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Agenda and minutes
Venue: Remote Meeting
Contact: Ryan O'Connell 01622 602503
Note: To listen to the audio recording of this meeting, please copy this link into your browser http://services.maidstone.gov.uk/docs/Audio/PolicyandResourcesCommittee290420.mp3
The Committee and others present observed a minute’s silence as a mark of respect for all those in the Borough and surrounding area who have lost their lives due to COVID-19.
Apologies for Absence
There were no apologies for absence.
Notification of Substitute Members
There were no Substitute Members.
There were no urgent items.
Notification of Visiting Members
It was noted that Councillors Powell, J Sams and T Sams had given prior notice of their wish to speak on agenda item 12 - Council-Led Garden Community Update. However, in the event, Councillor Powell was not present when the Committee considered this report.
Councillor McLoughlin was also present to listen to the proceedings.
Disclosures by Members and Officers
There were no disclosures by Members or Officers.
Disclosures of Lobbying
It was noted that all Members had been lobbied on agenda item 12 – Council-Led Garden Community Update.
RESOLVED: That the items on the agenda be taken in public as proposed.
RESOLVED: That the Minutes of the meeting held on 12 February 2020 be approved as a correct record and signed.
Note: The Minutes will be signed as a correct record at such time that the Coronavirus social distancing restrictions are lifted.
Presentation of Petitions
There were no petitions.
Question and answer session for members of the public
There were seven questions from members of the public.
Question to the Chairman of the Committee from Mr Steve Heeley
Mr Steve Heeley asked the following question of the Chairman of the Committee:
Your Council-led Garden Community report states that three principal landowners have pulled out of your negotiations and you will be continuing with just five principal landowners. You do not currently have explicit agreement from any of these five landowners. You said to Lenham’s residents in January that your plans would not proceed if landowners were not supportive. How many supportive landowners do you consider a minimum before deeming the whole project uneconomical to proceed?
The Chairman responded to the question.
Mr Heeley did not wish to ask a supplementary question arising out of his original question or the reply.
Question to the Chairman of the Committee from Ms Kate Hammond
Ms Kate Hammond asked the following question of the Chairman of the Committee:
It is widely accepted that we will be entering recession in the coming weeks. Your Council-led Garden Community report acknowledges that you have no interested developers for your scheme and it is unlikely that any will now come forward with the housing market about to collapse. Is it appropriate for Maidstone Council to be investing half a million pounds of taxpayer’s money in a project that isn’t going to go anywhere when there are more pressing financial priorities for the Borough Council to focus on?
The Chairman responded to the question.
Ms Hammond did not wish to ask a supplementary question arising out of her original question or the reply.
Question to the Chairman of the Committee from Mr Rob Atkin MBE
Mr Rob Atkin MBE asked the following question of the Chairman of the Committee:
Garden Community report suggests a focus on sustainable transport
instead of ‘big kit infrastructure’ investment like the
motorway junction and High Speed rail station.
With 1,000 new homes already planned for Lenham in its Neighbourhood Plan plus those at Charing, Harrietsham and other surrounding villages, this report suggests that 5,000 homes in your new town could be unlocked by improvements to just one junction and provision of a local shuttle bus.
The Chairman responded to the question.
Mr Atkin did not wish to ask a supplementary question arising out of his original question or the reply.
Question to the Chairman of the Committee from Ms Sarah King
Ms Sarah King had given notice of her intention to ask the following question of the Chairman of the Committee but was not present at the meeting:
The Council’s own guidance for making a submission to the Call for Sites last year explicitly states: “It is important that the submission includes confirmation from the landowner (or the person in legal control of the site) that the site will be ... view the full minutes text for item 165.
Questions from Members to the Chairman
There were no questions from Members to the Chairman.
At the invitation of the Chairman, Mr Rob Atkin MBE of the Save Our Heath Lands Action Group addressed the meeting.
In making his statement, Mr Atkin advised the Committee that:
· The Group’s core message was that the proposed Council-led Garden Community at Heathlands was in the wrong location and should not be pursued any further.
· The Group understood the Council’s position in terms of having to build more houses and knew that the Council was trying to think more strategically in how they might be delivered through new settlements or significant urban extensions, but did not understand why Lenham Heath was being considered. The Group had asked the Council to publish its Borough-wide analysis to explain its decision making but to no avail.
· Despite being in such an unsustainable location, up to 1,000 new homes were already planned for Lenham, doubling the size of the village. The area was isolated from urban facilities and residents were reliant on the use of their cars for journeys, but the Council was pursuing a Garden Community in the middle of the countryside.
· There had been mixed reviews about Garden Communities across the country and one of the success factors of the good ones was the simplicity of land ownership. These typically involved a small number of major land owners.
· The Group did not understand why the Council was considering a site with over 130 land owners, traveller sites, an industrial estate, a quarry, nature reserves, two railway lines and a motorway. It was the most complicated site that the Group could find of all the Garden Community proposals across the country.
