To receive the ‘Local authority investment in commercial property – National Audit Office’ report.
The Chair welcomed Councillor Caton, who had sat on the Scrutiny Committee in the previous municipal year and had worked on the matter of Local Authority investments, to present the report.
CouncillorCaton said he had asked the Committee to look into the National Audit Office report that had been published in February for three reasons: to ensure that Members were aware of any forthcoming changes on national policy in regard to Local Authority investments; to consider the need to audit the Council’s processes to ensure they were robust enough, and; to ensure that all Members were aware that Uttlesford was an outlier in terms of investments. He said 66% of UDC investments were outside of the district, with 34% in the area. The national split was 49% within a Local Authority and 51% outside. He said the Council could not be complacent and said such a significant divergence to the national average warranted an investigation.
As the Director – Finance and Corporate Services was not present to answer questions, Councillor Caton asked for the item to be deferred for further discussion until the next meeting.
The Committee agreed.
The meeting ended at 10.30pm.
Public Speaking – 6 July 2020
Councillor Richard Pavitt
I have really struggled to understand this document. Something I learnt long ago is that if people don’t understand what you’re saying, then it is either too complex or you’re a bad communicator.
One of the criticisms of the last plan process was that it did not consult the community early enough or sufficiently. Did they even understand when they could or ought to contribute?
Last time, the term “community” was skewed towards landowners and developers. They were consulted from the outset and in continuing detail, but Parish and town councils were a grudging also ran.
In effect, our communities – the people who live here - were told where the housing was to go and asked what colour curtains they would like.
Last time the plan was reactive. It reacted to a housing target, it reacted to a call for sites, it reacted to Govt’s desire for garden communities. There was little done to harness creative and pro-active thinking from our communities.
I don’t see anything in these papers that reassures me this will not happen again.
The LGA consultants report at 2.4 says:
Public value can be created, for example, by engaging communities in making a plan that is evidence led, puts infrastructure before new homes, provides homes that are affordable for local people and built in locations evidence shows are most sustainable.
I would argue that engaging communities is more and lot earlier than reg 18 consultation.
This administration has said it will do things differently. I am concerned that it may get dragged back into the conventional thinking that applied last time, that the public are a bunch of nuisance nimbies best avoided unless contact is absolutely necessary.
I appreciate that this document is intended to layout a governance structure rather than an operational timeline of project management - nor necessarily, is it intended to be an explanation to the public.
However people need to understand what comes first and what it leads to.
I would like to suggest that officers and the cabinet portfolio holder produce a simple timeline schematic – something that runs from left to right - to show the work flow, the points at which the community is engaged, the points at which decisions are made, when they are reviewed, and so on.
In short, it should be something that is logical, that our communities can comprehend and that allows them to understand how and when they can contribute.
I think council may be surprised to find that there are many people willing and interested to engage positively and constructively if they are allowed to understand what is going on.
I wish to make a short statement which does include some questions around the approach set out in this meeting’s papers and the governance around the District’s compilation and delivery of the Local Plan.
It has now been well over a year since the political party Residents for Uttlesford were elected as the Administration in our District. During this 12 month period, little has been achieved in the way of plan progress. In fact, it has been a year filled with happy talk, limited detail, policy-making on the hoof and very little in the way evidence-based and data-based decision-making.
The Local Plan, having finally been withdrawn at the Council meeting on 30 April has changed by one sole metric; that an increased housing need will have to be baked into the new Local Plan when it finally comes forward. I’m sure many would be interested to know the intended completion date for this new Local Plan, the common understanding is that 2023 is the Government’s intended date. I would welcome your view of this.
Around timescales, a detailed project plan is mentioned. Having had 12 months lead-in, are we to assume that the opportunity to undertake large amounts of the detailed review necessary has already taken place? If not, residents can quite reasonably draw the conclusion that this time has been wasted. With these new Governance arrangements featuring timelines which will QUOTE ‘need to be challenging’ why does it appear that it won’t be for a further 6 months in December 2020 before the structure and governance arrangements proposed will be placed under review.
Having spent a numbers of years batting away constant Resident for Uttlesford accusations of the previous administration holding ‘private meetings’ on Local Plan matters (which never happened) I was surprised to see mention of private meetings appear within the recommendation of this new Governance Arrangement structure.
While some adjustment in the recommended structure of the Local Plan Leadership Group has been made after the initial guidance of the outside expertise of the EELGA Peer Review Team, it still appears that it is the intention for the Local Plan Leadership Group to hold private sessions, with no terms of reference as what constitutes ‘confidential information’. Some clarity on this specific item is welcomed.
To many, this is not the openness and transparency promised and championed by the Residents for Uttlesford party. Outside of commercial negotiations both in-District and within the cross-boundary Strategic Infrastructure Delivery Group it is the right for all to have a clear view of the process and any content, not to come away asking questions about murkiness. Otherwise it’s a case of promises made, promises broken.
The formation of a new ‘Local Plan Scrutiny Committee’ is an interesting precedent and has a role to play, as long as it has a clear purpose and scope and doesn’t present an unnecessary and additional layer of bureaucracy and delay. It seems appropriate that the formation of this Local Plan Scrutiny Committee follows the accepted principles of scrutiny and is chaired by a member of the opposition. Please can this be confirmed.
As we have seen in other key delivery areas, this Administration shows that it’s lacking in the competencies needed to deliver upon the promises made to residents for them to get into power. It is my over-riding fear that it will be us residents and our local areas paying the highest price for this latest attempt by Residents for Uttlesford to kick the can down the road once more.
A lot is at stake and we all know that delivering a Local Plan is not easy. Recent positive comments made by the Government around planning and their declared interest in infrastructure gives us all cause for real optimism. I hope the opportunity to do your very best for the District and our residents is grasped.