Agenda item

Questions by Members Without Notice

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)        Refuse Services


Councillor S Murray stated his question was to the Contracts and Commissioning Portfolio Holder and in his absence, he asked if he could put his question to the Leader of Council?


He stated that there had been varying differences with the refuse services recently and he noted that the Council were going out to tender for the contract, he asked what lessons have the Council learnt from this experience over the last 6 months and how were those lessons going to be reflected in the new tender?


Councillor C Whitbread stated that he arrived home from work this evening to find his bin had not been emptied, the bottles hadn’t either and the recycling bags had blown across the road. He sympathised with residents as he knew and understood their frustrations with the service Biffa were currently affording to residents across the district.


There had recently been a meeting with Biffa where we asked them for more live information to be supplied to us and to his knowledge that had not happened. Their website was never up to date with the correct information and he was as frustrated as every other resident in the district with this problem.


The lessons learned, not all of this was Biffa’s fault. A year ago, we were commending Biffa for keeping their operations running smoothly during the Pandemic, so what has changed. Biffa were currently trying to retain a workforce and that was the biggest issue.


The Council do not have money they have residents’ money to pay for services and we will make sure, as a Council, that we hold Biffa responsible for providing this service.


(b)        Council House Delivery


Councillor H Kane asked the Housing Portfolio Holder if she could advise about the Council’s record of the council house delivery and regeneration in Waltham Abbey?


Councillor H Whitbread advised that Waltham Abbey was the place where the Council started its house building programme 10 years ago. There were 10 properties that were due to be delivered in Waltham Abbey this year, there was Spinks House, which had been referred to earlier in her portfolio holder report, this consisted of two large new family homes for local people. There was another development in Waltham Abbey which would provide another 8 affordable units. Waltham Abbey was a key place where the Council want to deliver new homes. We have, as a Council, always been committed to continue with the delivery of new Council housing stock and the 30-year business plan set out an ambitious target for delivery.


Harveyfields in Waltham Abbey recently had £114,000 spent on a regeneration programme which included, tidying up the bin areas, looking at the paving and the outdoor spaces. Regeneration was the core of the Councils bricks and mortar which she spoke about often in meetings.


(c)        Homeless Enquiries


Councillor C Amos referred to the report of the Housing Portfolio Holder and asked about the 91 homeless enquiries during the month of August and wondered if for future reports if members could have a summary as to how all those homeless people were helped with their enquiries.


Considering the financial challenges that we were all facing at present she thought homelessness would become a more pressing issue. She went on to explain that the people she had referred to in her report were homeless but not rough sleepers. The usual process would be that they would contact the Council and be put into temporary accommodation whilst more permanent accommodation was sought and whilst in temporary accommodation the Council officers would give them various support and advice. One area where there had been great success around homelessness prevention and the numbers that we were now seeing have increased.


Homelessness adds a pressure to the general fund and also to the Councils temporary housing stock, we were therefore mindful to help these people and get them out of temporary accommodation as soon as possible. We also try to keep homeless people in the Councils own properties such as Norway House and Hemnall House but due to the increased demand we do have some people in B&B accommodation. She advised that she would be happy to provide a detailed summary in her next report to Council.


Action: A detailed summary of homeless people to be provided in the next Portfolio Holder report to Council.


(d)        Tree Planting


Councillor C C Pond advised his question was to the Technical Services Portfolio Holder. Last winter a large number of trees were planted further to a grant on Jessel Green and Rochford Green in Loughton. There was a considerable amount of attrition generally from trees but because these trees were planted quite late in the year many of them have failed. What were the plans and the financial situation as to how the failed trees might be replaced as this was now the tree planting season and remedial action needed to be taken soon.


Councillor K Williamson advised that he did not know the situation regarding the trees but he would speak to officers and get back to him.


Action: Councillor Williamson to provide details to Councillor Pond regarding the failed trees.


(e)        Safer Streets Scheme


Councillor T Matthews asked the Housing Portfolio Holder for an update on the Safer Streets Scheme on Ninefields in Waltham Abbey and if she could elaborate the work around the door knocking activities with the Community Partners.


Councillor H Whitbread advised that over £300,00 worth of investment was going into the Ninefields Estate. This was a grant received from the Home Office working in partnership with the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner and had been matched funded by the District Council. This grant would be used to improve spaces by increasing lighting, CCTV, litter and fly tipping on the estate and generally making it a more pleasant environment for people to live. There was also ongoing work with the Ninefields Residents’ Association and meeting with key community partners to decide how this money was going to be allocated.


The door knocking scheme was led by the Fire and Rescue Service and the first question they asked residents was ‘do you have a fire alarm fitted and working’, if the answer was no then they would go into the properties and replace or install new fire alarms.