· The Group considered that the Officers were painting an optimistic picture in their report to the Committee. Taking transport as an example, a motorway junction was not deliverable and to rely on the A20 to accommodate the extra traffic from the development was not realistic.
· Apart from one or two principal land owners, no others appeared to be interested. The Group believed that there were significant concerns and questions to be answered about the viability of the project. Investing further taxpayers’ money in this project when there are more pressing financial priorities for the Council to address would be irresponsible.
· The Group also considered that proceeding with the project would attract legal challenges from other developers as it would be interpreted that the Council was putting its own interests and those of a small number of major land owners ahead of other proposers of sites.
To conclude, Mr Atkin urged the Committee not to pursue the project further.
After Mr Atkin had addressed the Committee on behalf of the Save Our Heath Lands Action Group, the Director of Regeneration and Place introduced his report, the purpose of which was to provide an update on the progress made on the Council-led Garden Community proposal known as Heathlands since the last report to the Committee on 18 September 2019 with specific reference to the following topics:
Environmental and Technical Surveys;
Landowner ... view the full minutes text for item 167.
The Overview and Scrutiny Officer, Biodiversity and Climate Change, introduced her report providing an update on the progress made on the preparation of an Action Plan to address climate change and biodiversity following the adoption by the Council of a motion recognising global climate and biodiversity emergencies in April 2019.
It was noted that:
· A Working Group had been established to research matters and prepare an Action Plan for consideration at this meeting of the Committee. The Working Group had prepared an initial draft but due to the reprioritisation of work to respond to COVID-19, it was now proposed to submit the Action Plan for consideration at the June meeting of the Committee. The additional time was being used productively with Officers working with the Carbon Trust to understand carbon emissions from the Council’s estate, fleet and activities; using information from the residents’ survey to inform the Action Plan; and seeking input from Heads of Service on ways to address the issues.
· The Action Plan was a living document and would be informed by further good practice as it emerged over time.
During the discussion, it was suggested and agreed that to provide more flexibility in times of uncertainty and to enable feedback to be taken into consideration, the Officers be requested to report the Action Plan back to the Committee as soon as it is practicable.
RESOLVED: That the delay in reporting the Biodiversity and Climate Change Action Plan to the Committee be noted and that the Action Plan be reported to the Committee as soon as it is practicable.
The Director of Finance and Business Improvement introduced the report of the Corporate Property Manager providing an update on the progress made in delivering the recommendations of the Property Asset Review since the last report to the Committee in January 2020. It was noted that:
· The Council was providing support and guidance to help commercial tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic. Where there were issues about the ability of tenants to pay rent the approach the Council was taking was to be sympathetic. If tenants were unable to pay, the Council was prepared to defer payments, but it was not writing off any rents at this stage.
· The Mote Park dam works were scheduled to commence in June and the programme of works would be reviewed and monitored closely in response to Government guidelines regarding COVID-19.
In response to questions, the Director of Finance and Business Improvement explained that with regard to the Archbishop’s Palace project, it might be necessary to look at other sources of funding if it is not possible to access Business Rates Retention funds.
He also undertook to ensure that the Headcorn Ward Members are informed when expressions of interest are sought for the development of land at Redhill Stables, Headcorn and consulted as the project goes forward.
RESOLVED: That the progress made on the effective use of the Council’s property assets over the last three months and in response to the Property Asset Review report be noted.
The Director of Finance and Business Improvement presented his report setting out details of proposed ongoing investment in Lockmeadow.
The Director of Finance and Business Improvement advised the Committee that:
· The Council acquired the Lockmeadow Leisure Complex in November 2019 in order to support the Strategic Plan priority to make Maidstone a Thriving Place and to provide a financial return in line with the Commercial Investment Strategy.
· When the Policy and Resources Committee originally agreed the acquisition of the long leasehold interest in the Lockmeadow Leisure Complex it was always envisaged that further investment would be required above the £19m purchase price.
· Completion of the purchase of Lockmeadow was conditional on Odeon entering into a new 15 year lease at an increased rent and a deed of works under which refurbishment works to upgrade to a “Luxe” format would be carried out within 12 months of entering into the lease, with a landlord contribution to the work.
· The refurbishment was due to commence on 23 March 2020 but had been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was understood that Odeon still wished proceed with the works as they would result in additional footfall when the cinema reopened.
· The other part of the proposed investment in Lockmeadow related to some landlord works to coincide with the Odeon’s refurbishment. Whilst the fabric of the building was in good condition, a number of things could be updated and improved to make the Complex more attractive including signage, façade details, external lighting, landscaping, access and redundant structures in the car park. It was anticipated that some of these works could be progressed during the coronavirus lockdown.
· The cost of ongoing investment at Lockmeadow was included within the Council’s Capital Programme and could be funded from borrowing subject to there being confidence that the investment would generate a return.
During the discussion on this report it was suggested that in agreeing the recommendations Members would be demonstrating their confidence in the local economy and that they are making plans for recovery following the coronavirus pandemic.
