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Agenda item

Report from the Cabinet

Minutes:

The Leader of the Council provided the Council with an update of business discussed by Cabinet on 15 January and 12 February 2020 (for copy see file of Minutes).

 

Councillor M Wilkes asked the following question on Item 13 of the Cabinet report:

 

Durham County Council spends hundreds of millions of pounds every single year.  The amount being proposed to be invested to tackle climate change is completely insufficient.  The absolute latest date that we should be aiming for carbon zero is 2030 and many people believe we should be aiming for an earlier date than that and even aiming as a public authority for a carbon Negative status.  So whilst welcoming the investments proposed will the Cabinet member commit today to massively increasing this investment in the coming year should funding become available from government, and reconsider how much we are investing from council funding to make sure that we hit the 2030 target to become carbon neutral or better.

 

Councillor C Marshall, Portfolio Holder for Economic Regeneration thanked Councillor Wilkes for his question and provided the following response:

 

Councillor Marshall differed with Councillor Wilkes assertion that the Council’s investment in climate change was completely insufficient.  The budget report identified an extra £3m over the next two years.  This was in addition to budgets already in place which took the council’s investment to nearly £13.5 million over the same period and saw overall investment in the county to over £50 million.

 

The council’s Emergency Response Plan unlocked hundreds of millions in support of climate change.  All Council staff now had responsibilities to play their part, all of the Council’s new buildings would be built to high carbon reduction standards, many schools and older buildings had programmes for energy efficiency, streetlights were being fitted with LEDs, the Council’s fleet was being replaced with lower emitting vehicles, and the Council was supporting more businesses to reduce their carbon footprint than ever before.  This was a massive programme of investment.

 

But this was not all about investment, the Council was making sure that climate change awareness was built into the DNA of how the Council operated.

 

Resources were indeed important, especially considering the pace and scale of change that was needed.  This was why the Council’s Emergency Action Plan had a whole section on the asks of Government to provide substantially more resources across the domestic, industry and transport sector, and Councillor Marshall was sure Councillor Wilkes would join with him in endorsing this approach.

 

As explained clearly in the Council’s Emergency Response Plan, the newly raised council target of 80% reductions in carbon by 2030 did not, and never had, counted carbon offsetting by tree planting or other activities.  The Council had a substantial programme underway, involving 358,000 trees with community organisations and Area Action Partnerships.  These activities and more like them over the next decade, when added to the genuine carbon reductions of 80%, would put the Council close to, and may even exceed the ambition of net zero by 2030.

 

 

Councillor A Hopgood asked the following question on Item 2 of the Cabinet report:

 

Whilst I support the significant commitment being made to leisure services within the county I would like to ask the following when will local members be briefed and consulted about the changes to leisure facilities within their ward, when will the public consultation begin around the changes, and what is the timescale for implementation of the plan and in which order will each site be actioned?

 

Councillor C Marshall, Portfolio Holder for Economic Regeneration thanked Councillor Hopgood for her question and provided the following response:

 

Councillor Marshall was delighted with Cabinet’s decision to support the investment in existing leisure centres which would provide significant benefits to large parts of County Durham.  These facilities were important assets within local communities and required investment to maximise the offer they provided to residents.

 

All investment proposed would be considered on a site by site basis and engagement would take place with partners, users and local members through the AAPs.  The timeline for the refurbishments was still to be fully determined but engagement with all AAPs and the wider community would take place from April onwards.

 

The three proposed new builds required advanced feasibility work to be undertaken which would include a full public consultation, including with AAPs.  It was proposed to take a further report to Cabinet later this summer.

 

Councillor Stoker asked the following question on Item 1 of the Cabinet report:

 

The County Council has previously used small scale selective licensing of privately rented housing.  At the same time, the Council has invested heavily in that local housing stock.  Why should we believe that if the Council puts selective licensing in place, across two thirds of the County, without that kind of investment in the properties (in fact removing £16 million from the property owners through the licensing charge), will it achieve anything like the same results?

 

Councillor K Shaw, Portfolio Holder for Strategic Housing and Assets thanked Councillor Stoker for his question and provided the following response:

 

The Council was currently consulting on this scheme, with the consultation closing on 27 April, and Councillor Shaw explained why selective licencing was essential for County Durham.  It was another important tool to resolve the significant blight that was occurring in an increasing number of communities.

 

Councillor Shaw commended a number of landlords in the county who were rightly proud of the service they provided to their tenants, unfortunately they were becoming increasingly rare with a large number of absentee landlords or properties owners who had not invested in their property and who did not care who they rented to.  In some cases the result was that neighbours felt they had no option other than to move rather than put up with the continued and growing problems that poor landlords created.

 

The Council had, up until this point, used existing powers and in part small scale licencing which had been effective up to a point, but with now well over 50,000 properties in Durham and complaints from both tenants and communities increasing year on year, the time was right to tackle the causes of the problem rather than dealing with the outcome.

 

In terms of success the Council had seen the results of its small scale licencing in reducing anti-social behaviour, removing unsafe and unfit properties from the market, protecting vulnerable tenants and assisting good landlords in ensuring they were better informed going forward.  The Council had also spoken to other councils such as Liverpool, Newham and Scarborough who had consistently identified significant benefits in going down this wider selective licensing route.

 

In terms of finance Councillor Shaw assured Councillor Stoker that this would be an additional element to the Council’s strategy and the Council would continue investing in communities as before at the same time lobbying government for additional resources.  In terms of the costs to landlords and their ability to continue to invest in their property, the costs would be no more than £500 over 5 years equating to less than £2 a week, not quite the cost of a cup of coffee.

 

In conclusion Councillor Shaw believed this to be the most important tool at the council’s disposal in protecting communities and tenants.

 

Councillor Shaw understood the concerns of landlords and would be carefully listening and working with them through the consultation process, but he had no doubts that if approved this would have significant benefits to many communities and residents.

Supporting documents:

 

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