Venue: via video conference
Webcast: View the webcast
Apologies for absence were received from Councillor Hugh Irving.
Councillor Melvyn Mile, one of the signatories to the call-in request, had also tendered his apologies due to a prior appointment as had Councillor Tony Thomas, Lead Member for Housing and Communities.
Representatives from Natural Resources Wales (NRW), Dŵr Cymru/Welsh Water and Waterco had also tendered their apologies for not being in attendance for business item 6, ‘Flood Risk Management and Riparian Land Ownership Task and Finish Group’, this was due to prior arranged engagements.
Members to declare any personal or prejudicial interests in any business identified to be considered at this meeting.
No declarations of interest were raised.
Councillor Meirick Lloyd Davies was advised that assisting a resident in relation to flooding matters in his capacity as the ward member did not constitute a matter which needed to be declared as a personal interest for business item 6.
URGENT MATTERS AS AGREED BY THE CHAIR
Notice of items which, in the opinion of the Chair, should be considered at the meeting as a matter of urgency pursuant to Section 100B(4) of the Local Government Act 1972.
No urgent matters had been raised with the Chair prior to the meeting.
To receive the minutes of the Communities Scrutiny Committee held on 20 January 2022 (copy attached).
The minutes of the Communities Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 20 January 2022 were submitted. It was:
Resolved: that the minutes of the meeting held on 20 January 2022 be received and approved as a correct and true record of proceedings.
No matters were raised in relation to the contents of the minutes.
REVIEW OF CABINET DECISION RELATING TO THE PROPOSES SCHEME OF DELEGATED DECISION MAKING FOR LAND ACQUISITION (FREEHOLD AND LEASEHOLD) FOR CARBON SEQUESTRATION AND ECOLOGICAL IMPROVEMENT PURPOSES PDF 206 KB
To consider a report by the Scrutiny Co-ordinator to review Cabinet decision (copy attached).
10.10 a.m. – 11.00 a.m.
Prior to the commencement of this business item Councillor Huw Williams vacated the Chair as he was one of the signatories to the call-in request and was therefore required to take part in the discussion. The Vice-Chair, Councillor Graham Timms, took the Chair for this item of business.
The Vice-Chair informed the Committee that a notice of a ‘call-in’ had been submitted by 6 non-Cabinet councillors in accordance with the Council’s Constitution. The notice called for a review by one of the Council’s Scrutiny Committees of a decision taken by Cabinet on 15th February 2022 in relation to a proposed scheme of delegated decision making for land acquisition for environmental and ecological purposes. He proceeded to explain that the Cabinet decision had been published on the 17th February 2022. The ‘call-in’ procedure allowed non-Cabinet councillors 5 working days in which to submit a notice of ‘call-in’ to request that Scrutiny review the decision. Once invoked the decision-maker was not permitted to implement the decision until such time as Scrutiny had reviewed it and reported back to the decision-maker on the conclusions of that review. Scrutiny was expected to hold a meeting to review the decision within 5 working days of the valid ‘notice of call-in’ being received. However, as there was no immediate urgency for this decision to be implemented the decision-maker, Cabinet, had agreed that the Scrutiny review could be deferred until the next available Scrutiny Committee meeting, which was the current meeting. Councillor Merfyn Parry submitted a notice of ‘call-in’ electronically on 23 February. The request was supported (via individual e-mails) by five other non-Cabinet councillors, namely Councillors David G Williams, Melvyn Mile, Huw O Williams Rhys Thomas and Peter Evans, all of whom had been invited to attend the Committee meeting to outline their reasons for supporting the call-in request.
The Scrutiny Co-ordinator, Rhian Evans, introduced the report and appendices (previously circulated) which explained the background to decision taken by Cabinet and the grounds on which it had been called-in to Scrutiny for review. She then proceeded to detail the procedure that would be followed at the meeting for consideration of the decision called-in for review.
Councillor Merfyn Parry, as the lead signatory for the call-in, was invited to introduce the reasons why the signatories were seeking a review of the decision. In his address he advised that they had concerns that the Council would, if the decision was confirmed, be in a position to ‘land grab’ at auction potentially out bidding any local farmers or landowners. Whilst, they understood that the Council would not be interested in purchasing prime agricultural land, they did however feel that decisions to purchase land for carbon sequestration and ecological improvement purposes needed to be discussed with the local Member(s) and the local Member Area Groups (MAGs) pre-bidding, as it was important for the Authority to understand local knowledge and need prior to bidding for a parcel of land.
