Licensing Committee, and some new Policies

The Licensing Committee of Rochford Council met a couple of weeks ago to discuss new Licensing and Gambling Policies, these had to be reviewed as they had become out of date with changes in legislation and the Agenda and Draft Policies can be seen here.

The meeting discussed the new draft Licensing Policy first and I raised the Policy at paragraph 1.81 which reads

The Licensing Authority, having regard to the evidence currently available, considers that there is no particular part of the District causing a cumulative impact on any of the licensing objectives.

I raised this as I thought Rayleigh may well meet this criteria and was becoming the default place to drink with the number of drinking establishments in Rayleigh now starting to cause a real problem in the area, in other words I felt that there was a cumulative impact.

I was supported by other Councillors in this and it was decided

 That, subject to officers exploring the possibility of including a saturation policy, the draft licensing policy statement be approved for commencement of public consultation.

That was the only change to the policy and I’m pleased to say that a cumulative impact policy (saturation) is being included in the document.  This means that any new applicant within the area (Rayleigh) will have to demonstrate that the new license will not add to existing problems.

There was little change to the Gambling Policy, mainly because there is new legislation coming in which we will need to take account of therefore just a few changes were made which kept it up to date and which the Committee agreed.

Both Policies should be out for consultation from 3 August and I will keep residents advised.

The Planning meeting, with little idea of what was to come.

As reported in the previous post last nights “secretive” meeting was preceded by the normally monthly meeting.  It was fairly standard, although two items that were on the Agenda hadn’t made it to the meeting.  A summary of what happened is below.

Land between Main Road, Rectory Road and Clements Hall Way, Hawkwell
This had been referred to the Committee By Cllr Mrs Mason and was regarding a wheel cleaning facility for lorries leaving the site. The developers removed it in October and since then the roads have been muddy with loose debris from the building site. In October the Council voted to insist the facility was put back but Councillors had been advised that Officers would not enforce the condition. In the end we voted for a condition including the use of a road sweeper.

81 High Street, Rayleigh
To have extended outside seating by Greggs. This was refused; most Councillors feeling it took up too much room and being detrimental to the Conservation Area.

12A Purdeys Way Rochford
This was interesting, a Trampoline facility next door to Roller City. It was interesting because a few years ago Roller City had objections from local firms due to noise and parking, but they eventually received planning permission. One of the firms objecting has since moved (to Scotland) and that is the premises the Trampoline company want to take over. This time it was Roller City’s turn to object, which a number of Councillors found rather ironic. However after some discussions the application was passed by a large majority.

We then moved to the Extraordinary Full Council meeting which is reported elsewhere.

A Tale of Two Meetings

Last night the District Council had two meeting, the first was the normal monthly Development Control Meeting whilst the second was an Extraordinary Meeting of the Full Council which, according to the Public Agenda was

To consider the exempt report of the Director relating to a forthcoming planning appeal.

The first meeting was fairly standard with three items on it, although some of us argued that the third item was not actually mentioned on the Agenda our protests was overruled.  The three items were dealt with as discussed in the next post on this blog.

The Second meeting was much more eventful, possibly unprecedented, Certainly when I asked Cllr Chris Black if he had experienced anything like it in his 31 years as a councillor he told me “no”.

The meeting was in secret as it contained “Exempt” information, or information which should not be in the public domain due to its sensitive nature.  This can be legitimate, although I felt that much of it could have easily be held in public.

When we came to the motion to exclude the press and members of the public Cllr Cutmore seconded by Cllr Hudson put forward a motion to agree this.  The Chairman (Cllr Mrs Glynn) then tried  to read the exclusion order but was prevented by Cllr Black who wished to speak to the motion.

Cllr Black made some very good points, including the statement that perhaps only 10% of the discussion needed to be in private whist the rest could easily be held in public.  On a vote it was carried that the press and Public be excluded, Most opposition Councillors voted against this with the exception of Cllr Gibson (Lab) and Cllr Gordon (Ind).  Most opposition members also requested that their name be recorded as voting against.

At this point however, rather than leave the Public remained in the Chamber, when they refused to leave the Chairman took it upon themselves to adjourn the meeting for 20 minutes to allow the chamber to clear.  She then ordered Councillors upstairs, although the opposition (with the exception of Cllr Gibson and Cllr Gordon) remained along with one Tory.

