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.
(a) Energy Grant
Councillor R Balcombe asked the Finance Portfolio Holder how much progress had been made in distributing the £150 energy grant, especially to those who do not pay by direct debit. Further to that was there any news of the discretionary scheme and could he remind Council on how much money had been allocated to this scheme.
Councillor J Philip advised that the main Government scheme had been completed by the Council’s Revenues and Benefits team which had been achieved more than 10 weeks ahead of schedule. In terms of the direct debit payers almost 21,200 of those had been paid, regarding the non-direct debit payers almost 3,300 have been paid via BACS payments. All residents that the Council did not hold bank details for and were eligible for the scheme were contacted by letter to advise them of the scheme and how they would like the money to be paid. For those that did not reply the £150 was credited to their Council Tax account. The total amount of money paid was £4,773,000 for almost 32,000 Council taxpayers who had qualified for this scheme.
He advised that the Council had now moved onto the discretionary funding scheme for those in receipt of Council Tax Support and the deadline for that was at the end of November 2022 which was expected to complete ahead of time.
(b) Planning Application – Russell Road, Buckhurst Hill
Councillor S Heap stated that his question was to the Place Portfolio Holder and stated that at Full Council in April 2022 he had asked a question, to which could not be answered because it was under investigation. Therefore, he would like an update to that investigation and stated that as far as he was aware there was no investigation. He would therefore put the question to the Place Portfolio Holder again, do you think that clandestine meetings between Senior EFDC Officers and Conservative District Councillors to discuss an ongoing planning matter from a Conservative Parish Councillor sends out the right signals of fairness and openness.
Councillor N Bedford asked if Councillor Heap would like to declare an interest on the planning matter.
Councillor S Heap stated that he was unaware of any interests he may have apart from being interested in an answer to his question.
Councillor N Bedford advised that he had sourced his response through legal and stated that the circumstances surrounding the meeting, to which Councillor Heap had already been advised about. The meeting took place with Ward Councillors and Officers prior to the Russell Road planning application, it had been investigated and the Monitoring Officer was satisfied that nothing untoward took place and no further action would need to be taken.
(c) Recent Heatwaves and Wildfires
Councillor J McIvor stated his question was to the Leader of Council and asked if he would join him in thanking the Fire Service who have done an amazing job supporting the district, in particular the rural communities during the recent heatwaves and our thoughts are with those that have had wildfires to deal with.
Many of our residents are anxious and concerned about some of the scenes that we have seen in places like Wennington and asked if the Leader could reassure our residents that the Council’s emergency procedures are well tested and that Officers and the Council stand ready to support any of our residents who may find themselves in a distressing situation like other Essex residents have found themselves in.
Councillor C Whitbread stated that this question gave him the opportunity to pay tribute to the firefighters of the district who do an excellent job and as mentioned earlier the tribute to his own brother who had served 47 years as an on-call firefighter in Epping. It was not just thanks to the firefighters it should also be mentioned that their families should be thanked for the support they give to the firefighters that work on the frontline, work long hours and do a brilliant job in protecting our communities.
He stated that he had every confidence in the Councils emergency plans which showed when last year there was a fire in Woodland Close and the Council pulled out all the stops and offered a first-class service. Every time there was an emergency something new was learned for the next time.
(d) Programme to improve older housing
Councillor C Amos advised that his question was to the Housing & Community Portfolio Holder and stated that he was pleased to see, in recent reports, that the Council were producing a programme to improve older housing properties and asked if there was any specific programme for improving the insulation which was particularly pertinent at this time with the rising energy costs.
Councillor H Whitbread replied in terms of insulation the Council are conducting a ‘Council House Regeneration Programme’ which was being reviewed and this would be looked at under this programme. The issue which they have come up against was that it was a very costly project, although, over recent years the Council have worked with their tenants to look and installations in council owned properties and are trying to get this to the highest specification as possible.
The Council House Building Programme builds new properties in the most environmental way as possible and that she worked closely with the teams to look at the different solutions moving forwards.
(e) Hardship over the 6-week summer school holidays
Councillor S Murray stated that he would like to mention that he had declarations of interest with the two organisations he was going to mention in his question.
He advised that his question was to the Leader of Council and he asked if the Leader was aware how difficult the 6 week summer holidays were for a significant minority of families in the district and would he like to use this meeting as a further opportunity to put on record our thanks to the Surplus Food Hub and the Free Food For You Hub, who during the summer holidays would be running 30 sessions, 5 a week for six weeks, and would he further like to thank the Epping Forest Food Bank who would also be running over 24 sessions in this same period. He added that last week in a targeted programme with the districts primary schools they were able to distribute over 2.5 tonnes of food to 110 families across the district, personally delivered to them by a team of volunteers.
