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) Waltham Abbey Swimming Pool
Councillor D Dorrell asked the Contract and Technical Services Portfolio Holder whether he could provide an explanation for the recent closure of the swimming pools at Waltham Abbey Leisure Centre.
Councillor N Avey advised that Waltham Abbey Leisure Centre had experienced a boiler failure on 14 February 2020, which had resulted in both the main and learner pools being closed for five days. This had coincided with the school half term period and had caused public concern. The Leisure Contract Manager had been informed immediately and was updated on the progress of the repairs throughout this period. Customers were informed that the pools were closed through social media, notices boards at the leisure centre and by staff as customers arrived, although the gym and studios remained open.
The repairs were carried out and both pools were fully re-open on the afternoon of Friday 21 February 2020. There had been no costs to the Council, as the repairs were met by the warranty. A report on the issue had been requested and members would be update at the next meeting.
(b) National Apprenticeship Week
Councillor S Murray asked the Leader whether he would like to comment on the Council’s Apprenticeship scheme following National Apprenticeship Week earlier this month.
Councillor C Whitbread advised that he fully supported the Council’s Apprenticeship scheme and the opportunities it provided the residents of the District.
The Chairman of Council, Councillor R Bassett commented that he had worked with a number of the apprentices and praised them for their skills and helpfulness. In addition, the Strategic Projects Portfolio Holder advised that the BT conference had been organised by one of the Council’s Higher Level Apprentices, which demonstrated the values and skills that the apprentices were obtaining through the Council’s scheme.
(c) No. 87 Bus Service
Councillor S Jones asked the Strategic Projects Portfolio Holder what the Council was doing to prevent the demise of the No. 87 bus, which provided a bus service from Harlow through to the Epping Forest Retail Park in Loughton.
Councillor A Lion advised that he had been working closely with Essex County Council and Councillor C C Pond, concerning the closure of the route. In conjunction with Epping Forest Transport there was a belief that the service could be provided at a lower cost. In the meantime, the Council would provide £50,000 match funding with Essex County Council to provide an interim service, whilst a longer term solution could be found.
(d) Climate Emergency
Councillor S Neville asked the Community and Partnership Services Portfolio Holder and Climate Emergency Champion, what plans the Council had to scrutinize the Cabinets decisions regarding the Climate Emergency.
Councillor N Bedford advised that currently no considerations had been made, although the Council was hosting a Green conference in March/April where this would be discussed .
Councillor J Philip advised that the Council planned to recruit a Climate Change Officer and a Sustainable Transport Officer, and the Cabinet decisions concerning the climate emergency would be considered by the Stronger Place Select Committee, which also considered the Local Plan.
(e) Natural England
Councillor J Knapman asked the Planning Services Portfolio Holder what measures he proposed to undertake to break the deadlock with Natural England.
Councillor J Philip advised that the Council had started to make progress and a meeting with Natural England, Dame Eleanor Laing MP, the Leader of Council and himself had been arranged at the Houses of Parliament in March 2020. The Council had also suggested to either sponsor or support a Natural England post based at the Council to ensure a good working relationship which awaited a response.
He also had taken detailed legal advice on what the Council could do to address some or all of the planning applications that were held up by the issues with Natural England. The Council continued with the traffic and equality modelling in the Forest which fed into the habitat regulations and following a recent meeting with Natural England, progress had been made on the methodology for the mitigation and this would be submitted to the inspector imminently.
(f) Retaining Shrubbery in Front Gardens
Councillor J H Whitehouse asked whether the Council could raise public awareness of the importance of retaining planting including trees, shrubs or lawn at the front of their properties when converting their front gardens for parking.
Councillor J Philip advised that planning regulations did not permit the Council to prevent the complete paving of resident’s front gardens, although the Council could try to encourage residents not to pave the entire area. There were regulations that prevented impermeable surfaces being used but residents did have the right to design and plan their own front gardens.
Councillor N Bedford added that through Green Arc, the Council did encourage people to plant trees in their gardens and provided information and advice on the conversion of front gardens for parking purposes.
(g) Bus Services
Councillor D Plummer asked the Strategic Projects Portfolio Holder what had been the process that determined funding should be given to the 87 bus service, when there were other services that had been reduced or removed in the District?
Councillor A Lion advised that this had been dealt with on an emergency basis and the Council would not generally fund buses services. If Councillor D Plummer had concerns he should contact Essex County Council directly.
Councillor R Brookes asked the Community and Partnership Services Portfolio Holder what the reference to the ‘EFD Museum Collection Review & Rationalisation Development Proposal’ were in the budget.
Councillor N Bedford advised that it related to the collection and storage facilities and how the Council could rationalise the collection. Therefore, making better use of it and sharing of the collection with other service areas rather than everything being stored.
(i) Green Arc
Councillor D Wixley asked the Community and Partnership Services Portfolio Holder whether the Green Arc could be given more publicity and recognition, through signage and logos at the various locations across the District.
Councillor N Bedford advised that a wider campaign to promote the Green Arc was being carried out and this included the design of a logo. There were plans for primary school pupils to be involved with tree planting at secondary school sites, so they could see the trees progress and he would suggest displaying notice boards at the various location.
(j) Election of Verderers for Epping Forest (North)
Councillor C C Pond advised that a election of Verderers for Epping Forest (North) was being held tomorrow. He would like to know who would be voting on behalf the Council and which two candidates would they be voting for, as the ballot was not anonymous.
The Chairman advised that officers would investigate this and try to ensure that a representative would vote tomorrow on behalf of the Council.
The Vice-Chairman, Councillor H Kane, later confirmed that she would vote on behalf of the Council and would inform members who she had voted for in the Members Bulletin.
(k) Housing Delivery Test Results
Councillor J M Whitehouse asked the Planning Services Portfolio Holder that following the publication of the Housing Delivery Test results, what if any, was the Council’s status as a buffer authority and what effect did this have in relation to the main modification of the emerging Local Plan.
Councillor J Philip advised that the Housing Delivery Test results were based on the Governments revised figures and not those that were assessed under 2012 version of the NPPF, which was what the Council had been examined under. Although the issues with Natural England were not helping the Council excel on the housing numbers, the Council had been able to demonstrate the housing trajectory and a five year land supply.