Councillor R H Siddall referred to affordable housing and the number of people currently on the Council’s register having doubled since the first lockdown and now stood at 1,500 with over 100 applications being received every month. He asked the Leader of the Council when the Council would introduce a strategy to build and create true and affordable housing and if she agreed that Maldon District Council should become a council house builder in the future. In response, the Leader referred to the current Local Plan through which the Council sought to attain affordable housing allocations within areas of the District. She advised that the Commuted Sums Policy had been brought in to assist with deliverability and advised that there were some schemes being discussed to look at bringing forward more affordable housing. The Leader agreed that affordable housing should be given consideration, due diligence and put forward in terms of a proper strategy.
Councillor Mrs J C Silts referred to a television report on recent storm damage to the Burnham-on-Crouch pontoon. Referring to funding agreed prior to the storm damage she asked if the Leader of the Council could reassure the Council that work would continue and sought a timeline in relation to this. Councillor Stilts also asked the Leader if she could explain why the work had not yet been commenced on the pontoon. In response, the Leader of the Council advised that through the budget process a figure in the region of £60,000 had been allocated to the pontoon and unfortunately since then there had been storm damage. Officers were currently assessing the damage and she was unable to provide a timeline at present. The Leader agreed to seek further details from Officers and provide a written response to Councillor Stilts and the Council.
Councillor N G F Shaughnessy reminded Members of a motion considered in May 2021 where the Council had agreed to pledge its support for outside agencies and existing foodbanks as well as the Trussell Trust in the Maldon District. She asked for Members to be updated on the work that had been and continued to be done for residents and how this was being supported in light of developments regarding Covid-19. The Leader of the Council explained that at the time it had been established there were various bodies which provided this support and she highlighted some of these along with collections also being done. Members were informed that the Council at that time agreed that food banks currently in operation would be supported and as far as the Leader was aware this was ongoing at this current time.
Councillor A S Fluker referred to a briefing scheduled to take place on 5 April 2022 between elected Burnham-on-Crouch and Maldon Ward Members and was being facilitated by up to seven officers. He asked the Leader of the Council if she could confirm the purpose of the meeting, what issues were under discussion, why members from rural areas were excluded and why given the current pressures on Officer time the briefing was taking place at all. In response the Leader of the Council advised she could not provide details because she had yet to receive the agenda for this meeting. However, it was her understanding that these briefings had taken place in the past and this meeting sought to reconvene them.
Councillor R P F Dewick asked the Leader of the Council if she would agree that the last couple of weeks had seen the worst spell for planning control in the Council. He referred to the Council having lost four appeals and had four lots of costs awarded against it. Councillor Dewick referred to a specific decision notice and read some of the Inspectors report from this which referred to a predetermined Councillor and a cohort of Councillors. He asked that given the serious nature of the findings if the Leader agree that the Councillors so mentioned should stand down from any special responsibilities and additional duties and to demonstrate to the Government that the Council wishes to improve its standing as a Local Planning Authority the matter be referred to the Standards Committee for consideration. In response the Leader of the Council advised that performance in respect of planning appeals would be reported via the Performance, Governance and Audit Committee as a matter of performance. She advised that she was unable to confirm how Members voted at a meeting unless a recorded vote was taken and advised that decisions taken by Members were done with sincerity and consideration. The Leader agreed that there had been inconsistencies across Committees but also between Local Government Planning Inspectors. She referred to regular meetings that the Deputy Leader and herself had with the Corporate Leadership Team where planning was discussed. The Leader acknowledged the need for further Member training to ensure all Members had an understanding of policy and more consistency in its application.
At this point the Chairman advised that the questioning time had reached 15 minutes and whilst he would allow further questions, he would not permit responses to them.
Councillor Mrs J L Fleming referred to the question asked by Councillor Fluker and sought further information on the Town Member meeting referred to.
Councillor M F L Durham asked the Leader of the Council if she agreed that enforcement services of the Council had recently fallen below standards of what Members could reasonably expect. He referred to a recently circulated enforcement report which highlighted that no cases had been closed during the last quarter and there were around 1,000 open enforcement cases. Councillor Durham asked the Leader if she believed that a better service for enforcement should be expected. With the permission of the Chairman, the Leader of the Council advised that the enforcement team had been working with vacancies, although two new officers had recently been appointed. The Leader referred to an agreement whereby Chairmen of Area Planning Committees could call a meeting for enforcement matters only and that this could be held with enforcement staff. She urged Chairmen to call such a meeting so that these enforcement cases could be looked at but hoped that improvement would be seen following the recent recruitment. Members were advised that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee were also monitoring enforcement.
Councillor C Mayes referred to a number of complaints she had received regarding owners of residential caravan parks not complying with the terms of their licences and asked the Leader of the Council if Members could be informed of how compliance was monitored, the number of complaints in relation to non-compliance received and the actions the Council could take regarding non-compliance given it already struggled with non-compliance within its planning framework.
Councillor A S Fluker referred to a recent appeal decision for costs in relation to a site in Maldon Road. He asked the Leader of the Council that given the application refusal was Member led why no Member had given evidence at the public inquiry and given the outcome and the fiscal effect on the Authority if it should apologise to the residents. The Leader of the Council advised that she was aware of Members that may have wished to speak at that inquiry.
In response to a question raised regarding the procedure and length of time allowed for questions to the Leader of the Council, the Chairman advised that he was allowing Members the opportunity to ask questions but also trying to shorten the time taken on this item by advising that responses would be given in written form.
Councillor W Stamp referred back to the appeal decision mentioned by Councillor Fluker and asked the Leader of the Council if she would agree that the damage was done when phase one was approved, advising that it was outside the development boundary and was not part of the Local Development Plan.
Councillor Miss S White asked the Leader of the Council if she agreed that if Members and members of the public asked for meetings with Officers that these be arranged in a timely manner. She also asked if the Leader agreed that even if Officers prefer home working, they make special effort to meet with and talk to Members including responding to emails. Lastly Councillor Miss White asked the Leader if she agreed that the overview and scrutiny issues should be investigated by Officers and that Officers should not decide that they do not wish to review the data because that was part of the issue.
The Chairman advised Members that even though they were recorded if they sent these questions to the Leader of the Council they would receive a written response.