To consider the draft updated Council Plan 2021-2026.
The Deputy Leader of the Council and Housing and Innovation Portfolio Holder provided a brief introduction of the Council Plan 2021-2026. The Council Plan sets out the Council’s vision and priorities and how these would be delivered over the period of the Plan. The Strategy Lead Specialist shared a PowerPoint Presentation, which outlined the Council’s action plan against COVID-19, and highlighted the unprecedented impact the pandemic had on the Council’s own finances and services, while also considering the impact of Brexit.
The Lead Strategy Specialist explained the Council’s the Council’s vision was to make South Lakeland the ‘best place to live, work, place and explore’ and the plan set out how the Council would work towards this vision. The presentation addressed some key recent changes including the Pandemic and associated changes in the economy and in working patterns. He also noted that some fundamental issues including the ageing population, remained important. The Council Plan has four strategic priorities.
The first priority working across boundaries to deliver sustainable economic growth seeks to develop the potential of working on a Morecambe Bay wide footprint. The Bay is a functional economic subregion. Working in partnership would allow give the Bay area critical mass, economically and enable the Districts to grow in a way, which complement each other.
The second priority is the ageing population of the district. Whilst recent projections suggested that the trend was slowing, the working population was continuing to shrink. The Plan sought to grow the economy and generate job opportunities for young people. It also sought to develop services, to create a more balanced locality with a better quality of life for all age groups.
The third priority of a fairer South Lakeland is a Fairer South Lakeland. This means address poverty, deprivation, housing and unemployment. The presentation highlighted to Members that many affluent areas had pockets of poverty. The Council Plan sought to improve standards of housing and provide better advice for those in poverty. The Council would also work within partnerships to address issues such as deprivation, inequality and related issues such as addiction.
Lastly, the fourth priority was the climate emergency. This section of the Council Plan sets out the Council’s targets for reducing its carbon footprint.
The Lead Specialist concluded that all four priorities were inter linked together within the Council Plan and welcomed any questions from Members.
Issues raised in discussion included housing for the elderly, including to re-visit the elderly housing strategy and the findings of the Task and Finish Group they undertook four years ago. Furthermore, Members highlighted the lack of fitting incentives and opportunities for young people to remain within the District. Members felt the Council could encourage more partnership working with Cumbria County Council in order to provide greater opportunities for young people.
In response to a question on housing need numbers for 2025, the Strategy Lead Specialist explained that he was unable to provide a definitive number as this was set through the Local Plan, not the Council Plan. The government approach to housing need was evolving in a way that was difficult to predict and the Council were watching this very closely.
Members praised the presentation and suggested that the pandemic had sharpened the focus of the Plan in a positive way. Members raised the point that high value jobs should be of great importance in the context of the District’s reliance on the uncertain visitor and hospitality sector. The ageing population should be viewed positively, as Members highlighted that elderly people could still play an important role and emphasised the sensitivity of this point, and explained that the elderly should not be considered redundant. Members’ also highlighted the contribution of the elderly to the voluntary sector, specifically in relation first responders and mountain rescue. The Lead Specialist stated that there should be an encouragement for people to work for longer, if they wish to do so.
The Lead Specialist also clarified within the Draft Plan that the Council aimed to be carbon neutral by 2037, not 2038, an error within the report. Members commented on the changing population following Brexit, whereby the population of the UK had reduced by 1.25 million in light of recent changes. The Lead Specialist explained that the most recent figures the Council held for the locality were from 2018, and that t population projections post COVID-19 figures might look very different.
There was also the multi-dimensional issue of trying to encourage younger people to stay due to the combination of housing costs, quality of life offer and adequate job opportunities. The Lead Specialist listed various initiatives aimed at addressing these problems.
Members questioned - whether the Council plan was based on the assumption that a Bay Unitary Authority would happen. The Chief Executive of the Council reassured Members that prior to all of the work the Council had done on Local Government Reform, works were already underway on a growth deal for the Bay. He explained that there was already a clear perspective, and decisions had already been made on what critical areas required improvement across the Bay area.
The Lead Specialist clarified that this Plan was not predicated on a Bay authority. The Bay Area was a functional economic area with a great deal of interdependencies and no matter how the Local Government Reform played out, the Council would continue to work with Barrow, Lancaster and Cumbria. Any new Bay Authority would require a new set of strategic documents and policy framework
Further discussions were in relation to the accessibility of broadband, which transcended all four priorities. Members stated this was vital, and connected to everything. Moreover, broadband was fundamental in the success of the Customer Connect programme working efficiently during the ongoing pandemic. Some Members emphasised that in rural areas, broadband and mobile phone coverage remained poor due to topography. The Lead Specialist was fully cognisant of such broadband issues; however, many problem areas were located within the Lake District National Park Authority and not covered by SLDC’s local planning and infrastructure planning power.,
It was stated during the debate, that in order to encourage young people to live and work in the District, there was a clear need for more investment in apprenticeships, and to encourage local businesses to employ young people. There was also a need for affordable housing and sufficient transport links. The Lead Specialist suggested that within the combined Bay area laid great potential, and that thought had already been given to how the Council could think on a wider level and this was indeed on the Council’s radar.
The ‘green agenda’ was also greatly deliberated by Members in relation to the Government’s Green Homes Grant, which had not worked as efficiently as expected both nationally and locally due to a shortage of approved tradespeople to carry out the work.. Questions were asked about how this could be improved. There was an opportunity for the Council to lobby government in order to make the greener homes grant more effective.
The Deputy Leader and Housing, and Innovation Portfolio Holder was aware of these issues in relation to this particular grant, both at district level and across Cumbria. He explained that issues were faced due to contractors not wishing to participate in the scheme. This was due to the historic failings of previous government grants, and that it would take time and energy to roll out appropriate training.
There was a discussion about mature peoples’ housing needs, It was suggested that this area should be looked at on a strategic basis. Members discussed the changing economic paradigm and the unprecedented changes in relation to planning development. The Council should be alive to those changes in the implementation of the Council plan. Assurances were sought that the Council would be robust enough to insist on high quality development in light of government changes to the planning system. The Strategy Lead Specialist recognised the need for extra care housing; this would be given consideration in the next local plan. He also echoed the concern about permitted development and stated the key strength of town centres was their many differences and diverse characteristics.
Final discussions centred on the reduction of second homes and government lobbying. This was a very difficult problem as nothing could be done about existing second homes, but in areas of very high concentrations of second homes (primarily the National Parks) new homes could be subject to local occupancy, The National Parks are responsible for planning policy within their area.
RESOLVED – That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee:-
1) note the Draft updated Council Plan 2021-2026, and, subject to comments made; and
2) recommend that Cabinet and Council adopt the updated Council Plan 2021-26 as part of the Council’s Policy Framework.