Councillor C Whitbread agreed that this 6-week period could be difficult for families with young children at home and are still having to work. He stated that he did not think anyone could forget the issues residents were facing, particularly with the cost-of-living crisis that everyone was aware of. We should also welcome the work that was done in our communities by the Epping Forest Food Bank and others that the County Council was also running a whole range of summer events and Epping Forest were actively engaged in these events as well. He went on to say that he did understand and had real concerns for all residents at this present time.
Councillor H Whitbread stated that what was important was getting the word out there and letting residents know what was available, there was a plethora of support through her Essex County Council role and highlighted the Activate Holiday Camp Clubs which are put on throughout the district and offers a full day of activities which included a meal as well as educational enrichment activities and sport.
Last year I visited the West Ham Academy who ran an event at Thornwood Common and I believe they will be doing the same this year and residents should look to see if they were eligible and if so sign up. It was an opportunity for children to meet their peers during the summer holidays. There was also other support available for people in times of crisis, whether that be the essential living fund and various other grants through Essex County Council.
She highlighted that she had put together a guide of support and what was available, she would link this to her Facebook page. She gave her thanks to the food banks locally for the work they do which was really important at this time.
(f) Tree Planting
Councillor C McCredie advised her question was to the Place Portfolio Holder and referred to page 37 of the agenda, regarding tree planting and stated that it was to be welcomed the number of trees that had recently been planted over the district but was concerned that during these prolonged periods of dry hot weather how these young trees were faring, did they have aftercare, were they being watered or were they dying.
Councillor N Bedford stated that it was not just the case of digging a hole and planting the tree, there was a whole proper management plan being followed around the tree planting schemes across the district, which was fully supported, normally, by the Town and Parish Councils. The Town and Parish Councils would take onboard an allocation of trees arranged for local communities to clear the ground and plant those trees.
He thought that she would have to agree with him that this particular year was an exceptional year with regards to the heat and drought and maybe for the future different kinds of trees should be looked at especially ones more susceptible to surviving drought conditions, otherwise the future of the greenery of the district could die out.
(g) Local Plan and further main modifications
Councillor C C Pond advised that his question was to the Place Portfolio Holder as it arose from his report on page 35 of the agenda regarding the advice being given by the Local Plan Inspector on further main modifications. He asked if the Place Portfolio Holder could advise when these would be issued for formal public consultation, which he believed should last for 3 months so what would be the starting and the terminal dates of the consultation.
Councillor N Bedford advised that the Inspector, Mr Bore has written to the Council with quite an extensive timetable and has indicated that he would like everything completed by the Autumn of this year. In his report, the Inspector had submitted a further 106 questions to which some of the questions he has drafted the wording he would like. Some of the wording the Council are challenging which was around the previous Inspector’s recommendations. Information was being supplied back to Mr Bore of how the Council came to that decision to change that wording and therefore there was a slight delay.
It was hoped that the consultation would have started in mid-July but with the slight delay and it would be preferable for it to go out for consultation after the summer holidays. Last year it went out for consultation for 8 weeks and as there were only minor alterations now it would only go out for consultation for 4 weeks. Therefore, it was anticipated that the consultation would be finished by late summer and the minor modifications would be going to Full Council in the autumn.
(h) Summer Holiday Activities
Councillor J Lucas advised her question was to the Wellbeing and Community Partnership Portfolio Holder regarding the summer activities across the district. She informed Council that she was really pleased to see the efforts that had been put in with regards to the number of activities that have been planned across the district and would like to know more about these and if there were any other activities that were going to be planned throughout the year.
Councillor A Patel advised that as restrictions have been reduced and we have returned to a normal way of life, following the height of the Covid pandemic, the Councils Community, Culture and Wellbeing Team (CCW) have put on a packed programme of activities this summer. With the summer holidays now in full flow I can confirm that bookings for the children’s holiday programme 2022 are filling up quickly and many of the events are now fully booked.
The Play in the Park sessions are proving to be very popular this year. Members will see from his report that CCW were piloting a new style of brochure called ‘What’s on in Epping Forest’. The brochure was for the months of July, August and September, to promote activities and events for all ages and volunteering opportunities for adults. The booklet was available online on EFDC’s website or as a hard copy from the Civic Offices in Epping or the District Council Museum in Waltham Abbey.
(i) Safer Streets Funding
Councillor S Yerrell advised his question was to the Housing & Community Portfolio Holder and stated that he was pleased to see that the Council had received some Safer Streets funding and that the Ninefields Estate in Waltham Abbey was going to be a recipient of this funding. Could the Portfolio Holder please explain more about it and would there be a consultation on how the money would be spent.
