Planning permission for front gardens

Written on . Posted in Planning, Residents, Your home

Epping Forest District Council is reminding residents that should they wish to hard-surface their front garden, planning permission may be required.

DrivewayThe removal of front gardens and their replacement with flat, hard surfaces increases water run-off when it rains. This water flows onto neighbouring land, particularly onto roads and then goes into a drain system not designed to cope with extra water and so flooding is made worse. These hard surfaces also soak up heat during the day and then release it into the environment at night. This contributes to the overall warming of the environment which is thought to be at least partly responsible for the increase in cloud cover in the UK and potential for heavy storms.

In addition, paving over of front gardens impacts on wildlife and biodiversity. Insects and other small organisms lose their environment so there is less food for mammals and birds. Spillages of petrol, diesel and other contaminants go straight into the drains and end up poisoning streams and rivers.

Planning permission

Planning permission is needed for laying traditional, impermeable driveways (such as concrete) greater than five square metres in area that does not provide for the water to run to a permeable area within your property. Scaled drawings and fee (currently £150) must be submitted to the Council. If acceptable, you must await the grant of planning permission decision notice before starting work, otherwise the Council might prosecute should planning permission be retrospectively refused. This can take up to eight weeks and unless there is adequate provision to allow for drainage, planning permission is likely to be refused.

In most cases, you will not need planning permission if you use permeable (or porous) surfacing, such as gravel, permeable concrete block paving or porous asphalt, or if the rainwater is directed to a lawn or border within your property to drain naturally.

Guidance on the permeable surfacing of front gardens (pdf 710 KB)

Dropped kerbs

You will require planning permission should you wish to create a new, or extend the width of an existing, dropped kerb to your property if the driveway will go onto a classified road (‘A’ and ‘B’ roads, main routes and often country lanes). Essex County Council must separately agree to the crossing, even if you do not need planning permission.

Refuse Policy featured on Channel 4 News

Written on . Posted in Community, Media, Recycling and waste, Residents, Your community, Your environment, Your home

Epping Forest District Council’s refuse and recycling policy was featured on Channel 4 News on Saturday 11 June 2011.

 

View report on the Channel 4 website 

Epping Forest District combines a mix of weekly domestic recycling collections of kitchen and garden waste with collection every other week for dry recycling such as paper, tin cans, plastic and glass. Residual waste is also collected every other week. Since the introduction of the current system, the council and its residents have achieved recycling rates of around 60 per cent, significantly higher than the national average rates of 40 per cent (source Channel 4).

Innovative in-sourcing approach for housing repairs

Written on . Posted in Housing, Housing repairs, Residents, Your home

Epping Forest District Council has just signed an innovative repairs management contract with Mears Direct for up to 9 years, which harnesses the commercial benefits and experience of a large private sector contractor, coupled with the advantages and cost-effectiveness of the repairs workforce being retained in-house by the Council. Referred to as in-sourcing by the Council, this unique approach is believed to be the first in the country, and forms part of the Council`s comprehensive Repairs Refresh Programme.

For many years, the Council`s repairs service has been provided by its in-house Building Maintenance Works Unit. Many other local authorities have outsourced their repairs service in the past and delivered it entirely through a private contractor. Usually, this involves all of the Council`s tradesmen, office staff and managers transferring to the contractor under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE).

However, this is often seen as a high risk and potentially high cost approach, for both the landlord and the contractor. The contractor has to employ an unknown workforce, and therefore ensure that its contract price includes significant contingency costs, met by the Council. The Council also runs the risk of the contractor going into administration in the future, and losing all the workforce “ as has been the case with two large repairs contractors recently.

The Council also sees many advantages to retaining its own repairs workforce, which is reflected in the Council`s consistently high levels of customer satisfaction. However, the Council has recognised that a much more commercial and streamlined approach needs to be taken, and that it would benefit from the support and experience of a large repairs contractor like Mears Direct, which can also give access to its well-developed back-office functions such as health and safety, HR, procurement and, crucially, its customer-orientated IT systems.