We now expected the Chamber to be formally cleared (usually the police would attend the peaceful protest and people would then leave) however nothing happened and the 20 minutes turned into 40.  Cllr then began querying the process with officers, as the Chairman hadn’t returned to extend the meeting had it been abandoned, why weren’t officers asking people to leave etc?  Officers relayed messages up and down the stairs but no answer came back beyond the meeting would not be held until the Chamber was cleared, however with no Officer prepared to ask people to leave nothing changed.

Eventually four Officers did come down to the Chamber and explained the situation, but at that point we had to leave (this was about 10.40pm) as our child minder had to go and one of the children had been ill.  We understand that about 10 minutes after we left the Chamber had cleared (due to the Officers asking them to leave) and the meeting then commenced.  However Both myself and Cllr Mrs Hoy were unable to take part or vote because of the refusal or inability of Officers to clear the Chamber earlier.

I must emphasise that the protest was peaceful and friendly (although a couple of people did have raised voices) throughout and posed no threat, they would have moved if asked but no Officer did so for around an hour and a half, when I understand the public peacefully left the building.

As to what happened in the meeting, I do not know, and if I did know I couldn’t tell you.

Review Committee and a lack of Complaints, or, when is a complaint a Complaint.

The recent Review Committee meeting, which was held on 7 July and chaired by Conservative Councillor Dave Sperring in the absence of the actual Chairman and Conservative appointee Cllr Gibson, looked at an item suggested by last years committee, the Complaints process at the Council.

A summary of the complaints process was given by an Officer who then faced questioning by the committee members; the Portfolio Holder, who was appointed after the May elections, did not feel they were able to contribute much as they were new.

There were general questions which were around the workings of the procedure and recording of complaints.  It appears that complaints are only complaints if the complainant asks to go through the formal complaints procedure.  It is possible for someone to complain about something, such as a failure to collect a bin, or a failure to return phone calls, but it will not be called a complaint.  This explains the relatively low level of Complaints received by the Council, they do not regard certain complaints as Complaints.

In addition the Council record Compliments and Comments.  A Compliment is a decision made by an Officer with no reference to any measurable criteria so a complaint which does not give rise to a formal Complaint can lead to an Officer getting a Compliment (if they deal with it quickly and efficiently), very surreal, and possibly only something that could happen within a Council.

At the end it was decided to note the report and invite the Officer and Portfolio Holder back in six months after they have completed a Service Review.

Also we looked at the Community Safety Partnership (CSP), which is a group of Councillors, Officers and other Statutory Bodies (even the Police) who look at areas of crime and disorder which are considered a problem in Rochford.

Some funding is given for this, about £14k which is spent on commissioning groups or organisations to provide events which will hopefully get to those people causing the problems, or who will be causing the problems in a few years, and by this intervention hope that they don’t.

A project on drug and Alcohol abuse could be linked with a football course for instance, or maybe relationship training included with an aerobics class or maybe a boxing course.  This is also a method used by the Youth Strategy Group and I requested that they look at these things together and possibly pool resources to be more effective as it appears they are often looking at the same issues.

Anyway the CSP will come back to the review Committee in about three months and we will get some figures on how they have done.  We will see if joined up Government can work.

Local Higways panel and the Cyclepath to nowhere.

The Local Highways panel for Rochford met on the 25 June and included in the Agenda was a report on the cycle-path along the Hullbridge Road which came to a sudden halt in May before it had reached its planned end at Ferndale Road.

Residents (including myself) had been told by the people working on the scheme that they had been told to stop because they had run out of money.  I reported this back to Officers and the Cabinet members during a meeting in June to be told, “no we have taken the opportunity to stop the work and evaluate how much money we have spent and how much we need to finish the scheme”.  As it turns out the cost to the point where the path stopped had used up all of the budget.

It appears that the main problems were much more severe slippage of the existing footpath into the stream than realised which needed extensive piling and foundations to keep the new cycle-path.  In addition there were a number of unrecorded power cables which meant they had to do a lot of digging by hand due to the danger of the  power digger tearing up live cables.

My big issue with this (and to be fair the other Panel members also) is the complete failure of Essex Highways and Ringway Jacobs to report anything at all back to either the Panel itself or even the Chairman.  I had raised this cycle-path in the March meeting of the Panel as it was clear to me that it would not be completed on time, only to be told the officers had no information on it.  When the scheme stopped it was not reported back to the panel until I advised the Chairman of the Panel who was as angry as I have ever seen him over this farce.  This lack of communications and poor working comes from a team (Essex Highways and Ringway Jacobs) who have just won an award for partnership working!

