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Overview and Scrutiny Minutes - 5th December 2007

TORRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL

OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE

Committee Room, Riverbank House, Bideford

5th December 2007

PRESENT: Councillor C J Leather (Chairman)
Councillor Mrs C B Church (Vice Chairman)
Councillors R Brown, R Johnson, B J Lacey (left meeting 11.55 am),
D M Lausen, Mrs F M Perkin, S Robinson and R M M Tisdale.

Independent member: Mr D Scotting

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors D C Fulford, Councillor A J Symons,

Mr R French and Mr R Rumbold (Independent Members)

17.

MINUTES

Resolved:

(1) That the Minutes of the Meeting held on the 12th September 2007 be confirmed as a correct record subject to the inclusion of the following Declarations of Interest - Councillor R Brown declared a person interest in Minute 11 - Customer Care and Communications (Freelance Journalism - NDJ and Other Publications), and Councillor B J Lacey declared a personal interest in Minute 11 - Customer Care and Communications (Writes Community News for East the Water - North Devon Journal).

(2) That the Minutes of the Meeting held on the 24th October 2007 be confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman subject to the amendment of the list of Members 'Also Present' as detailed at the last Full Council Meeting.

(Vote: 10 For, 0 Against))

18.

FORWARD PLAN

The Committee considered their Forward Plan, which had been circulated with the Agenda.

Members asked for the item relating to Post Office closures to be deleted from the Plan, and for the following items to be added in:-

(1) Opening Hours of GP Surgeries
(2) Consultants - use of and value to the Council
(3) Staff Turnover/Sickness Absence
(4) Outstanding Debtors
(5) Planning Delivery and its effectiveness
(6) Hospital Transport Service

Other issues flagged up related to the Burton Art Gallery, and late addendum items which would be looked at under communications. With regard to the Burton Art Gallery the Chairman advised that this Committee would look at any Service Level Agreement and Financial Plan of the North Devon Cultural Trust under the call-in process; and stated that ideally the Committee would like to scrutinise this matter and present any recommendations before it was consider by the parent Committee.

In response to a Member's question it was confirmed that an update on the Peer Review would be given at the informal Council Meeting to be held at Clovelly on the 6th December 2007.

Thereafter, it was;

Resolved: That the Forward Plan, as amended, be noted.

(Vote: 10 For, 0 Against)

19.

PLANNING CO-ORDINATION/SECTION 106 AGREEMENTS

The Chairman introduced to the meeting the following Devon County Council Officers, Mr Brian Hensley (Development Manager - Highways and Transport), Mr Ian Sorenson (Highways, Barnstaple) and Mr Steve Keable (Infrastructure Manager and Link Officer for Torridge). These Officers had been invited to the meeting as a result of the discussion which had taken place on the above topic at the last meeting.

The Chairman invited the Council's Solicitor to begin with his presentation on planning obligations. The presentation sought to inform Members on the following:

(1) What is a planning obligation
(2) Where obligations fit in with the Planning process

(3) The Government Circular Advice on the topic
(4) What the Law says
(5) What this Council has done to improve and speed up the planning obligation process
(6) What the Council might do in the future, e.g. introduce standard charges, work with

partners and utilisation of the Local Development Framework (LDF)

Members were then invited to submit questions to all the Officers present, and the issues debated and discussed related to a case study in respect of the introduction of standard charges; the rules applied in respect of planning gain and the provision of affordable housing; and the possible introduction of 106's on all reasonable applications i.e. standard charges and Members involvement in this process. The Committee noted that if they were minded to recommend the introduction of standard charges then this would need to form part of the LDF process. A Member recommended that every effort should be made to ensure that leisure facilities for Bideford were included within the LDF.

The Solicitor advised that careful consideration would need to be given to the involvement of Ward Members during the negotiation of Section 106 Agreements. He pointed out that Members were already involved through the planning process and that Members serving on the Plans Committee would have an interest. The Solicitor stressed he was in favour of Members being consulted about planning obligations.

The Chairman asked a question relating to the involvement of Members in respect of those planning applications dealt with under Officer delegation. He pointed out that Members would be unaware of any planning obligations in these cases. The Solicitor advised that consideration could be given to a process whereby Members could be advised of planning obligations being prepared, with consultation and notification to the Ward Member, and suggested that this could be implemented forthwith.