Insourcing, through the Council`s Repairs Refresh Programme, takes the unique and innovative approach of combining the benefits of retaining an in-house team, with the commercial best practice of a large private sector contractor, to deliver a first class repairs service. The approach is expected to become a blueprint for the future delivery of repairs by social landlords, especially since housing associations are able to benefit from the 20% saving in VAT by providing the service in-house, rather than through an outsourced repairs contract.

In order for Mears Direct to receive performance payments, the contract requires the company to achieve all the challenging performance targets each quarter. These include undertaking emergency, urgent and routine repairs within 4 hours, 3 days and 2 weeks respectively, whilst maintaining 98% tenant satisfaction.

In addition, Mears Direct has to deliver 5 key projects in the first year, including the installation of its own streamlined repairs IT system, the introduction of an appointment system for all repairs and mobile technology for the Council`s repairs workforce, and the provision of a more cost-effective supply chain for repairs materials – for the Council to benefit from the purchasing power of Mears Direct to reduce unit costs.

A further innovation was the appointment process for the contractor. Representatives of the Council`s Tenants and Leaseholders Federation were involved in the formulation of the approach from the outset, which was devised by Cameron Consulting, specialist procurement advisors in the construction industry.

Since the in-sourcing approach involves the physical placement of a Manager to lead the Repairs Service, the appointment process culminated in a novel Assessment Centre, where the candidates identified by each of the tenderers as their potential repairs managers were required to participate in a range of exercises to assess their suitability, as well as that of their employer.

Jane Nelson, Mears Directs Managing Director said Epping Forest District Council`s innovative tender for the appointment of a repairs management contractor is the first of its kind in the country and everyone at Mears is excited at the prospect of being part if it. We believe this will be a model that will be emulated by many social housing landlords throughout the country.

The Council`s Housing Portfolio Holder, Councillor Maggie McEwen said The Council has considered, on the one hand, the wishes of our tenants to continue to have the Council`s own tradesmen undertaking repairs in their homes and, on the other, the need to improve efficiencies and value for money through a more commercial approach. She continued, In-sourcing is the perfect low-risk for the Council and its tenants. Mears have demonstrated through their tender that they have a good understanding of what the Council is trying to achieve. In these times of austerity, I am confident that with the experience Mears can bring, the Council will be in a much better position to provide a good quality, efficient, repairs service long into the future.

The Council`s Assistant Director of Housing, Paul Pledger, and Mike Gammack from Mears Direct, have been invited to present the in-sourcing approach at the Chartered Institute of Housings Annual Conference in Harrogate later in June.

Residents Voice Safety Concerns at Debate

Written on . Posted in Consultation, Crime and safety, Media, Residents, Young people, Your community, Your home

Community Safety tree image

Gangs and knives, cutbacks, cross border crime, domestic violence, alcohol related anti-social behaviour, young drivers accident rates and community payback.

An audience of local people came along to the Community Safety Question Time Debate to pose challenging questions on these topics to a panel of local experts in an evening of lively debate.

The debate, filmed at Epping Forest college in Loughton, was presented by BBC Radio Essex’s Dave Monk and saw representatives from the Police, NHS, Fire, District and County Councils, and the probation service quizzed by members of the local community on issues that mattered to them.

 

Introduction by Dave Monk
Introduction by Dave Monk
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Watch the debate with direct links to all the questions below:

Watch the Community Safety Question Time Debate

    The expert panellists were:
  • Stuart McMillan, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service Assistant Divisional Officer for Harlow and Epping Forest;
  • Neeve Bishop, Essex Probation Trust Offender Management Team;
  • Alan Ray, Essex Police District Commander for Epping Forest District;
  • Councillor Penny Smith, Epping Forest District Council Safer and Greener Portfolio Holder;
  • Caroline Skinner, NHS West Essex Senior Health Improvement Specialist;
  • Yvette Wetton, Essex County Council West Area Co-ordinator;
  • John Gilbert, Epping Forest District Council Director of Environment and Street Scene.