The Lead Member for Waste, Transport and the Environment, Councillor Brian Jones, was then invited summarise the discussion and decision taken at Cabinet on 15 February 2022. He outlined the consultation which had taken place to date and confirmed that there were no plans to purchase Grade 1 agricultural land for carbon sequestration and ecological improvement purposes.
Councillor Julian Thompson-Hill, Lead Member for Finance, Performance and Strategic Assets confirmed that the purpose of the proposed delegated decision-making process for this particular purpose was to make a small change to the current scheme to enable the Council to act quicker in future. He assured the Committee that local members would automatically ... view the full minutes text for item 5.
To consider a report by the Democratic Services Officer, to update the Scrutiny Committee on activities of the Task and Finish Group (copy attached).
11.10 a.m. – 11.40 a.m.
The Committee Chair, in his capacity as the Chair of the Flood Risk Management and Riparian Land Ownership Task and Finish Group, introduced the report (previously circulated) which updated the Committee on the Task and Finish Group’s activities. Attached to the covering report was the Task and Finish Group’s final report, which detailed its findings and recommendations, and which sought the Committee’s approval for those recommendations.
At this juncture, Councillor Huw Williams (Chair) thanked all internal and external members of the Group for their diligent work. He also thanked Karen Evans, Democratic Services Officer, for the work she had done and for the excellent report which had drafted on the Group’s behalf.
The Chair outlined the background to the Task and Finish Group’s establishment by the Committee, which was primarily to examine methods to further strengthen interaction and working relationships between public flood management authorities and riparian landowners. He advised that all Group members had learnt a considerable amount about each other’s roles, responsibilities and work practices during the course of the Group’s work. As a result, all agreed that working relationships and mutual trust had been strengthened through the existence of the Group. The Group had also answered a number of myths in relation to responsibilities and permissions sought for river and riverbank maintenance work, such as the actual number of applications received for Flood Risk Activity Permits (FRAPs) from landowners, riparian land ownership responsibilities within the Rhyl Cut and Prestatyn Gutter catchment area etc., all of which were documented within the report. The Group’s work had also highlighted the wide range of information available on each flood risk authority’s website for the public, including an extremely useful frequently asked questions section on the Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water’s website. As a result, one of the Task and Finish Group’s recommendations was that, for ease of access to the public, the Council’s own Local Flood Risk Management Strategy page should be relaunched and should include links to Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water’s relevant webpages. The new page should also include information on the responsibilities of Flood Risk Management Authorities and those of riparian land owners.
Responding to members’ questions the Chair, Task and Finish Group members and officers advised that:
· all stakeholder’s understanding of each other responsibilities and their working relationships with each other had improved during the course of the Task and Finish Group’s work.
· the recommendation to work in partnership to produce and deliver a generic information leaflet on the roles and responsibilities of flood risk authorities and householders along the Rhyl Cut and Prestatyn Gutter was due to the complexities involved with multiple ‘riparian landownership’ in a densely populated area and a wide misconception that NRW was responsible for private boundaries abutting the watercourses. Similar exercises were not deemed necessary in other areas of the county where larger landowners were familiar with their responsibilities;
· the local authority had powers conferred on it under the Land Drainage Act to intervene in certain instances. However, whilst it had the powers to intervene it was not duty bound to do so;
· riparian land owners had certain responsibilities in relation to not blocking watercourses etc. and there were recourses for action with regards to cutting off natural water supplies through common law; and
· new developments were required to be serviced by separate surface and foul water drainage systems, this was not the case for older residential developments where both surface and foul water were eventually channelled into the same sewer system;
· circulating the report to all city, town and community councils would help in communicating ... view the full minutes text for item 6.
To consider a report by the Head of Planning, Public Protection and Countryside Services and the Planning Compliance Officer to provide information regarding the Planning Compliance Charter’s effectiveness (copy attached).
11.40 a.m. – 12.15 p.m.
The Lead Member for Planning, Public Protection and Safer Communities introduced the report and appendices (previously circulated), the purpose of which was to seek the Committee to review the Planning Compliance Charter’s effectiveness to date. It also sought members’ support for proposed amendments to its contents and/or to increase the resources available for planning compliance work across the county.
Prior to inviting questions, the Planning and Compliance Officer drew members’ attention to the proposed amendments to the Charter, as highlighted in Appendix 1 to the report.
Members commented on how useful the Charter had been to them in dealing with residents’ planning compliance queries and the prioritisation process for dealing with such complaints.
In response to members’ questions on the Charter and the proposed amendments, the Lead Member and officers advised:
· that whilst the Service continued to deal with a backlog of planning compliance queries, which in the main had been instigated during the first COVID-19 lockdown period, the workload was reducing in terms of caseloads. The appointment of a second Planning and Compliance Officer in August 2021 had helped ease the pressure.
