To receive reports from Cabinet Members on their portfolios.
Members are reminded that they may ask questions of the Cabinet Member on their reports and portfolio areas but should note that it is not a debate.
No member may ask more than one question plus a supplementary question, during this session unless the time taken by members’ questions does not exceed 30 minutes in total, in which case, second questions will be taken in the order that they are received (Constitution, Chapter 2, part 2, section 12.2)
The Chairman invite Portfolio Holders to present their reports:
Cllr W Fredericks, Portfolio Holder for Housing & Benefits, referenced residents’ concerns regarding rising energy costs and the upcoming winter and said that the Customer Services team would be able to provide advice and signpost to support and assistance. She asked Members to consider donating to the Cromer Food Bank as they also had a fuel bank that could assist with top ups of oil and electricity tokens.
Cllr C Heinink thanked officers for the new format of the report, saying that the housing needs section in particular was very helpful. He asked whether there was a way to feed this information to Town & Parish Councils to help them better understand the need for community-led housing. Cllr Fredericks replied that she was working with Cllr Toye, Portfolio Holder for Planning, on preparing a presentation for town and parish councils.to show the opportunities for accommodating affordable housing in their communities. She added that the Community Liaison Officer within the Housing Team was happy to go out with the Local Member and talk to town and parish councils about the opportunities and funding options.
Cllr V Gay, Portfolio Holder for Leisure, Culture & Wellbeing, said that she wanted to update Members on the new Reef Leisure Centre in Sheringham. She said that huge progress was being made (slides were displayed). Several members had visited the site on 7th September and at that time the signage was installed, thermal panels had just been tested and it was clear that a lot had happened since the previous visit in July. Cllr Gay said that she had visited again on 22 September and the skate park was now complete, the car park was finished and a fully equipped spinning studio was in place as well as a changing places bathroom. In conclusion she said that she was particularly pleased to see the swimming pool filled with water.
She said that there had been some issues with the supply chain but that the final stages of the project were nearing and it would soon be complete. She thanked the officers for their continued hard work in pushing the project forward.
Cllr Gay then spoke about the introduction of beach wheelchairs during the summer season. They had been received very positively indeed and several people had been in contact to thank the Council for introducing them.
Cllr A Varley referenced the beach wheelchairs and asked whether they would be rolled out further across the District – including Bacton. Cllr Gay replied that this was being explored as there had been expressions of interest from several places.
Cllr N Housden asked whether the Reef would be open in time for the half-term holidays. Cllr Gay said that she could not commit to that as it was fast approaching.
Cllr G Hayman commented on the steep fall in ticket sales for the theatre at Cromer Pier. He asked what the Council was doing regarding provision of support and what would happen if the theatre went out of business. Cllr Gay replied that she would provide a more detailed response in writing but confirmed that support had been provided. She said that it had been very difficult for entertainment venues during the pandemic and many customers were still reluctant to go out. She said that she would like to compare how the Pier Theatre was faring in relation to other venues.
Cllr R Kershaw presented his report as written and invited questions. Cllr N Pearce commented on a likely Covid surge in the winter and asked whether the Council had set funds aside to help combat any issues. Cllr Seward, Portfolio Holder for Finance, replied that the Delivery Plan Reserve and the General Reserve would both cover any emergency issues should they arise. Covid was included in the Council’s risk register and preparations were in place should a quick response be required.
Cllr N Lloyd, Portfolio Holder for Environment, introduced his report. He drew members’ attention to National Recycling week and the Council was running a series of promotions to support the campaign.
Cllr E Withington asked about Electric Vehicle Charging Points (EVCP). She welcomed the news that Bank Loke was now coming on-stream and asked whether the Council would continue the roll-out of EVCPs across the District. She referred to issues with the power supply network and asked whether there was an opportunity to work with the County Council and lobby on this issue. She also asked about exploring opportunities for off-road charging points, which were proving problematic for many communities. Cllr Lloyd acknowledged the issue regarding the power networks but said that the Council had applied for a grant to support upgrading the system at the Reef to help with installation there. He said that the Council want to continue the rollout of EVCPs but wanted to focus on the completion of the initial projects in the market towns first. He said that he would look into working collaboratively with the County Council, as suggested. Regarding off-road charging, he said that the initial rollout had centred on installation in car parks with a large number of homes nearby with no drive-way. Other options were being explored, including installation on lamp-posts.