Displays showcasing the work of the Epping Forest Safer Communities Partnership were on display outside the auditorium. Audience members and college students were asked what the top 3 priorities for the partnership should be.

    The results were:

  1. Anti-social behaviour;
  2. Domestic violence;
  3. Drugs.

The debate was the finale to a two week programme of events called “Safe ‘n’ Sound in Epping Forest” providing help and advice on keeping you safe.

Essex Domestic Abuse Awareness Week

Written on . Posted in Community, Crime and safety, Media, Older people, Residents, Young people, Your community, Your home

This week is Essex Domestic Abuse Awareness Week and Essex Police has joined with Essex County Council and local domestic abuse forums to stand up and say There’s no excuse for abuse.

To mark Essex Domestic Abuse Awareness Week a short video has been produced to push home the message that there really is no excuse for abuse.

Information and advice can be found on the Essex Police website.

Domestic abuse police units are always available to help. You can contact the Harlow, Brentwood and Epping local domestic abuse police unit on 01279 625431.

All Council Homes Made Decent Ahead of Target

Written on . Posted in Housing, Housing repairs, Residents, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your home

Epping Forest District Council has now completed a major programme to bring all of its properties up to the Government`s Decent Homes Standard “ one year before the Government`s deadline.  Many other councils and housing associations are still a long way off completing their programmes.

Doreen Osborne, aged 67, is just one of thousands of Epping Forest District Council tenants enjoying improvements to their homes under the Council`s Decent Homes initiative. Mrs Osborne had a complete new central heating system and a brand new, enlarged kitchen installed by the Council. 

Doreen Osbourne with Chairman of Council Anne Grigg and Housing Portfolio Holder, Cllr Dave Stallan

Doreen moved into her home in James Street, Epping when she got married over 40 years ago. She said The Council allowed me to choose everything from the layout, the flooring, and the cupboards “ even the handles. I now have the kitchen I have always wanted so I`m thrilled to bits. Yes, the work was messy and disruptive at times but the Council staff and their contractors have all been wonderful and almost become part of my family!

The Decent Homes Programme aims to ensure all properties are in a reasonable state of repair, enjoy modern facilities and are energy efficient. Some properties only need minor work but, since 2001, over 3,500 of the Council`s properties have had more major improvements such as new kitchens and bathrooms, heating systems, windows and doors, better insulation or new roofing. Many homes have also been fully rewired. The Council has managed to meet the Decent Homes target set by the Government nearly a year ahead of schedule and, unlike many other councils, without having to set up an arms length management organisation (ALMO) or with any additional grant funding from the Government. In doing so, the Council is independently assessed as being in the top 25% of Local Authorities and Housing Associations for having the lowest direct cost per property for maintenance and resident satisfaction with the quality of their home.

The Council`s Portfolio Holder for Housing, Cllr David Stallan said This has been a hugely successful scheme for the Council. It`s very important to us that all our tenants live in decent homes with modern facilities. In the current economic climate, the importance of making homes energy efficient becomes even more obvious as this helps to reduce people`s gas and electric bills. I`m delighted that Mrs Osborne and all our other tenants are so pleased with the work that we and our contractors have done.

However, the Council`s work continues “ since it is now implementing programmes of work to ensure that no properties ever become non-decent in the future.

Park Home Licence Conditions Reviewed

Written on . Posted in Community, Housing, Licensing, Residents, Your community, Your home

Councillors have recommended that Government Model Standards for park homes (sometimes referred to as mobile homes) are not imposed on existing park homes where they do not currently comply.  All park home residents will now be consulted on the recommendations of the Housing Scrutiny Panel, before they go to the Cabinet of Epping Forest District Council.

