To receive announcements from the Leader and, in accordance with Paragraphs 10.2 and 10.3 of the Council’s Rules of Procedure, to deal with any questions to the Leader and/or Portfolio Holders on any topic which is within the jurisdiction or influence of the Council and is relevant to their Portfolio. Any Member who poses a question will be entitled to ask one supplementary question on the same topic.
Members are encouraged to give 24 hours’ written notice of questions to the Monitoring Officer of questions to be raised under the Agenda Item. If no notice is received, then the Portfolio Holder can reserve the right to give a written answer. Where written notice of questions has been given, these will be taken first. Should a Member wish to ask more than one question, questions should be listed in order of priority. If more than one Member sends in a question, these will be taken in alphabetical order of Members’ names, alternated from meeting to meeting. Each question and each response is restricted to three minutes.
The Leader, Councillor Giles Archibald, addressed Council, referring to news earlier in the day that daily new Covid-19 cases had risen dramatically day on day to over 14,000 new cases. The incidence of Covid-19 cases in South Lakeland was also increasing.
Councillor Archibald said that these were are extremely stressful times and he commended and thanked all Members for the leadership and commitment which they were demonstrating in their local communities during this crisis. Councillor Archibald also wished to recognise the tremendous work carried out by officers in housing the homeless, paying grants, re-organising business rates and protecting the vulnerable. On behalf of all councillors, he thanked officers for their continued engagement and excellence, and asked the Chief Executive and Legal, Governance and Democracy Lead Specialist (Monitoring Officer) to pass this on. Councillor Archibald also wished to recognise the terrific collaboration so far with the County and the towns and parishes. Collaborative working, he believed, was critical and Councillor Archibald was grateful for the collegiate, can-do attitude of all tiers of local government. Councillor Archibald further praised South Lakeland’s residents, who were respecting the guidelines in towns, wearing masks and social distancing.
Councillor Archibald finally took the opportunity to confirm that the Council’s job was to support the Government measures and to provide whatever assistance it could Central Government. These were testing times for all, and the Council was ready to be tested.
In accordance with paragraphs 10.2 and 10.3 of the Council’s Rules of Procedure, the following written questions had been submitted to the meeting:-
From Councillor Tracy to Councillor Philip Dixon, Customer and Commercial Services and People Portfolio Holder - Following the change in COVID-19 restrictions to allow outside playgrounds to open, can you tell us how successful the re opening of our play parks has been?
Councillor Dixon responded, informing Members that the re-opening of play parks had been 100% successful. Councillor Dixon expressed thanks to those officers who had worked tirelessly to enable 60 parks to open on 4 July 2020. He believed that the Council’s parks and open spaces were vital, especially after a lengthy period of lockdown. He asked Members to contact either himself or officers if they were aware of any problems in this regard, stressing the need for parks to remain open.
From Councillor Eamonn Hennessy to Councillor Dyan Jones, Climate Emergency and Localism Portfolio Holder - Can Cllr Jones provide an update regarding the levels of interest in the Community Climate Change Fund?
Councillor Jones informed Members that there had been a good amount of interest in the Fund, with a total of 19 applicants. This indicated the level of interest from communities and a desire to carry out projects where they lived and worked. Councillor Jones explained that the Council was focussed on its residents’ and businesses’ wellbeing and its commitment was to ensure that South Lakes was the best place to live, work and explore. There was, however, no denying that these were challenging times. The Climate Action Plan was evidence of the Council’s ability to continue to deliver in these difficult times and Councillor Jones hoped that, with the UK hosting COP 26 next year, the hard work on the ground that local authorities like South Lakeland carried out was recognised and that the Government would provide more resources to support all ambitious plans to work towards being carbon neutral by 2030 in SLDC estate and across the county estate by 2037. Councillor Jones informed Members that the outcomes of the application process for the Community Climate Change Fund would be published before the end of October and she looked forward to some great projects coming to fruition.