Two member of the Panel, myself and Cllr Hudson, took the lead Officer and also the Deputy Cabinet Member Cllr Ray Howard to visit the site and they at once understood the problem and we have agreed that a full survey will be undertaken to include costs for the piling of the stream to prevent slippage into it, as the narrow path from where the original work stopped to opposite the entrance to Lubbards Farm will widened.

The outcome of the Local Highways Panel was a decision to agree to fund the continuation of the cycle-path to its end at Ferndale Road.  At present the cycle-path has stopped after only 1,014 metres but was due to extend for 1,675 metres. with the first 1,3675 metres being a new and wider path.

We do not have a date yet for when the work will start but I will keep people posted via Facebook.

Essex Fire Authority meeting

As a member of Essex County Council I am also a member of Essex Fire Authority.  Meetings for this are every quarter plus other meetings for sub-committees.

Last week the meeting was largely devoted to the Integrated Risk Management Plan Consultation Plan 2015-2020 over the future of the Fire Service.  There is an online consultation which can be completed here.

In the forward to the document it says:

“Our aim is to lead the way to a safer Essex. This is your Fire and Rescue Service and we believe we should explain what we do, work with you where we can and understand what is important to you. This year we are consulting all our stakeholders twice. First, we will consult on our standards and principles. Later we will consult on the range of ways we can provide our services.

The results of this first consultation will help us develop the options we consult on later in the year. These options could include reviewing our capacity to prevent and protect against risks, and reviewing the number and location of fire engines and fire stations which may involve moving, merging, closing or co-locating with other blue-light services to support our proposed response standards.

As you can see from the final paragraph this will include a review of Fire Stations and Fire Fighters with possible cuts being proposed to fund future budget cuts.  There can be no doubt that there are fewer fires and much of this is down to the preventative work by the Fire Service in Education and Awareness campaigns.  However there are real fears over cuts to personnel and how this could affect response time to emergencies.

Please take a few minutes to fill out the form as it is your service that will be changing based on the responses to this service.

Last Weeks Review Committee

I am aiming to write up all of the Council meetings and events I attend this year.  Last week, on the 9 June, the first Review Committee meeting of the year was held.

This meeting was under the Chairmanship of Cllr Jerry Gibson who was appointed by the ruling Conservatives, under a change of rules they pushed through preventing the appointment coming from the largest opposition Group as previously.  The Vice Chairman, also a Conservative appointee is Cllr Dave Sperring.

The first two items on the Agenda were decisions made by Cabinet members that I called in as the previous Chairman.  These were Commercial parking Charges and Housing Allocations.

The first of these, Commercial Parking Charges, may seem to be rather uncontroversial but it included the provision to charge for NHS Breast (and other) screening units which used the Council car parks.  I felt that this was both wrong and counter productive, moving charges around the public sector to cover shortfalls in funding.  On questioning the Officer and Cabinet member it also became clear that they were unsure of the numbers and there was doubt about whether figures included VAT or not and the Cabinet member did not know the period over which the examples he gave were based.  Given the misleading report (and figures) and the morality of charging for these services the decision was sent back to the Cabinet member to reconsider.

The second call in was on Housing Allocations, in other words who gets on to the housing list for Social Housing.  The Decision made by the former holder of the position (they were replaced after the election by Cllr June Lumley) reduced the list by cutting those on it waiting for one bed properties.  I said it seemed as thought the Council were reducing the numbers on the list for those properties which were in shortest supply so hardest to fufill, one bed flats and starter homes.  Again this was returned to the (new) Cabinet member to reconsider.

The remainder of the meeting concerned the plans for future reviews, unfortunately not a lot was decided and only the Treasury Management task & Finish Group was formed.  No working parties were set up and the next meeting will look at are the Rochford Community Safety Partnership and the Complaints Procedure at Rochford Council.  The more difficult, and contentious areas, of Homelessness and Rochford’s Planning Department have so far been ignored.

Finally Chairing of the meeting was very strange with the Vice Chairman leading the questioning and the Chairman following up.  In fact the Vice Chairman was quite forceful and ran the meeting to the detriment of the Chairman.