Local residents braved the wet weather to listen to the debate on licensing of park home sites at Epping Forest District Council on Wednesday 8 September 2010.  Councillors of the Housing Scrutiny Panel were asked to examine potential amendments and make recommendations to the Cabinet after an earlier decision to adopt recommendations of the Government`s Model Standards 2008 met wide-spread opposition.

The Panel, chaired by Councillor Stephen Murray, looked in particular at existing hedges and fences over one metre high between park homes and combustible items such as sheds, which might enable a fire to spread. Whether to set a minimum distance between hedges and park homes was another issue. Many residents of local park homes had said the proposed new licence conditions were unnecessarily strict for existing sites. The Panel considered options to satisfy both health and safety as well as the convenience and comfort of mobile home residents.

Councillors were asked to consider the extent to which new licence conditions should be implemented and whether they should apply in part or full to existing park homes as well as any new sites in the future. Other issues included detailed porch construction and smoke alarms, domestic waste facilities and minimum distances between park homes and site boundaries.

Alan Hall, Director of Housing presented the report. He referred to the original decision of the Cabinet which was called“in and reviewed by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and the fact that the Council had received 5 petitions with around 300 signatures and accompanying letters between the Cabinet in June and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in July.

Although the original consultation with site owners and residents associations went beyond legal requirements, Mr Hall accepted that with hindsight his team would have undertaken more consultation before asking the Cabinet to make a decision, had the strength of public feeling been known earlier.

Mr Hall explained that councillors had to balance the views of the Government through the Model Standards and Fire Officers against the quality of life and concerns of residents. He added that most councils had previously adopted the earlier (1989) Model Standards, but so far few had updated to the 2008 Standards.

Councillors were also asked to consider the practicalities of enforcing new licence conditions, as well as the timescales of implementation.
Assistant Divisional Officer Stuart McMillan of Essex Fire and Rescue Service emphasised that the safety of residents was his organisation`s overriding concern and recommended to the Council to accept the Model Standards.

Councillor Murray invited the following representatives of local park home sites, and a site owner, to give their views to the Panel:

Speakers referred repeatedly to the rarity of fires on park home sites within the district over the previous 40 years. They emphasised the care taken by park home owners to protect and maintain their properties and asked whether the new 2008 Standards were proportionate. Park home owners were concerned for their privacy if the Standards were imposed in full. A site owner asked how she should enforce such conditions on her residents. Attention was drawn to the high standard of construction and materials used in modern park homes compared with older ones of a lower standard. They said many residents of park home sites are mature and experienced older people; one site has a minimum age restriction of 50 years. Officers were asked what other forms of residential dwelling had new standards that applied to existing conditions. Alan Hall gave by example the introduction of High Hedge legislation a few years ago.

Councillor David Johnson proposed that, whilst the Model Standards should be applied to both new and existing park home sites, any contraventions of the licence conditions at the time the new licences are introduced at existing sites should be allowed. The proposal was seconded by Councillor Rodney Barrett and approved by the Panel as a recommendation to the Cabinet.

Councillor Murray concluded by saying that councillors had listened to residents, considered very difficult and important issues that affect many residents` quality of life and thanked them for their help.

Youth Council launch Internet Safety CD ROM

Written on . Posted in Community, Crime and safety, Residents, Young people, Your community, Your home

Promoting ways in which to use the internet safely is a top priority for the Epping Forest Youth Council.

Following their peer conference event earlier this year, Youth Councillors pledged to raise awareness of issues such as cyber bullying and internet safety, and to publicise helpful advice or resources on the subject to local young people and their families.

Youth Councillor Jekin Patel explained, “The Epping Forest Communities Safety Partnership made us aware of an excellent CD ROM that offers clear, easy advice to parents and young people about how to use the internet safely. Through the Partnership, we managed to secure 500 free copies of the CD ROM which we feel would be of particular benefit to parents with children in Years 5 and 6, although there are good sections on it for young people themselves too.”