Also involved were representatives from the NHS and Mental Health Services who were asking people if they had any issues with their health and then trying to get them some help and support that they required. EFDC’s Community Champions and Officers, who did a fantastic job of co-ordinating, helping to collate the information and signposted people to the support they needed.


This was a trial that took place in Ninefields, which was a condensed area and it was something the Council were keen to roll out across the district, particularly in some of our more deprived areas.


(f)         Rising Energy Crisis


Councillor S Patel asked the Housing Portfolio Holder if the Council were looking into warm rooms or those types of schemes for our residents?


Councillor H Whitbread stated that numerous conversations had happened with voluntary partners around warm rooms as she was conscious about the ever-increasing energy bills. There had been a price guarantee from the Government which should help to ease some of the issues, but some people will still be struggling with energy costs. Voluntary Action Epping Forest were looking at initiatives around various community hubs for delivering a scheme.


Essex County Council will be giving grants to Town and Parish Councils and community groups to set up appropriate warm spaces for people to go to sit in the warm with a hot drink. This Council was looking to deliver this scheme in conjunction with our community partners.


(g)        Local Plan


Councillor S Heap asked the Place Portfolio Holder that according to the Local Plan this district had to build 2.6 dwellings every day and did he think this could be achieved?


Councillor N Bedford advised that the Council were bringing forward the Local Plan and if 2.6 dwelling per day was the target then yes, the Council would have to adhere to that figure. He reminded members that the Council had already built many dwellings which would also be included in that figure and now the backlog from the SAC was being cleared and further dwellings were in the pipeline to be built. Some of the planning applications now coming forward have increased the numbers on sites.


He therefore concluded that the Council were getting back on track and moving forward to meet their targets and deliver the Local Plan in a timely manner.


(h)        Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy


Councillor J M Whitehouse advised that his question was to the Place Portfolio Holder and stated that it was now getting on for 2 years since the interim air pollution mitigation strategy was adopted and asked if there were any updates on the results of the monitoring that had been carried out and were there any changes in air pollution since it was adopted. He also asked about the allocation of funds from the Section 106 agreements.


He noted that the last meeting of the Portfolio Holder Advisory Working Group had been cancelled and wondered if a new meeting had been arranged and if so, what was the date.


Councillor N Bedford stated that the Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy was agreed 2 years ago and the air quality monitoring was not due to take place until 2024, this may be brought forward to 2023. All signs currently point to the air quality being improved but this was due to Covid and the lockdown but also there had been a massive increase to the number of electric vehicles and changing habits of road drivers going through the forest.


Another contributory factor was the Mayor of London will be bringing forward his plans, which all residents have been made aware of that next year he will be imposing the ULEZ up to the boundary with Epping Forest. This will impact on the residents of Epping Forest and we were doing everything that we can to be in discussions with the Mayors office to see what we can bring forward but unfortunately we were only a small cog in the Mayors wheel and all of the surrounding boroughs around London will want to bring in similar schemes.


The S106 monies have been accruing and these funds have been set aside for the air quality monitoring.


The Portfolio Holder Advisory Group meeting was cancelled as there was nothing to contribute to that meeting but if members have any new ideas or items for discussion, please bring them forward. He stated that he looked forward to the next Portfolio Holder Advisory Group meeting, to be arranged.


(i)         Street Trees


Councillor D Wixley advised his question was to the Technical Services Portfolio Holder and stated that he understood that EFDC planted street trees on behalf of Essex County Council who provide the funding for that. He had recently been informed that the funding had been substantially reduced for last year and he wondered what the current situation was and how many street trees can be planted this year.


Councillor K Williamson advised that he could not provide an answer but would speak with officers and get back to Councillor Wixley.


Action: To provide an answer to Councillor Wixley’s question regarding the planting of street trees.


(j)         Land Searches


Councillor S Murray asked the Internal Resources Portfolio Holder that did he realise the delay on land searches could have a very real effect, particularly of first-time property buyers who were negotiating mortgage deals, which were short-term limited offers and did he have idea of how many first-time buyers have lost their deals due to waiting for land searches. When they lose these deals, they then have to negotiate a new deal which costs more. Therefore, did the Portfolio Holder understand the impact to house buyers and did he have any evidence of how many people have lost mortgage deals because of the delay in waiting for land searches?


Councillor S Kane advised that he did understand the impact of house buyers waiting for land searches and stated that he had no way of knowing how many people had lost their mortgage deals as that information would not be available to him. He stated that this was in no way avoidable, it was a government edict and the Council had to do this by milestones, it was their dates and the scale of the work was not known beforehand. We submitted our data and then an unknown number then came back to be corrected with a finite date for those to be re-submitted. He realised the impact on people was 10 weeks and more waiting time but I am pleased to say that we were over that hurdle now and can focus or reducing the backlog and returning to normal within a month.