1. That delegated authority be given to the Director of Finance and Business Improvement in consultation with the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee to agree any amendments that are required to the deed of works for refurbishment of the Odeon cinema in light of the temporary postponement of these works.
2. That delegated authority be given to the Director of Finance and Business Improvement in consultation with the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee to seek planning permission for and deal with associated planning matters in relation to the landlord works described in the report of the Director of Finance and Business Improvement and to undertake a procurement process and award such contracts for delivery of the works in line with financial procedure rules and applicable public contracts regulations and principles.
3. That the Head of Mid-Kent Legal Services be authorised to negotiate and complete all necessary deeds, agreements and ... view the full minutes text for item 170.
The Director of Finance and Business Improvement presented his report updating the Committee on the Council’s financial position in the light of the coronavirus pandemic. The Director of Finance and Business Improvement advised the Committee that:
· The Council was able to set a balanced budget for 2020/21 at its meeting on 26 February 2020 on the basis of the information available at the time and the assumptions set out in the budget report. However, the position had changed completely since then due to the pandemic. There had been additional expenditure arising from, for example, the Council’s work to support vulnerable people, in particular finding accommodation for the homeless and establishing a community hub. However, the impact of reduced income was much more significant than marginal increases in expenditure.
· The overall impact in terms of expenditure pressures and income reductions was estimated to be £7.7m at the time of writing the report compared with the Council’s unallocated general fund balance of £8.4m.
· In terms of Government support, Maidstone’s allocation from the second tranche of funding was £1.7m. This was significantly less than was required to cover the Council’s expected losses. The Council would continue to lobby for additional funding.
· Recovery from the pandemic and mitigation of the losses faced by the Council would have major strategic impacts and would require a review of its strategic priorities. It was now likely that a major re-casting of the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) would be required. It was suggested that in July there would be sufficient greater clarity about the nature of the recovery from the pandemic to use the meeting currently scheduled for 21 July 2020 to consider the approach to the future development of the MTFS.
In response to questions, the Director of Finance and Business Improvement explained that:
· The Council was exposed to a reduction in Business Rates income in so far as its own share of Business Rates was concerned. This was mitigated to an extent because the Government compensates the Council for the reliefs it gives to businesses, including the 100% relief for leisure, retail and hospitality businesses, but it was still estimated on current trends that the Council was exposed to a loss of some £1.4m. It was also likely that Council Tax income would fall through a combination of lower collection rates and a transition from full Council Tax to a reduced level of Council Tax for many households. At this stage, a loss of £1.7m was estimated.
· The Council had set a minimum level of reserves of £2m. In the event, the level of reserves currently held was in excess of this. When setting the budget in February 2020, an unallocated general fund balance of £8.4m was projected as at 31 March 2020. A further £4.6m of balances were due to be earmarked for a range of purposes including the Local Plan Review, giving a total of £13m. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, it was anticipated that the outturn would be broadly in ... view the full minutes text for item 171.
The Head of Finance presented her report providing an update on the progress with regard to the agreed Business Rates Retention Pilot projects as at 31 March 2020. It was noted that:
· Income generated from Business Rates growth and retained locally as part of the Business Rates Retention (BRR) pilot in 2018/19 exceeded original expectations with the Financial Sustainability Fund (FSF) element eventually accumulating total funding of £1,130,000 (topped up to £1,316,700) compared to the £640,000 initially anticipated.
· Having originally identified 13 one-off projects to be funded from the FSF totalling £640,000 during 2018/19, the Committee subsequently identified 16 additional projects to be funded from the surplus during 2019/20. All projects were focussed on supporting the delivery of one or more of the Council’s strategic objectives, as set out in the Strategic Plan.
· Progress towards the delivery of the agreed projects had continued, with total spend of £453,169 against 2018/19 projects and £157,310 against the additional 2019/20 projects.
· Resources of £426,074 were stated by project leads to be required in order to progress the agreed projects. Given the financial position facing the Council, it was proposed that these projects be put on hold subject to any existing contractual commitments being fulfilled until the outturn for 2019/20 is considered at the June meeting of the Committee.
· Funding totalling £280,147 had been identified as no longer required due to projects which have been delivered under budget or which can no longer progress as originally envisaged. It was proposed that this amount be allocated to general balances to support the Council’s overall financial resilience in response to the challenge and uncertainty presented by the COVID-19 measures.
In response to comments, the Director of Finance and Business Improvement advised the Committee that it would be inappropriate to consider individual projects at this stage.
1. That the progress towards the delivery of the Business Rates Retention Pilot projects, as set out in Appendix 1 to the report of the Head of Finance, be noted.
2. That the proposed carry forward of £426,074, as set out in Appendix 1 to the report of the Head of Finance, be considered at the June meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee.
3. That the proposal to allocate funding of £280,147 no longer required to fund agreed projects to general balances be agreed.
Duration of Meeting
2.00 p.m. to 5.15 p.m.