The Council’s rules provide for questions by any member of the Council to the Leader or any Portfolio Holder, without notice on:
(i) reports under the previous item; 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.
The Council’s rules provide that answers to questions without notice may take the form of:
(a) a direct oral answer from the Leader or, at the request of the Leader, from another member of the Cabinet;
(b) where the desired information is in a publication of the Council or other published work, a reference to that publication;
(c) where the reply cannot conveniently be given orally, a written answer circulated later to the questioner; or
(d) where the question relates to an operational matter, the Leader or a member of the Cabinet will request that a response be given direct to the questioner by the relevant Service Director.
In accordance with the Council’s rules, a time limit of thirty 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 ten minutes at their discretion.
The Chairman thanked Members for giving notification of their intention to ask a question without notice. She informed members that as this was budget meeting she would like to give emphasis to the budget and therefore would allow only 20 minutes for questions.
(a) Improving the district’s infrastructure
Councillor S Murray advised that his question was to the Leader of Council, Councillor C Whitbread. He stated that he had visited every residence in his ward in the last 10 days and that his question was to the feedback he had received.
What steps could the Leader undertake in the very near future to improve three very poor parts of the district’s infrastructure that were currently badly affecting many local residents:
· The poor state of the pavements making them difficult for many pedestrians to use, particularly the elderly;
· The expensive and infrequent bus service within and between the towns and villages in the district; and
· The almost non-existent provision for cyclists in terms of safer cycling routes and dedicated secure storage facilities in our town centres.
Councillor C Whitbread stated that two of the three statements were County Council issues and with regard to the state of the pavements across the whole County there were different issues with pavements and pot holes. He advised that these issues were reported on a regular basis by himself and other County Councillors, some of which were at the Council meeting. There was over 5,100 miles of roads and pavements across Essex and they have to be properly inspected on a regular basis. The Leader advised that there was a County Councillor that covered Councillor Murray’s ward and he should be discussing this issue with him and getting him to put forward reports.
With regards to safer cycling routes this could also be put forward to the County Council but would take a long time as there were limited funds.
Since the pandemic there had been a fall in the usage of buses as there were in many types of public transport and these were just starting to recover. There was the Bus Back Better consultation being carried out at present.
The Leader stated that he was happy to talk to Councillor Murray offline in more detail about the issues he had raised.
(b) Street Lighting in Loughton
Councillor B Jennings advised that his question was to the Leader of Council, Councillor C Whitbread and asked if Councillor Whitbread was aware of the street lighting in Loughton was not working. Since before Christmas last year the street lights in Loughton High Road have been going out one by one and there were now only 18 of the 42 lights that were still working. The lights, which were installed in 2003, are apparently obsolete and cannot be easily replaced by modern LED’s. In an article date 7 December 2021 County Councillor Lee Scott, Cabinet Member for Highways Maintenance and Sustainable Transport, which included street lighting, was reported as saying that replacing these luminaires was a priority but three months on nothing has happened. Last week Councillor Scott was asked for an update, which had been acknowledged but has yet to be answered. Meanwhile if the lights continue to fail the High Road will become darker and darker which was completely unacceptable and the consequences of this lack of action are threefold:
· The impact on road safety, it was becoming extremely difficult for drives to see other road users including cyclists, the ever growing army of moped delivery drivers, drivers getting in and out of their parked vehicles and pedestrians trying to cross the roads. If there were to be an accident the lack of street lighting could be a contributory factor to and insurance company;
· The impact on personal safety, having to walk through the High Road in the dark was worrying for many especially for women on their own; and
· The impact on the night time economy, a gloomy looking High Road does not help the still struggling businesses including the High Roads bars, pubs, gyms restaurants and takeaways to recover from the impact of the pandemic.
The worst affected area and darkest part of the High Road was currently Centric Parade, which was owned by the Council, therefore what can Epping Forest District Council do to help resolve the matter.
Councillor C Whitbread advised that this was the first time he had heard of this particular problem with the street lighting in Loughton High Road. He stated that he would personally take this issue to the County Member, Councillor L Scott and report back.
(c) Trees fallen across roads
Councillor R Brookes stated that her question was to Councillor N Avey who was absent and therefore asked the Leader of Council, Councillor C Whitbread if he would either be able to answer or take it back to Councillor Avey for an answer to follow.
She asked if the Leader was able to clarify the position about who was responsible for dealing with the trees that had fallen across so many roads recently. Essex County Council stated contractor to EFDC and some of the residents in her ward have had some confusing messages.
Councillor C Whitbread stated that last week during the storms over 1,000 trees fell in Essex and Highways did a brilliant job, along with some of the EFDC teams and numerous other people in clearing some of the debris and issues that came from the fallen trees. He advised that he would be happy to take this back to Councillor Avey and asked Councillor Brookes if she could provide him with more details and then it could be established if it was private land and the owners could be contacted. There shouldn’t be any trees on the roads now as they had all been removed but there were still some over footpaths.
He added that members should pay tribute to all the people involved in clearing the trees and the debris and thank them for all of their efforts.
(d) Bonus Schemes paid to Qualis Members
Councillor S Heap advised his question was for the Finance and Qualis Client and Economic Development Portfolio Holder, Councillor J Philip and asked how many Members at Qualis were on bonus schemes and what would be the expected total expected this year if targets were met.
Councillor J Philip advised that the bonus scheme had not been approved so there were no people on a bonus scheme, there was funding identified within the Qualis business case to which he didn’t have any details with him. He stated that there would be a bonus scheme when Qualis started delivering against their business plans and making significant profits. It was not unreasonable for a private company to have a bonus scheme and the key point there was to make sure that any bonus scheme was in place was not simply for those at the top of the pyramid but would affect all of the employees within that group.
(e) Front gardens and vegetation being paved over
Councillor J H Whitehouse advised that her question was to the Planning and Sustainability Portfolio Holder, Councillor N Bedford. She stated that the Council were planting hundreds of trees but at the same time, residents were taking up their front gardens and vegetation and fully paving the space. She advised that at an earlier Council meeting she did raise this issue with Councillor Bedford and asked if the Council would consider raising an awareness campaign and wondered if that was progressing at all as she hadn’t seen anything about it. Would the Council be able to provide a leaflet for residents explaining the importance of this whereby the tree wardens and local members could post through letterboxes when works were seen to be beginning in a front garden in time for the resident to think again about having some tree planting.
Councillor Bedford advised that this was more for the Parish and Town Councils. He did discuss this with officers and had two simple answers:
· To consider the awareness campaign - everybody should be aware of the need for trees at present and if people were that way inclined they would go out and buy them. There was a policy in place to cover the amount of driveway that could be covered and people were being encouraged to keep part of the driveway clear for vegetation; and
· Leaflets – there would be no paper leaflets produced as the Council were moving away from printing and supplying leaflets.
(f) Sustainable electric bus service between Debden Station and the Epping Forest Shopping Park
Councillor Chris Pond advised that his question was also for Councillor Avey and he would therefore direct it to the Leader. He advised that an electric bus was promised as a sustainable bus service between Debden Station and the Epping Forest Shopping Park and asked when this was going to be provided.
Councillor C Whitbread advised that he would speak to Councillor Avey and get back to Councillor Pond with an answer.