Agenda and minutes
Homes and Environment Scrutiny Committee
Wednesday, 9th May, 2018 2.00 pm
Venue: Meeting Room 1, Guildhall
Contact: Craig Stevens Scrutiny Facilitator
Webcast: View the webcast
The Chair referred to the recent death of Councillor David Maddock’s father and Officers and Members stood in silence as a mark of their respect.
Apologies for absence
An apology for absence was submitted on behalf of Councillor M G Morris.
Declarations of personal interests, if any
Members are reminded of their responsibility, under Paragraph 11 of the Members’ Code of Conduct, to declare the existence and nature of any personal interest in respect of any of the business to be transacted at this meeting
Members were reminded of their responsibility, under paragraph 11 of the Members’ Code of Conduct, to declare any interests in relation to any of the business to be transacted at this meeting. The following declaration was made:
Agenda Item 3 – Confirmation of Minutes – Jerry O’Keefe - Personal – Chair of Audit and a serving magistrate on the North East Wales Bench. Mr O’Keefe remained in the meeting taking part in the discussion.
To sign as a correct record the Minutes of the Meeting held on 11 April 2018
(Members declarations of interest in relation to this item are set out in Minute 60 above).
AGREED – That the Minutes of the Meeting held on 11 April 2018 be signed as an accurate record.
To consider the report of the Head of Finance
The Head of Finance submitted a report (HF/53/18s) to assist the Committee in considering and agreeing its work programme.
The Scrutiny Officer introduced the report, highlighting the main points for consideration.
· ‘The Use of herbicides to manage weed growth on highways and open spaces in Wrexham’ - The report contain details of assurance in meeting the EU's Sustainable Use Directive, which states that particular attention be payed to minimising use/risks in "places such as public parks and gardens, sports and recreation grounds, school grounds and children's playgrounds, and in the close vicinity of healthcare facilities".
· Environmental Enforcement Performance - That a Task and Finish Group be established comprising the following Members:
Councillor Sonia Benbow-Jones
Councillor T Alan Edwards
Councillor Carrie Harper
Councillor R Alun Jenkins
Councillor Paul Pemberton
Councillor Graham Rogers
Councillor Rodney Skelland.
· The scope of the Task and Finish Group as attached at Appendix B to the report (HF/53/18s).
· The Task and Finish Group also consider any weaknesses in the existing system appeal process for fixed penalty notices.
· Topic Selection Forms – the TSF in respect of the ‘Environmental Budget’ as attached at Appendix C to the report (HF/53/18s) be accepted onto the work programme. In discussion the TSF in respect of‘ Plastic Free Wrecsam’ as attached at Appendix C to the report (HF/53/18s) it was agreed that the Committee consider the forthcoming Welsh Government consultation in respect of waste and recycling. Members of the committee receive details of single use plastics used by the Council and service providers.
To consider the report of the Lead Member for Place – Environment and Transport.
The Lead Member for Place – Environment and Transport submitted a report (HEP/42/18s) allowing Members to consider the draft Rights of Way Improvement Plan (ROWIP), prior to the statutory public consultation.
In introducing his report, the Lead Member referred to work that had taken place to create a new ROWIP, which had included an assessment of the condition and suitability of the public rights of way network and associated policies. He thanked Officers for the work they had carried out in preparing the draft Improvement Plan.
The Parks, Countryside and Rights of Way Manager gave a detailed presentation which included further details under the following headings:
· Access to the Countryside
· Definitive Map legal document
· New Rights of Way Improvement Plan (ROWIP)
· Review of 2007 Rights of Way Plan
· Consultation in Assessment Phase
· Wales Outdoor Recreation Survey Findings
· Issues for next ROWIP
· Next Steps
Following the presentation, the Lead Member, with input from the relevant Officers responded to Members questions accordingly. During the ensuing debate the following points were raised, in particular:
· Recognition that the ROWIP needed to be set in the context of the Council’s current period of austerity and budget reductions. It was suggested by Members that this fact should be emphasised more clearly within the plan.
· Whilst the Council would provide some support, community groups would be required to take the lead in terms of accessing potential government funding opportunities. Officers confirmed that a positive response had been received from Community Councils regarding the ROWIP during initial consultation.
· Suggestion that the Definitive Map was difficult to navigate and a request for the Ordinance Survey Map to be accessible from the Councils internet site.
· The ROWIP related to statutory duties rather than targets and the annual plan would be tailored against the resources identified..
(i) That Officers be thanked for the progress that had been made over the life of the previous Rights of Way Improvement Plan.
(ii) That a statement be added to the consultation document outlining that cuts in capital and revenue budgets would affect the delivery of the aims of the Plan.
(iii) That work be undertaken to encourage and cooperate with outside groups/bodies to progress the aims of the plan.
(iv) That the issuing of the draft Plan for public consultation be supported and that a further report be considered at the conclusion of this exercise.
(v) That the relevant action plan be considered by the Committee 2 years after the introduction of the plan.
To consider the report of the Lead Member for Place – Housing
The Lead Member for Place – Housing submitted a report (HEP/24/18s) providing Members of the Homes and Environment Scrutiny Committee with an update on the developments in relation to the Government’s Welfare Reform Programme and outlining the work that has been undertaken by the Council since the last report dated 11 October 2017 to mitigate the impact on Council housing tenants.
In introducing his report, the Lead Member referred to the main points for consideration. He further advised that at the end of February 2018 there were 605 tenants in Wrexham claiming Universal Credit (UC) and not 690 as quoted in the report (paragraph 4.17 of the report refers).
With input from the relevant Officers the Lead Member responded to Members questions accordingly thereafter. During the ensuing debate the following points were raised, in particular:
· Whilst there had been a significant increase in the number of tenants in arrears since the full service rollout of UC, this was not entirely unexpected.
· Confirmation that a number of tenants were in arrears before they claimed UC.
· Due to the anticipated increase in rent arrears an increased provision for bad debt had been made within the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) Business Plan 2018/19.
· Officers confirmed that tenant eviction was only used as a last course of action and that support packages were in place, including an alternative payment process, to help tenants manage their income. It was noted that the number of evictions had not increased since the rollout of UC.
· There was no known increase in the level of homelessness in Wrexham following UC.
· A decrease in the level of private lettings available had been noted as many landlords were reluctant to take tenants who were accessing UC.
(i) That Officers be thanked for the report and the help that they had provided to tenants affected by these changes.
(ii) That a further update on this issue be considered by the Committee in November 2018 and that the report include the following information:-
- how changes are affecting the private rented sector,
- details with regard to the proposal to remove short term accommodation from Housing Benefit,
- numbers of tenants whose arrears are over £1000 and what action was being undertaken
- impact of universal credit on tenants broken down and categorised and to include how many were in arrears prior to welfare reform.