To receive questions from Members of the Council to the relevant Portfolio Holders for this Scrutiny Committee. The Portfolio Holders reporting to this Scrutiny Committee are:-
Councillor Bialyk - Leader
Councillor Sutton - Portfolio Holder for Net Zero Exeter 2030
Councillor Foale - Portfolio Holder for Transformation and Environment
Councillor Morse - Portfolio Holder for City Development
Councillor Wood - Portfolio Holder for Leisure & Physical Activity
Advance questions from Members relating to the Portfolio Holders above should be notified to the Corporate Manager Democratic and Civic Support.
In accordance with Standing Order 20, the following questions were submitted by Councillors D Moore and Jobson respectively.
Councillor Moore asked the following two questions –
1. Can the Portfolio Holder provide details of the Devon Devolution proposals that the local paper says were sent to Government by local authority leaders in Devon?
The Leader, Councillor Bialyk responded and referred to correspondence on this matter between John Hart, Leader of Devon County Council from the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick, MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Copies would be circulated to Members for information.
John Hart’s letter outlined a broad indication of Devon’s ambition for a county deal. Robert Jenrick’s reply relayed a further change of the position of Government with regard to local devolution. Councillor Bialyk said that Devon’s Leaders had already indicated their aspiration to create an economic county deal as opposed to a political county deal and a Memorandum of Understanding had been drawn up to that effect. Exeter City Council, along with the other Districts, wished to retain their political autonomy but could come together to share and benefit from funding opportunities rather than the prevailing method of local authorities effectively bidding against each other. Exeter, has been successful in a number of Government funding bids, but were now looking to establish more of a collective economic powerhouse for Devon with all of the benefits that might bring. He anticipated that a Members’ presentation would be made at the appropriate time.
Councillor Moore thanked the Leader and referred to the level of unsustainable growth, and whether addressing climate change and dealing with the Ecological Climate Emergency would be considered as a top priority as part of any economic deal, and to clarify that an Elected Mayor was not included in the economic proposals.
Councillor Bialyk stated that climate change was at the heart of everything. He hoped to make an announcement very soon on the intention to lead on this matter with other partners, as it was clear that action was needed. He also confirmed that were no plans for seeking an Elected Mayor, but rather that Devon’s District Authorities would continue in a more collective and collaborative way.
2. In May 21 the ‘Review of population estimates and projections produced by the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS)was published by the statistics regulator in response to perceived inaccuracies for household projections in cities with large student populations.
As the ONS figures inform subsequent housing needs projections, please can the portfolio holder explain?
a) If they have or will approach the ONS on this matter, and
b) What actions they intend to take to ensure the housing needs data for Exeter is accurate.
Councillor Bialyk offered a prepared response on behalf of the Portfolio Holder City Development, Councillor Morse as she was unable to attend the meeting.
a) The Council was aware of the review of the ONS population projections. Such reviews of methodology are not uncommon and are drawn to the attention of the ONS. On this basis, the Council does not intend to specifically raise this matter direct with ONS.
b) In order to ensure that future housing needs for Exeter are assessed robustly, the Council has commissioned a Local Housing Needs Assessment alongside other Local Authorities in the area. This will provide the necessary evidence to support the preparation of the Local Plan in terms of housing provision required in the city. It should be noted that this will have to apply the standard method for calculating housing needs which is prescribed by Government. This takes account of the ONS projections but also factors in other variables such as housing affordability.
Councillor Moore advised that the ONS were looking for cities to come forward for review or to look at their data, and she was aware that Coventry City Council had taken that opportunity. She asked if Exeter would consider that opportunity.
Councillor Bialyk agreed to discuss the matter with the Portfolio Holder for City Development and the officers responsible to see if it was appropriate to do that.
Councillor Jobson asked the following two questions –
3. What plans are being put in place to consult Exeter’s residents about Build to Rent to enable a policy to be put in place to assist planning decisions?.
Councillor Bialyk responded on behalf of the Portfolio Holder City Development and stated that the City Council was currently consulting on an initial ‘Issues’ consultation document for the new Exeter Local Plan. This is the first consultation for the new Local Plan and identifies a series of issues which the Local Plan should address and seeks views on them. This provides a good opportunity for the public and stakeholders to shape the content of the new Local Plan at an early stage, including in relation to housing matters such as Build to Rent accommodation. This is important because it is the policies in the new Local Plan which, when adopted, will provide the starting point for making decisions on planning applications.
Councillor Jobson referred to the Government guidelines relating to the need for a Local Housing Needs Assessment to enable evidence based planning judgment to be made for build to rent housing. She asked if the Local Plan consultation would enable that evidence based assessment to be made for what is needed.
Councillor Bialyk stated that the Housing Revenue Account building programme would offer homes for people who either could not, or did not wish to buy or who might not otherwise qualify for affordable housing. The City Council was minded to hear the views of such matters from local citizens and the Local Plan consultation would help contribute to that.
4. Have the results of the public consultation on the Exeter Civic University Agreement that closed on 14 August been analysed and if so when will they be made public and if not when can that analysis be expected.
Councillor Bialyk said that overwhelmingly, the vast majority of stakeholders consulted welcomed the development of a Civic University Agreement and are positive about its potential to build on existing activity, develop new activities to tackle the challenges that the City faces (especially as it recovers from COVID-19), and to transform the role that the University plays in civic life in Exeter and beyond. The general view is that the CUA is timely and would provide a huge opportunity to do more together for the benefit of the City. The concept has been met with an enthusiastic response tempered by realism over the difficulties of genuine civic collaboration and co-production.
A summary of the consultation response on the University agreement is available and would be circulated to all Members. The consultation had only finished in August and the University needed time to finish their work and bring forward a full report which would be made available to all.
Councillor Jobson looked forward to seeing a copy of the report.