There will be a maximum of 15 minutes dedicated to consideration of Questions on Notice. There will be no supplementary questions.
The Chairman advised that 2 questions were scheduled for consideration at the meeting. There would be no subsidiary questions.
Question submitted by Councillor K. Van Der Plank
“On 20th March a new ‘Welcome Back Fund’ was announced by Government to help boost the look and feel of high streets and prepare for the safe return of shoppers. I see from the government website that Bromsgrove have been allocated £88,668. Please can the leader tell me how this fund is going to be used and how we are going to make sure it reaches all of our high streets – especially those on the outskirts of our district, not just the main Bromsgrove town centre.”
The Leader responded by explaining that, due to the length of the response, a written answer would be provided to the question after the meeting. Members were also advised that the answer to the question would be recorded in the minutes of the meeting, as detailed below:
“The Welcome Back Fund (WBF) was an extension and re-brand of the Reopening High Streets Safely Fund (RHSSF). The fund would be active until March 2022 and the scope had been widened which would make it more straightforward to allocate funds for different activities and initiatives. The fund had also been doubled which meant that Bromsgrove District Council had been allocated £176,000.
The fund was being managed in Bromsgrove primarily by the Bromsgrove Centres Manager who had reached out to the Parish Councils in Bromsgrove Centres and would engage fully with them to develop a WBF Activity Plan to March 2022, including activities planned for Christmas 2021. The following were initial activities taking place or planned to take place whilst the WBF Activity Form was being finalised and agreed with colleagues and partners locally and then with the WBF Manager at the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
· ‘Welcome Back’ banners were being installed spanning Bromsgrove High Street – these were designed by the communications team and the designs could be rolled out in many different forms. The intention was to utilise this branding in the other local centres as soon as possible.
· A digital van drove around all the local centres on Saturday 24th April. The van showed various ‘welcome back’ slides alongside Bromsgrove District Council and Government messaging. This would happen again at several other dates over the following months.
· ‘Welcome Back to BirdBox’ / ‘Perch safely’ signs were installed at the BirdBox in early May. The BirdBox would be a key site for welcome back events over the forthcoming summer months.
o The first Welcome back event would take place in the form of a ‘soft’ re-launch of BirdBox on 21st and 22nd May and the WBF would be used to pay for the event and the low key activities.
· Welcome Back Events combined with Street Theatre events were usually arranged via the Council’s events team. This would happen in Bromsgrove and Rubery, with the potential to be explored further for some other local centres.
· The beautification of the town centre and local centres (subject to clarification regarding eligibility from the WBF Manager at MHCLG).
· Commission / procure artists to produce communications and activities with a welcome back message as well as Covid-19 safety measures.
o A local street artist from Bromsgrove (who worked in Catshill) would transform the hoarding at the BirdBox over the May Bank Holiday weekend. This had been kept under the radar on purpose to create a ‘Banksy like’ reaction. The artist and his team would then conduct street art workshops later in the year with a welcome back theme.
· Digital Recovery Plan for High Street Business.
o Commissioning of ‘Maybe*’, part of the UK Government’s High Street Task Force. Maybe* would put in place a digital platform and training that would help the Council to support all the businesses in the authority area to leverage digital channels as they learned to trade alongside COVID-19. This was increasingly important given the second wave national lockdown. The platform would connect businesses’ social media accounts which would increase collaboration and strengthen their connections with local communities. Sample Maybe* data showed that across the authority area, less than 34% of businesses used social media and only 16.7% of those were active on social media each day.”
Question submitted by Councillor A. English
“Could the Portfolio Holder for Planning and Regulatory Services please inform the council of how many Planning Enforcement cases we have active at the moment and how many are more than two years old?”
The Portfolio Holder for Planning and Regulatory Services responded by explaining that, due to the length of the response, a written answer would be provided to the question after the meeting. Councillor English commented that she had been keen to receive a verbal response to the question at the meeting but was advised that a written response would instead be provided.
Members were also advised that the answer to the question would be recorded in the minutes of the meeting, as detailed below:
“1) There were 147 live Bromsgrove planning enforcement cases.
2) 50 of the 147 cases were reported prior to 14th April 2019.
3) There were an additional 58 pending Bromsgrove cases waiting to be investigated.
In terms of planning enforcement matters, the National Planning Policy Framework (2019) emphasised that planning enforcement was a discretionary activity and Local Planning Authorities should act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control. When deciding whether to enforce, the Council had to consider the likely impact of harm to the public. Breaches of planning control were generally not criminal offences.
The figures needed to be set against how investigations were conducted and the implications of the pandemic.
Under Section 171B of the Town and Country Planning Act, formal enforcement action had to be taken within 4 years in relation to the erection of buildings, and within 10 years in relation to changes of use (unless it related to the change of use to a dwelling whereby the time limit was 4 years), and breaches of planning conditions. There was no time limit for the enforcement of breaches of listed building legislation. Case Officers were fully aware of the parameters of Section 171B, in addition to dealing with matters in a timely and effective manner.
The first stage of any investigation was to discuss matters with the owner, with this mediation approach advocated by the National Planning Policy Framework. Every planning enforcement case would be different, depending on the complexity of the breach, the need to include other agencies, and the assistance or the non-assistance of landowners and complainants. Some enforcement cases involved multiple site owners or issues that required the input of other agencies or the obtaining of legal advice. Whilst the majority of landowners engaged with the Council, a minority did not wish to and these cases would progress far more slowly.
The enforcement of breaches of planning control provided an opportunity for those contravening to submit a retrospective planning application to regularise the breach and/or the ability to appeal at different stages. Certain types of planning enforcement action, such as the issue of an Enforcement Notice, had a right of appeal, whilst others had an opportunity for compensation to be claimed (for example, for loss or damage attributable to a Stop Notice). Appeals against Notices could take up to a year to be heard if a Public Inquiry was required. There was a risk of a cost award against the Council at appeal if it was found to have acted unreasonably or the Notice was considered defective. Thus, taking stock to consider the implications and the format of formal enforcement action was key to achieving a successful outcome. But this again added time to the case.
The prosecution route following non-compliance with a Notice required formal court attendance and working with the Police to assist with warrant matters. A number of sites also required monitoring over an extended period and the enforcement case would not be closed until such time as the Council was satisfied that matters were completely resolved.
In terms of more recent live cases and the pending cases, the Council had experienced a marked increase in the number of alleged unauthorised small scale enforcement cases (for example, fencing, decking, outbuildings and extensions) primarily as a consequence of lock-down and more persons being at home undertaking home improvements that might or might not require planning permission and neighbours subsequently monitoring these activities. The Council had risk assessments in place for site visits but restrictions on entering buildings and structures had inevitably led to delays in the ability to thoroughly assess some cases.”