Further questions related to the difference between conditions and a planning obligation; an explanation of Sections 278 and 38 of the Highways Act; the utilisation of Bonds in respect of new roads and commuted maintenance sums; educational contributions particularly with regard to how they are assessed and how a school might access the funds; the utilisation of educational contributions to seek funding from other partners; the need to ensure the appropriate linkage between the County's Capital Strategy Team and the LDF process; and confirmation that if a planning obligations specifies a particular school then this funding must be spent on a capital project at that school.

The Chairman drew attention to Page 5 of the current Agenda which provided details of Developers Contributions received in respect of educational Section 106's. The Solicitor confirmed that every effort would be made to ensure that updated similar lists would be provided to Members in future.

Mr Steve Keable of the County Council confirmed that he was the designated link Officer for Torridge, and that he would be able to pick up on many of the issues raised by Members.

Other matters raised related to the deletion/waiving/varying of planning obligations at a later stage, which it was confirmed would be dealt with through the normal planning process; and the time limit set on Section 106's, which generally depended on the wording of the agreement.

There being no further questions, the Chairman thanks the representatives of the Devon County Council for their attendance and they left the meeting.

Councillor B J Lacey left meeting at 11.55 a.m.)

20.

MONTHLY FINANCIAL MONITORING

The Strategic Director (Corporate Resources) introduced to the meeting Mr Jonathan Willet, who was the Council's Interim Chief Accountant, and advised the Chairman that Mr Willeatt would be presenting the report of the Head of Financial Services relating to monthly financial monitoring.

The Committee were advised that the report presented budget monitoring information for the first seven months of 2007/2008 and provided information on the projected 2007/2008 outturn position. Attached to the report was an Appendix showing a full budget monitoring analysis at business unit level. Members noted that a budget overspend of £126,000 was forecast as at the end of October 2007, with the forecast being based on the best estimates available. It was also noted that as the year progressed better estimates would become available, and that Service Managers, who were responsible for managing expenditure within budgets, continued to work to reduce the overall overspend.

Members asked questions relating to the monitoring exercise, which the Officers answered.

Resolved: That the report of the Head of Financial Services be noted, and the Heads of Service asked to be mindful of the potential overspend.

(Vote: 9 For, 0 Against)

21.

CUSTOMER SERVICES/ACCESS TO SERVICES

The Head of Corporate Services provided an update to the Committee in respect of Customer Services/Acess to Services. The following topics were touched upon:

(1) Area Offices - The Area Offices are to be kept open within budget, and details of the
new proposed opening times to take effect from the New Year were provided. Members noted that this decision had been taken taking into account customer demand, and that there were to be no redundancies. The information relating to the Area Offices had been communicated through a press release, and the Council were looking for feedback.

A Member asked about the use of the Manor Offices at Holsworthy after the implementation of the new office opening hours in the new year, and was advised that following the initial trial period, and in liaison with Property Services, efforts would be made to generate additional income in respect of the Manor Offices.

(2) Communication to Wider Rural Areas - It was noted that work was currently in hand to map out locations/districts to be visited, and that this would involve the Customer Services Team who would now become Customer Advisors. Members noted it was hoped to have a programme ready by the end of the current financial year.

(3) Devon in Touch Bus - It was noted that this Bus was being utilised by the District Council in order that the staff could bring services to the wider community.

(4) One Stop Shop, Bideford - Members were advised that it was proposed in the interim to maintain the Town Hall Reception. The other receptions identified in Bideford were at Bridge Buildings and Riverbank House. It was noted that consideration was being given to the possibility of a 'one stop shop'. In response to a Member's question the Head of Corporate Services provided details of the work conducted by Vanguard and their lean thinking concept. She also advised that Vanguard had helped to train a member of the District Council's staff in their lean thinking concept.

A Member also raised an issue in respect of the poor bus services into Bideford from the rural parts of the district, and the problems this caused clients who wished to have appointments with say Council Tax/Benefits Officers or the Homelessness staff. One particular case was highlighted, and the Head of Corporate Services advised that it was important to have feedback, and that this would be investigated. It was also pointed out that in cases of homelessness it was possible for a member of staff to visit the client, and this was currently being examined by the Housing Manager (Private Sector).

The Head of Corporate Services asked members to report back any issues in terms of access to services, so that they might be investigated and pursued.

(5) Mosaic - The Head of Corporate Services referred to the detailed work and information available from the Devon Wide Project known as Mosaic. This project could provide profiles from around Torridge which could be broken down to Ward and Parish level.

Resolved: That the report of the Head of Corporate Services be noted.

(Vote: 9 For, 0 Against)

The meeting commenced at 10.00 am and ended at 12.45 pm.