Cllr V FitzPatrick referred to the recent release of an animation highlighting the pledges made within the Council’s Environmental Charter. He said that the reference to 17k views was one-dimensional and asked what the original target was. Cllr Lloyd replied that no target was set as this had not been done before. He said that it was well received and had achieved its function by having so many views. Cllr FitzPatrick asked how Cllr Lloyd could be pleased with the outcome if no target was set. He also asked whether it was not standard practice to measure how successful uptake was. Cllr Lloyd said that it was a new initiative and that he would have been happy with 1000 views.
Cllr S Penfold said he was pleased to see that Greenbuild was back. He asked whether the good practice generated by Greenbuild was shared by inviting members and officers from other authorities across Norfolk to attend. Cllr Lloyd said that he was happy to follow up on this suggestion.
Cllr E Seward, Portfolio Holder for Finance & Assets, presented his written report. He added that he had recently been notified that the Fair Funding Review was now delayed until 2025/26.
Cllr L Shires, Portfolio Holder for Organisational Resources, was not present. Cllr T FitzPatrick commented on the detail within the written report but queried the absence of information regarding telephone calls to the Council offices. He referred to a recent briefing to Group Leaders which suggested that between 80-90k calls a year were made to the Council but that 21,166 went unanswered. He said that he was surprised that this was not mentioned at all, despite being one of the biggest complaints that members received from residents. He said that he wanted to see the customer satisfaction rate of people phoning the Council included in future reports and an explanation as to why, given the technology now available, these figures were so bad. The Leader replied that she shared his concerns. She said that a full written answer would be provided. She added that the figures were provided in a meeting and not substantiated. Since then, they had been looked at and did not seem to be as high as suggested. Cllr FitzPatrick said this was a very important matter. If the Leader had been given incorrect information then that was appalling. However, of even more importance, was the fact that for many months now, the Council had been lauded for the assistance it had provided to residents during the pandemic. If the figures were anywhere near those suggested, then there was a real possibility that a lot of people had failed to get the help that they needed. He asked that Cllr Shires’ written response provided information on the number of people who had tried but then failed to get the support that they were seeking.
Cllr J Toye, Portfolio Holder for Planning, introduced his report. He said that he had some additional information regarding the number of long term empty homes, with the number falling from 704 to 460 for properties empty for over 6 months. Those properties empty for two years or more had come down from 179 to 156. Cllr Toye referenced the delay of the new Planning Bill and he said he was hopeful it was being reviewed.
Cllr C Cushing referred to the Council meeting on 23rd September 2020, which included a motion on second homes. He said that the Government was now taking action on this and he was surprised to see a cautious response from the Leader on this and wondered why there was not a consistent approach from the Administration on this. Cllr Toye said that he had been in touch with the Overview & Scrutiny Committee on looking at options on addressing the issue of second homes. In addition, he was working with the Democratic Services Team to set up a forum for the Town and Parish Councils to feed in their views. He wanted to find the right solution for North Norfolk. Cllr Cushing said taking part in the debate was a crucial start to taking positive action. Cllr Butikofer replied that the press did not always fully reflect comments. She said that North Norfolk was hugely impacted by this problem. All options should be thoroughly explored and it must be done in the right way.
Cllr Cushing said that he wished to raise a process issue with the Chairman regarding Portfolio Holder reports. He said that the session during this meeting was a good example of how the current process did not work. Cabinet members gave wordy updates and responses and soaked up the allocated time, removing the opportunity for members to hold Cabinet members to account. The Leader replied that the Constitution Working Party was reviewing the matter but she wanted to remind members that they could contact portfolio holders at any time and ask a question. They did not have to wait until Full Council. Cllr Gay confirmed that the Constitution Working Party would consider this matter at the next meeting.
The Chairman advised Cllr Hayman that the session was now out of time and whether his question could be submitted in writing. Cllr Hayman said that it related to the matter that he had raised during ‘Apologies for Absence’ which had been ruled out. The Leader replied that if Cllr Hayman was referring to the attendance of two members on a training course, then she could confirm that the Council had not paid for their places on the course.
Cllr J Stenton asked about section 106 monies and whether members could get access to the data relating to this. Cllr Toye replied that he was happy to share this.