Liberal Democrat Questions to Council 29/09/16

COUNCIL MEETING ON: 29 September 2016

Making use of vacant land

QUESTION FROM COUNCILLOR Evans –

TO:   COUNCILLOR B. Collins

 You will be aware of my interest in land use and housing development to meet our commitment to increased provision whilst wishing to minimise the impact on our precious green spaces.

In this context I note with interest that Birmingham City Council intend to use compulsory purchase powers to acquire vacant land from owners who refuse to develop it. In addition, owners who land-bank vacant sites will be first encouraged to develop them and those who refuse will be treated similarly. It is also intended that empty homes may be targeted in this way.

How much vacant land and how many empty properties are there in Calderdale that could, or should, contribute to the additional provision needed and have you any plans to adopt an approach similar to Birmingham’s?

Response

Vacant land is not specifically defined in the question; however, there is currently planning permission to build 875 dwellings on previously developed land, and 1800 properties are currently vacant for more than 6 months in Calderdale. Within the sites currently being considered through the Local Plan process, there is capacity to build 1,735 dwellings on 59.03ha of previously developed land (This figure excludes sites that have been filtered due to their unsuitability (due to flooding or ecology for example).

Assumptions are made in the calculations of housing supply about the implementation of these planning permissions; bringing empty properties back into use; and for “windfall” development on small sites (those under 0.25ha), many of which will be brownfield sites.  These are all taken into account in the process of determining how much land needs to be allocated for development in order to meet our full objectively assessed needs.

In determining the final allocations previously developed land will be prioritised in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework, subject to an overall view being taken on the site’s sustainability and deliverability.

Compulsory Purchase is a last resort and must be underpinned by a compelling case in the public interest. In view of this, and a lack of evidence that house builders are banking significant amounts of deliverable previously developed land in Calderdale, it is not considered that there is a compelling case to follow Birmingham’s lead on CPOs at the current time.

 

Greetland Junction Station Viability 

QUESTION FROM COUNCILLOR Mrs Greenwood

TO:   COUNCILLOR B. Collins

 Bearing in mind that the site of the former Greetland Junction rail passenger station already possesses easy access from Stainland Road; is on a flat site with ample space for park and ride facilities; is on the main Halifax-Elland bus route, with buses every few minutes, and that, in the relatively near future the site will be even better served by the proposed new link road with the A629 and roundabout in close proximity, and could provide easier access to the (possibly reconfigured) Calderdale Royal Hospital from the Brighouse area and/or the Calder Valley townships, will the portfolio-holder press for a feasibility study to be carried out into the construction of a passenger rail station on this site to encourage less road use and improve air quality by the reduction of traffic fumes?

Response

WYCA undertook a New Station study in 2014 which looked at over 60 potential new stations in WY including Greetland. They looked at commercial viability, constructibility and deliverability. The stations were then scored. Greetland station was not considered commercially viable when compared to other locations in WY – which were prioritised.

The New Station study is available by contacting [email protected]

Enforcement of car dealing businesses from private residence

QUESTION FROM COUNCILLOR Baker

TO:   COUNCILLOR Sutherland

 I am increasingly receiving complaints from residents that second hand car dealing and repair businesses are being run from private residential addresses in Halifax. This activity causes problems to neighbours in terms of disturbance and parking spaces being used up. Every time I have reported this issue the investigations seem to take forever and no action ever seems to arise from it. Can you tell me what the Council is doing to tackle this issue?

Response

Planning legislation is complex and establishing whether a breach of planning control has occurred is not always straightforward. Establishing whether or not an activity/operation constitutes a material change of use in planning terms can be difficult. Uses can come and go/increase in frequency;  it is necessary to ascertain whether this is a business or hobby activity.  The type of information required is the frequency the activity happens, dates and time etc. The site needs to be monitored for a period of time to establish whether how the alleged business is running and operating and its impact on the amenity of the area.

Repairing cars  from home would not necessarily require planning permission if it is low scale. The key test is whether the overall character of the house has materially changed as a result of the activity. Some of the key considerations are outlined below:

  1. a) Is the home still used mainly as a private residence?
  2. b) Does the activity result in a marked rise in traffic movements, or do visitors or customers need to attend the house in connection with activity?
  3. c) Do employees to come to the property?
  4. d) Does the business generate any noise or smells?
  5. e) Is there activity during antisocial hours?
  6. f) Does the activity affect the external appearance of the property?
  7. g) What activities are usually acceptable in a residential property?
  8. h) Are there any advertisements at the property?

The Council must be sure of its grounds before considering formal enforcement action. There must be clear evidence that a breach of planning control has occurred, that the development would not be acceptable in planning policy terms and further more that it is causing demonstrable harm. It must also be in the public interest to take action. If all of these steps are not satisfied then there would be a risk to the Council of having costs awarded against it in the service of an Enforcement Notice.

Financial reporting within Coucnil

QUESTION FROM COUNCILLOR Bellenger

TO:   COUNCILLOR T. Swift

 The Leader may be aware that concerns were raised at the Use of Resources Scrutiny Panel meeting on the 24 August 2016 regarding the sometimes large differences between the third quarter revenue monitoring report forecasts and the actual outturn figures achieved only three months later.

There also appear to be discrepancies between financial reports submitted by the same directorate to different Scrutiny Panels.

Bearing these points in mind, would the Leader accept that there is a need for improvements in both the financial monitoring processes of this Council, and in the way these are reported to members?

If so, would the Leader outline what actions he intends to take on these matters?

Reply from Councillor Tim Swift

The overall outturn position for the Council last year on service controlled revenue expenditure was an underspend of £474k compared with a forecast overspend of £920k in the final monitoring report to Cabinet that year. The final monitor is carried out as at the end of November to meet the committee reporting timetable and to allow sufficient time for corrective management action should it be needed.  This can lead to changes by the time we get to the   outturn position, especially in demand-led budgets such as in Children’s Social Care or budgets which are heavily dependent upon winter demand (like building energy costs and Winter Maintenance last year).

Although this represents a movement of nearly £1.4m between the two reports it is actually less than 1% of the overall gross expenditure of the Council. It was also pleasing to see that directorates managed within their agreed budget plans despite a number of budget pressures and challenging savings targets.

This is not to say that improvements cannot be made in the monitoring processes and I will ask the Head of Finance to examine these differences and review whether any changes should be made to those processes.

I am informed that some changes were made to the monitoring reports to the Scrutiny Panels last year as a result of discussion with Members of the Panels and in order to improve transparency and consistency. The intention was that the reports to different Scrutiny Panels would include the same core information but continue to allow individual Panels some discretion about additional information which they believe might help their Scrutiny role. For example, the reports to the Children & Young People’s Scrutiny Panel include regular information about the number and cost of different types of placements for Looked After Children.

The Head of Finance is however planning to undertake further development sessions with Scrutiny Members later this year and I will ask him to ensure that these sessions include discussion with Members about how the presentation of financial information might be improved.

 

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