From Councillor Ian Mitchell to Councillor Jonathan Brook, Deputy Leader and Housing and Innovation Portfolio Holder - The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has issued a Planning White Paper consultation document, which proposes radical changes to the planning system in England. Can the Portfolio Holder let us know, what the potential implications of the proposals are, for sustainable and affordable housing delivery across South Lakeland. Could he also tell us how he intends to respond to this consultation?
Councillor Brook thanked Councillor Mitchell for drawing attention to this important Government consultation paper, which had significant implications for the way the planning system worked and delivered and therefore impacted on everyone in South Lakeland, the County of Cumbria and right across the Country. He informed Members that the consultation had started on 6 August and ran for 12 weeks, finishing on 29October. The consultation sought views on proposals for reform of the planning system in England, sought to streamline and modernise the planning process, improve outcomes on design and sustainability, reform developer contributions and sought to ensure that more land was available for development where it was needed. Councillor Brook felt that that aspiration was to be applauded. He informed Members that there were a number of proposals that clearly made sense and would deliver improvements to the current planning system, such as simplifying the processes and systems, implementing new technology and generally speeding the process up. However, Councillor Brook believed that the White Paper raised a number of issues around which there were real and serious concerns. These included the ability of local people to influence development in their area and the limited scope for public involvement; the reliance on design codes that would lead to identikit housing estates; the probability that the delivery of affordable housing would be reduced, particularly, in a rural area such as South Lakeland; and the watering down of sustainability targets and protections for the local environment enshrined in the Council and Local Plan documents, to name but a few. Councillor Brook explained that he did not have time to provide a full answer to the question posed. Councillor Brook was, however, able to provide an assurance that the Council would be producing a full and robust response to the various points raised by the consultation. He had, therefore, asked officers to produce a report for Cabinet that would seek to ensure that Members were aware of the detail, scope and scale of changes to the planning system proposed in the Planning White Paper and the potential impacts on the District, the Local Plan and the delivery of the planning service if they were implemented. In addition, the report would ensure that these serious concerns about the potential impacts of some of the changes to the planning system and South Lakeland’s local communities were conveyed effectively to the Government. In closing, Councillor Brook took the opportunity to encourage everyone, including town and parish councils, to respond to the consultation themselves, so that Government could be clear about what local people thought. He understood that the Cumbrian Association of Local Councils had recently received and distributed some information highlighting the details of the White Paper and he encouraged Members to use their place shaping and community leadership skills to ensure that the voices of their communities were heard in this process, before it was too late. Councillor Brook undertook to provide a full written response.
From Councillor Doug Rathbone to Councillor Robin Ashcroft, Economy, Culture and Leisure Portfolio Holder - Further to the Members’ briefing earlier this week I’d like to ask the Portfolio Holder to expand on what the status is for Marshals in South Lakeland, given the recent and rapid changes in response to COVID-19 instituted locally and from central government. What is their status? Where would they potentially be deployed? Who is paying for them and following on from that, what sort of timescale are we looking at for deployment?
Councillor Ashcroft informed Members that the initial deployment of Covid-19 marshals at Bowness and Windermere had been funded and agreed by this Council prior to the announcement by the Government on the use of marshals. This initial funding had come from the Economic Development budget, and Councillor Ashcroft was pleased to report that this had been a successful intervention to the issues faced by South Lakeland’s main tourist hotspot, which was obviously a major driver for the district’s Visitor Economy. Regulations had recently been relaxed although, Councillor Ashcroft pointed out, a little too late in the day, and there was now a modest amount of £15,000 that could be used to fund additional marshals. The Council was in discussion with its current supplier of marshals and would liaise with the communities in this regard, but with only £15,000 available, they would only be deployed in very specific and targeted locations. Despite the Prime Minister having said that Covid-19 funding could be used to fund Covid-19 marshals, there had been no hard information or suggestions as to from where this could be resourced outside the funding originally provided. Councillor Ashcroft undertook to provide a full written response.