Councillor H Whitbread stated that she would be going to the Ninefields Estate tomorrow to meet with some residents but also to look at where they would put the plans that were in place. She added that this was an exciting project and that she had worked closely with Roger Hirst to secure the funding and would like to put on record her and the Councils thanks to him for helping to secure this bid.
There had been ongoing consultation with the Ninefields Residents Association who the housing team have built up a good relationship with and there would be consultation with them in that respect but there were some key goals that the Council wanted to achieve in terms of enhancing the CCTV network and looking at the bin areas and making those much tidier areas and to deal with fly tipping. She advised that she would be happy to meet up with Councillor Yerrell and the Residents Association to discuss the implementation of this scheme.
(j) Local Plan
Councillor J M Whitehouse advised his question was to the Place Portfolio Holder and thanked him for the update on the Local Plan and asked as part of that work were the trajectories being updated as the report went to Cabinet earlier this week and a lot of the commencement dates seemed unrealistic and indeed some had passed and when would we get an updated trajectory as it was fundamental in terms of delivering the right number of homes at the right pace and time.
Councillor N Bedford stated that he had a meeting with officers the following day and would need to get an update from them regarding the trajectories and would get a written response to Councillor Whitehouse as soon as possible.
(k) Safety in HMO’s
Councillor J Lea advised her question was to the Housing & Community Portfolio Holder and stated that she had concerns regarding the amount of HMO’s that appeared to be popping up around the district. She advised that she knew of at least three in Waltham Abbey and was concerned about whether they were being checked properly for fire regulations as one in Waltham Abbey did have a fire last year and she could not get any details of how many people there were living in the house. Therefore what could be done to make sure that these HMOs are regularly checked to make sure they are safe to live in.
Councillor H Whitbread stated that as Councillor Lea had mentioned this to her recently she had asked officers to put together a full response but just to give clarity and understanding of how HMOs work. If they are five bedrooms or above or more than 5 people live there they have to go through our licensing process, there were a number of HMOs across the district and that might be for various different reasons, they provide cheaper rent solutions and the Council have run HMOs in the past. There were 145 HMOs across the district and the Council actively seeks out those that are not licensed. We seek them out by looking on sparerooms.com and from intelligence by the public.
She advised that she would make sure Councillor Lea received a copy of the detailed response which had been prepared by officers.
(l) Harlow and Gilston Garden Town
Councillor D Wixley advised his question was to the Place Portfolio Holder and referred to item 3 on page 36 of the agenda which referred to the Harlow and Gilston Garden Town project, particularly as there were going to be 3,900 homes in the Epping Forest District Council area and asked if the Portfolio Holder would be willing to organise a visit for Councillors to look at where this new town was going to be.
Councillor N Bedford advised that the short answer to his question had to be no, the reason being that was there had been numerous briefings and workshops, over the years on the Harlow and Gilston Garden Town so members should be aware of where it was, The Council were now moving into the development phase of the programme where developers were putting forward their master planning projects, therefore there was not a great deal to see at this present time except for empty fields.
Once the new bridge over the River Stort, which was under a judicial review, gets the go ahead and the development of the first phase starts there may be more of an opportunity to go and visit then.
(m) Refurbishment of Frank Bretton House, Ongar
Councillor B Vaz advised his question was to the Housing Portfolio Holder and stated that Frank Bretton House in Ongar which was in his ward and which he visited on the 21 June, at the official opening after a recent refurbishment and asked the Portfolio Holder why this work was done and if there were any plans to do similar works across the district.
Councillor H Whitbread advised that this was the first of the regenerations of our sheltered scheme and it was something that the Council were looking to bring forward further. A report came to the last Stronger Communities Select Committee which was well received, and she looked forward to bringing that report to Cabinet later this year.
The regeneration of sheltered housing was one of the most important parts of the Councils regeneration scheme and one of the biggest challenges that the Council had was in terms of housing was trying to get people to downsize and in order to do that we have to create nice places for people to live.
(n) Ride London
Councillor C McCredie advised her question was to the Finance Portfolio Holder and stated that it was regarding Ride London, which was a very exciting event for the district however, she was concerned about the adverse effect it has had on some of the local businesses and wondered if there had been a debrief yet or was there a debrief to come in the near future.
Councillor J Philip replied that from an economic development point of view it had been looked at, but was not yet finished, it had been noticed that Epping had seen a downturn in footfall during this period which was almost completely balanced with a similar rise in footfall in Waltham Abbey and Ongar. Therefore, it was being looked at and work was being undertaken with the Federation of Small Businesses to make sure that we can give as much support as possible. The Ride London this year there was very little time to react to it and if it goes ahead next year, we will be in a better position to move forward and work more closely with local businesses.