To consider the attached report (to follow).
A Small, Strategic Director, reported that there were three phases to the Covid-19 pandemic – the Council’s initial response, restoration and the longer-term recovery. However, with the continued national coronavirus resurgence that was also being seen in the Epping Forest District, the Council might be moving back to a response phase if asked to by the Public Health lead at Essex County Council.
The report set out the Council’s response to the initial outbreak in March 2020 that was largely supportive of those shielding and its impact on business and relief. The Council was reorganised to focus on its Covid-19 response. As a consequence, a much better infrastructure was in place with better support lined up. Although the restoration was at the end of June / beginning of July, Council services, as well as the hospitality and high street business sectors, were moving to a more restricted phase to facilitate safe access for individuals in high streets. Community wellbeing was being monitored. Cabinet considered a report in July 2020 on the Council’s actions taken, with a longer-term outlook for local high streets. There would be a further update to Cabinet on the ongoing progress of the schemes.
Councillor R Bassett acknowledged that most Council services were online but were housing repairs being done for residents and was this working satisfactorily? D Fenton, Service Manager (Housing Management & Home Ownership) replied that repairs were continuing. Staff had PPE and additional measures were being taken, such as residents were being asked to move to a different room so that repairs could be carried out. The Council was not undertaking replacement kitchens or bathrooms, but day-to-day repairs were going ahead.
Councillor R Bassett said that some people were good at preventing risks, but others weren’t, so was enforcement being used? The Strategic Director replied that this was being discussed by the Covid recovery team. The Council had powers to ensure compliance in licensed premises. Also, by using penalty notices. Some people were still not wearing face coverings, but the Council had limited authority on this, whereas the Police could enforce this.
Councillor R Brookes commented that the Civic Offices reception had not been reopened and with this second coronavirus wave it would be foolish to do this now. However, there had been a 30 per cent increase in calls to the Council and she had experienced a long wait on some occasions. Looking forwards, what were the plans to reopen the reception, perhaps by March 2021 if the coronavirus numbers were down? The Strategic Director replied that the Council would try and meet its requirements to residents positively. There would always be groups of customers that needed to have face-to-face contact, and Housing officers were doing this now. The Council would be responsive and might do things in different ways but would not leave customers behind and rather cater for all.
Councillor S Heap acknowledged that the Council’s response had been brilliant but queried the European Economic Community bid that had been submitted for European funds earmarked for returning high streets safely, as the UK was in the process of leaving the EEC. The Strategic Director replied that if the Council had the opportunity to bid for grants it would and use the funding for the benefit of the residents of Epping Forest District. In terms of the lasting effects of Covid-19 on the economy, these were difficult to fully understand currently but would impact on the Council and Qualis business plans. Longer term sustainability of the local economy and retail market sectors was being monitored closely. The second Qualis business plan should be submitted to the Council in the next two months and provide information on the initial Covid-19 impact on its business and future. N Dawe, Chief Operating Officer, continued that the Housing repairs team had transferred to Qualis this week, 28 September 2020, and was continuing as planned. In terms of the high streets, Covid-19 had accelerated changes rather than these being new ones and was providing opportunities and challenges. Overall the situation was neutral and would have a slightly positive effect on the development potential locally. Councillor S Heap added that Centric Parade in Loughton was to have an increase in business rates. The Chief Operating Officer replied that there was the business rental part and the residential potential above the shops. The residential market sector was holding up better in the Covid-19 situation.
Councillor S Murray said he was very positive about the Council’s response to Covid-19 but was concerned that even though Loughton High Road was much larger than Epping High Street, the social spacing in the main shopping centres had been left much the same with just had a few social distancing stickers on the pavements. It was difficult at times to maintain social distancing. It would be helpful if ECC changed the signals for pedestrians by St Marys’ Church near the Wimpey premises. There was also no priority for pedestrians at the Valley Hill, Roding Road and Oakwood Hill crossings. Likewise, the two crossings in Chigwell Lane for the retail park and at Landmark House, as New City College was in full swing. The Chief Operating Office replied that Loughton had appeared on a list that ECC had considered, but ECC had only chosen one proposal per district and Epping was the High Street picked. The Strategic Director replied that the sequencing of traffic lights was a series of issues that the Council hoped to receive a response from ECC on soon.
That the Select Committee noted the report update.