Epping Forest Youth Council launch the Know IT All Internet Safety CD ROM

The `Know IT All` CD ROM is a unique interactive guide produced by Childnet International and includes a guide demonstrating how to report any concerns online, along with interactive quizzes and activities.

The Youth Council will be arranging to distribute the CD ROMs via local primary schools in the Epping Forest District. Extra copies are also available on a first come, first served basis.

Council Gets Tough On Low Level Crime

Written on . Posted in Crime and safety, Residents, Your area, Your community, Your home

Small-scale crime and anti-social behaviour will be targeted in a much faster, more visible and effective manner with the introduction of fixed penalty notices (FPN).  From December, Environment and Neighbourhood Officers employed by Epping Forest District Council will begin to offer offenders the opportunity to pay a fixed penalty within 14 days of being issued with a notice, as an alternative to going to court.

Among the offences for which a FPN will be issued are littering, graffiti, fly-posting, noise nuisance, abandoned vehicles and dog fouling.  For some offences, anyone issued with a notice will get a discount if they pay within 10 days.

The new notices will not come into effect just yet.  Up to December, if the offence is serious Environment and Neighbourhood Officers will continue to pursue cases through the court, however, in other cases they will issue a warning.  When the new FPNs become available the Environment & Neighbourhood Officers will start to target some of the offences for which FPNs can be issued, that have previously not been a priority, with littering, dog fouling and fly-posting being on top of the list of targets.

Perpetrators who are offered an opportunity to avoid court action for a relevant offence by paying a FPN will still have the right to elect to go to court for their case to be heard if they feel they have been treated unjustly.

However, anyone found guilty in court will receive a criminal record whereas payment of the fixed penalty notice will represent a complete discharge of the offence with no criminal record and they will avoid any potential additional legal costs if they were to be found guilty in court.

  Epping Forest District Council Environment and Neighbourhood Officers

Councillor Mary Sartin, Environment Portfolio Holder said: The notices are designed to deal with the low grade anti-social behaviour that takes up a disproportionate amount of time and money in prosecuting through the courts compared with the fines imposed.  The new system will be much quicker and more effective.  The use of FPNs for these offences will provide the Environment and Neighbourhood Officers with an extra tool and impetus to deal with a number of offences that have not been a priority in the past.

“Historically a number of offences for which a FPN can be issued have been under-enforced but we all know that we should not litter, let our dogs defecate without clearing up or graffiti on buildings.  Previously warnings may have been issued.  We will be using the FPN process from December as a means of issuing formal warnings with a monetary penalty to avoid court proceedings and a criminal conviction.  These are all offences that can easily be avoided but can cause real problems throughout the district and additional costs to residents to rectify.

“Hopefully the minority of people who make a habit of such behaviour to the great frustration of the law-abiding majority, will soon get the message and clean up their act.

Epping Forest District Council will be publishing full details before the new arrangements go live in December.  Fixed Penalties will be issued by the Council`s uniformed Environment and Neighbourhood Officers.  The Council and Police will still have the ability to take action through the courts if necessary, for example where an alleged offender has a long track record of similar actions.  Officers will never ask for cash or payment in person and will only issue a FPN on return to the office when the details of the offender have been verified.  Notices of intention to prosecute will be issued on site with the presumption that a FPN will be issued or prosecution proceedings instigated.

    The full list of penalties for offences is as follows (discount level in brackets):

  • Litter – £75 / (£50)
  • Abandoned vehicle – £200 / (£120)
  • Nuisance parking – £100 / (£60)
  • Dog fouling – £50 / (No discount)
  • Graffiti & flyposting – £75 / (£50)
  • Street litter control – £100 / (£60)
  • Unauthorised leaflet distribution – £75 / (£50)
  • Failure to produce waste transfer notice – £300 / (£180)
  • Failure to produce waste carriers papers – £300 / (No discount)
  • Waste receptacles – £100 / (£60)
  • Noise – £100 / (£60)
  • Failure to nominate keyholder in designated alarm areas – £75 / (£50)