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 Morse - Portfolio Holder City Development and Planning
Councillor Parkhouse Portfolio Holder Leisure & Physical Activity
Councillor Wood - Portfolio Holder Climate Change
Councillor Wright - Portfolio Holder Arts, Culture and Corporate Services
Advance questions from Members relating to the Portfolio Holders should be notified to the Corporate Manager Democratic and Civic Support via the firstname.lastname@example.org email.
In accordance with Standing Order No.20, the following questions were submitted by Councillors Sparling and Diana Moore in relation to the Portfolio of Councillor Wood. The questions were circulated to Members of the Committee. The responses of the Portfolio Holders are set out in italics below:-
Question from Councillor Sparling to the Portfolio Holder for Climate Change – Councillor Wood
1. Following the announcement of Investment Zones by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week, please can the leader confirm what their response to the Treasury will be and can we be assured that it will not include a request to relax planning regulations within Exeter, minimising the need for planning applications?
The Leader advised that this matter was being viewed as a matter of urgency. The Upper Tier authorities (including Devon County Council) have received a letter inviting them to work with districts and partners to bring Investment Zones forward, in addition to the 38 announced in the mini-budget. There is further information on the web at Investment Zones in England - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
At the moment there was no identified process, but Devon County Council had requested that the City Council identify any sites that could potentially be included in such a proposal. Officers were exploring how an investment zone could support the long term viability of sites including those identified as part of Liveable Exeter. He was mindful of the possible deregulation in planning and certainly did not want to surrender any powers.
Councillor Sparling asked a supplementary question regarding the opportunities for strengthening planning regulations through this investment.
The Leader advised that the Council always consulted on planning changes, but they were not always presented to Committee. The appropriate response would be made in respect of the Investment Zones.
Questions from Councillor Diana Moore to the Leader - Councillor Bialyk
1. How many planning performance agreements does the Council have in place? Of these, and in principle for any future agreements, what proportion of the costs of such agreement are/will be funded by the developer?
The City Council used Planning Performance Agreements (PPA’s) as a project management tool to agree timescales, actions and resources for handling large scale and complex planning applications. Government guidance encouraged the use of PPAs which could be particularly useful in setting out an efficient and transparent process for determining this type of planning application. The Government also encouraged joint working between applicant’s and the local planning authority in this way, which could also help to bring together other parties such as statutory consultees.
In accordance with Government guidance, the City Council would make the existence and content of these PPA’s publicly available on its website, so that the agreed process and timescales were transparent. Any PPA’s included on the website had been agreed voluntarily prior to any application being submitted, and provide a focus for pre-application discussions about the issues that would need to be addressed. In most cases the documents had been redacted to remove personal data and sensitive commercial information, including the proportion of any costs of such agreement to be funded by the applicant/developer. Currently the City Council had one live PPA relating to land at Water Lane and made between the City Council and Cildara (Exeter) Group. A redacted version would be uploaded shortly.
Councillor Moore sought further clarification on the response which had been about the principle and proportion of the contribution in general that developers make towards additional services offered by the Planning Department.
The Leader stated that commercial information including the proportion of any costs of such agreements to be funded by the application were not included. Further information would be obtained from the Director City Development.
2. What are the outputs and outcomes against which the success of secondments of two senior management team members to Exeter City Futures will be assessed?
The fundamental challenge facing all cities to get to Net Zero was clearly one of leadership, it was a goal that requires funding and resources and a range of policy issues that transcended any single organisation. An important outcome for myself as Leader was to continue the work of cross institutional collaboration. As someone who had contributed so much time working with fellow Devon leaders on various initiatives designed to secure funding from government, the Leader said he could testify to how challenging it can be to simply keep everyone on board and working together. The second ingredient of success was to get a degree of clarity about the potential to secure in the medium to longer term, the resources for supporting the Net Zero work. The Council did not have the funding and there was little confidence from Government that funding or policy would be forthcoming to support the ambition of a 2030 goal.
Exeter City Futures was attempting to build capability and willingness to pursue actions and programmes designed to achieve a net zero future in the absence of statutory requirements to do so. The two senior members of staff were working with other organisations and private sector companies to explore ways of addressing the net zero challenge in the absence of funding or other resources. However, the City Council could not make decisions in the key sectors that required the investment, whether it be transport or buildings and would require a number of parties to consent to innovation. The Leader said he would take stock at the end of the secondment of the appetite to explore opportunities.
Over the coming weeks a number of workshops would be held to explore options for transport, battery charging infrastructure, and district heating. He expected the two Directors to advocate for change, to support those businesses looking for support from the city council. He also expected them to test different approaches but equally was mindful that innovation required people to be given a supportive environment to try new things. If principal parties declined to attend events or decline to commit resources to the task, that would give him something to think about at the end of the secondment. He had asked the staff to work with the College on green construction and to support collaboration in pursuance of a pipeline of retrofit work. This work contrasted with the work on the Council’s own housing stock where the funding and resources were provided by the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) and where no additional levers were required. At the end of this period, the Leader said he would take a view on whether a community interest company (CIC) as a vehicle to support collaboration was sufficient for the task.
There were specific targets associated with programmes such as the Change Makers programme and the City Fund, but more broadly he thought it was appropriate to remind Members that we are attempting to do what no other city had done, and the Council had very modest resources to deploy to the task.
Councillor Moore asked a supplementary question about the Director roles which had been focusing on the Exeter Development Fund and the Liveable Exeter sites, and sought clarity on the proportion of their time focused on achieving Net Zero.
The Leader was aware that the Directors’ contribution far exceeded the usual working week. He did expect them to deliver the various projects that the Council wanted to do and referred to the commitment already made by them. Already this week he had attended an event with them, organised by Exeter City Futures for businesses from around the city. He said those businesses were inspired by what the Council were trying to do and were very supportive. He referred to the determination of this Council to work towards achieving Net Zero 2030 with those partners in Exeter.
3. What is the cost to the Council of these secondments? How much is Exeter City Futures contributing to the costs of these secondments? Have any council budgets been associated with these ECF seconded roles and how much are these?
Council had approved up to two days of the Chief Executive & Growth Director and up to three days of another Directors’ time. The maximum cost of the secondments would be £112,000 for 12 months. However in practice the two Directors did not work on a fixed number of hours in support of the work of Exeter City Futures. The work flowed across the week and the Directors worked to ensure the business of the City Council was maintained. The nature of the work of the Directors was that they did not work standard hours, but work consistently well beyond their contracted hours as the work necessitates. Exeter City Futures was not contributing to these secondments, the time of the officers was Exeter City Council’s contribution in what was undertaken. The budget for this work was agreed by Council last year and there was no work that was not being done as a consequence of their secondment.