building. The Parish Council did not want this as it was seeking to use the library to run as a community hub, especially as more homes would be coming into the parish under the new Local Plan. She asked if County Councillors could take this issue back to ECC that £18,000 was not enough to run a library for five years.


County Councillor V Metcalfe commented that Buckhurst Hill Parish Council had submitted an expression of interest and had attended a very good meeting with County Councillor S Barker, Cabinet Member (Customer, Communities, Culture and Corporate). Every individual case was different and 20 per cent had set up a Trust to get an 80 per cent discount. There was not one overall answer. It would take ECC time to go through the expressions of interest as there had been a number of applications received.


County Councillor C C Pond said that North Weald Parish Council was co-housed in the library building. Loughton Town Council had put forward Loughton Library as an asset of community value and collected over 3,000 signatures in support of this.


County Councillor G Mohindra, Cabinet Member (Finance, Property and Housing), said this was one of his project’s. This was an opportunity for all parish councils. He was looking at the County’s estate, as there were a lot of old buildings. Community hubs were part of the vision. The £18,000 was specifically for library services, but it might be more cost effective for parish councils to partner with other organisations, such as the CAB. If local councils had any ideas, the Library Service would be proactive and any element of property regeneration could be looked at by his officers.


(d)          Unauthorised traveller encampments


The Service Director (Planning Services) reported that Loughton Town Council had asked why the District Council had opted out of the services of the Essex Countrywide Traveller Unit (ECTU) that provided a comprehensive service to move on unauthorised encampments. Whilst the Town Council had received great support and advice from the District Council, individual local councils had to operate independently to remove unauthorised encampments, which could be expensive in terms of seeking legal advice and officer time. The ECTU provided a comprehensive service to move on unauthorised encampments and charged each District Council a modest sum for its services.


The ECTU was a partnership with Essex County Council, local councils and other authorities and also offered support to gypsies and travellers to access services, including education and health services. It had largely been superseded by the Essex Police Gypsy and Traveller Rural Team. The District Council was doing a quicker and better job itself.


The Chairman, Councillor R Bassett, had previously attended ECTU meetings and acknowledged this was a very difficult subject. He suggested liaising with Essex Police Gypsy and Traveller Rural Team and inviting a representative along to the next Local Councils’ Liaison Committee meeting.


The Service Director (Planning Services) had been advised by Environment and Neighbourhood officers that the last time the Cabinet had looked at membership of the ECTU was in 2016 but that a review in 2018 had not been carried out. Essex Police was very active in removing travellers and had recently helped in Buckhurst Hill.


Loughton Town Clerk, M Squire, explained that he had worked at Witham where there had been three incursions in the last year and the ECTU had been very efficient in removing encampments therefore, he had been surprised that the District Council was not an ECTU member. Membership cost £10,000 and covered every parish council. Although the District Council was helpful, every local council was on their own, which could be very costly especially for rural parish councils.


Waltham Abbey Parish Clerk, K Richmond, supported Loughton Town Council as it had experienced two recent traveller encampments. Advice had been obtained from the District Council but unless the incursion was on District Council land, the other scheme offered more support to local councils.


Councillor C C Pond remarked that Loughton Town Council about three years ago had needed to go to County Court and had engaged counsel so it had become expensive. The District Council did provide help but did not consider the effect on local organisations. Also District Legal Services had undergone changes that covered the Council but left out local councils and increased their financial burden. He suggested the ECTU should be invited.


The Chairman reiterated that the District Council had reviewed this in detail in 2016. It had looked at what ECTU was providing and in comparison what internal services officers were providing. It had taken the view that the District Council responded more quickly to unauthorised encampments, advised local councils and worked with private landowners. He suggested that the District Council invite an Essex Police Gypsy and Traveller Rural Team member to the next meeting, and from that meeting put forward suggestions to the Cabinet Portfolio Holder - perhaps to review the possibility of membership to sort out what services there were and check if the ECTU had got the same traveller brief.




That the Service Director (Planning Services)  liaise with C Wiggins, Interim Service Manager (Community Resilience), to help sort this issue out and check whether the ECTU still existed, to enable this to be revisited at the next meeting in March 2020.