· some cases were historic and extremely complex and would therefore require some considerable time and resources to resolve;
· that circumstances when the Council could divulge the names of complainants etc. were clearly set in regulations e.g. General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) etc. However, they did not prohibit the Council from informing councillors or city, town or community councils (CTCC) that they were investigating alleged breaches. We are currently exploring how, using available software, we can keep local members and CTCC’s regularly informed on planning breaches within their areas;
· that regular meetings were held with local members when concerns were raised about unauthorised development issues in open countryside and woodlands;
· that a lot of enquiries were directed to the pre-planning application process for relevant advice on when planning permission was required;
· that the Charter had to work on two different fronts, signposting residents to the types of developments which required or did not require planning permission, whilst also drawing the attention of contraveners to the potential consequences of developing unauthorised dwellings or non-compliance with conditions stipulated as part of the granting of planning permission;
· there was a risk that, individuals who had not sought planning compliance advice and developed or refurbished their property without the necessary consents, could fall foul of the system at a later stage if they attempted to sell their property and the property searches process alerted prospective buyers to non-compliance issues;
· people’s expectations regarding the enforcement and ultimate remedying of non-compliance matters needed to be managed appropriately;
· the revised Charter made provisions for alleged breaches that were approaching immunity from enforcement actions due to the passage of time to be treated as ‘high priority’ cases;
· that the prioritisation process was aimed at dealing in a pragmatic way with potential breaches. Officers illustrated examples of how this would be done;
· that the Council did operate a ‘bring-up system’ which did flag-up cases with time-limited conditions on them and alerted officers to check that residents/applicants were continuing to conform with the conditions granted for those properties before the expiration date;
· that Planning Compliance training was being prepared for the new Council; and
· that councillors were advised to act as fact-finders rather than mediators in planning disputes between neighbours in their wards. It was advisable for them to signpost individuals to the Council’s Planning Compliance Service for technical advice on planning and development matters.
Members emphasised the importance of having a clearly worded document that was easily accessible on the Council’s website, to enable them to signpost ... view the full minutes text for item 7.
To consider a report by the Scrutiny Coordinator (copy enclosed) seeking a review of the committee’s forward work programme and updating members on relevant issues.
12.15 p.m. – 12.30 p.m.
The Scrutiny Coordinator introduced the report and appendices (previously circulated) seeking members to review the Committee’s work programme in preparation for its transfer to its successor Committee post the local authority elections in May 2022. It would then be a decision for the new Committee on whether it wished to proceed with the items already listed.
Members were advised that the report on the ‘Mistreatment of Dogs’ which was originally scheduled for presentation at the current meeting had, due to Public Protection Service staff still being deployed on Test, Track and Protect (TTP) duties, been rescheduled for presentation until the autumn of 2022. Nevertheless, in order to provide reassurance to members on this matter an information report had been prepared and circulated as part of the Information Brief document ahead of the current meeting.
As part of its regular review of scrutiny committees’ forward work programmes the Scrutiny Chairs and Vice-Chairs Group (SCVCG) had rescheduled some items on each of the committees’ forward work programmes in order to avoid discussion of controversial items in the lead-up to the pre-election period. These were illustrated on Appendix 1.
The follow-up report requested during the discussion on the Flood Risk Management and Riparian Landownership Task and Finish item on the current business agenda would be included on the Committee’s forward work programme for the spring of 2023.
Members were advised that they could continue to submit topics for consideration by Scrutiny on the form at Appendix 2. Unless the topics were of an urgent nature, the SCVCG would consider the requests following the local authority elections.
The Cabinet’s forward work programme (Appendix 3) and the table illustrating progress to date with the recommendations made by Committee’s at its last meeting (Appendix 4) were provided for information purposes.
Work was now underway to prepare for the production of an information report on a ‘Community Impact Assessment on the communities of Rhewl and Llanynys’ following the closure of the local school. The report should be available during the summer.
Resolved: subject to the inclusion of the item agreed during the course of the meeting, to confirm the Committee’s draft forward work programme for presentation to the new Committee post the local authority elections in May 2022.
FEEDBACK FROM COMMITTEE REPRESENTATIVES
To receive any updates from Committee representatives on various Council Boards and Groups.
(12.30 p.m. – 12.40 p.m.)
Prior to bringing the meeting to a close the Chair extended his sincerest gratitude to the Vice-Chair for all his support, to Committee members for their diligent and constructive work on the Committee, and to the staff for all the support they had provided during the current Council term. He conveyed his good wishes to all for the future.
Meeting concluded at 12.55pm