Council Tax freeze agreed by cabinet

Written on . Posted in Business, Business rates, Community, Council tax, Councillors, Democracy, Grants, Housing, Local business, Meetings, North Weald Airfield, Out and about, Planning, Private housing, Regulations, Residents, Supporting business, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your environment, Your home, Your money

Council Tax freeze, new homes and disabled toilets were on the agenda when Epping Forest District Council’s cabinet met on Monday 4 February 2013.

Watch the webcast

Council Tax Frozen

There will be no increase in the Council Tax precept set by Epping Forest District Council if the recommendations of the cabinet are accepted by all councillors when the budgets are set later in February. The annual charge for a Band D property will remain the same for the third year in succession at £148.77.

Cabinet agreed the recommendations to full council despite further decreases in Government grant thanks in part to a number of savings reducing the next financial year’s ongoing revenue budget target to £14.37 million.

Councillor Syd Stavrou Finance Portfolio Holder emphasised Epping Forest District was and would remain a ‘low-tax’ council for the long term.

Councillor Chris Whitbread, Leader of the Council described the report as a ‘good news budget’ with £800,000 of savings coming mostly from ‘back offices’, no enforced redundancies, and fees and charges such as car park pay and display prices kept down. He acknowledged challenges ahead but remained upbeat about the council’s prospects.

After the meeting, Councillor Stavrou said: “At the current time with money so tight, it has never been so important to support local business and keep costs down for hard working local residents. Each member of the cabinet has played an important part in examining all service costs to reduce spending wherever possible while continuing to protect local services. Working with staff, we have found many new and better ways to deliver services without cutting quality and I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the process.”

Obsolete bedsits to be converted to new homes

Marden Close, a scheme of 20 bedsit flats developed for older residents in the 1960s is to be converted into 10 modern one-bedroom flats. The vacant buildings had previously proved very unpopular and difficult to let. Cabinet favoured retaining Marden Close rather than pursuing earlier options to transfer it to a social housing landlord. Proposals also found favour with cabinet for the lease of Faversham Hall to Chigwell Parish Council. East Thames Housing Group will project manage the conversions. Works could start on site within 6 months.

Councillors welcomed the scheme which will create much needed accommodation for people on the housing waiting list.

North Weald consultants appointed

Drivers Jonas Deloitte has been appointed to take forward the review of North Weald Airfield. The £145,000 brief is expected to make recommendations for consideration by councillors for the future of the airfield.

Council to fund CAB debt advisors

Cabinet agreed £67,000 to Epping Forest Citizens’ Advice Bureau for the appointment of 2 full-time debt advisors. The funding will cover 2 18 month contracts to begin in April. The agreement includes a commitment from the CAB to support residents through the Limes Centre in Chigwell. This funding is additional money to support homelessness prevention over and above the council’s regular CAB funding of more than £100,000 a year.

Better disabled toilet facilities for Epping and Buckhurst Hill

The accessible superloo currently provided in Bakers Lane Epping is set to be relocated to Buckhurst Hill once a major refurbishment of the Bakers Lane public toilet block has been completed. Cabinet approved additional expenditure of £85,000 for Bakers Lane and £21,000 towards relocating the superloo. The improvements are expected to be especially welcomed by people with disabilities who will find accessibility much improved through the initiative.

Leader calls on residents to Shop Local

Written on . Posted in Arts, Business, Council tax, Countrycare, Democracy, Health, Housing, Leader, Local business, Local plan / planning our future, Olympics, Our activities, Our attractions, Our countryside, Out and about, Parking, Private housing, Sports, Sports centres and pools, Supporting business, Travel, Trees and landscapes, Your money

Hello,

When I became the new leader of Epping Forest District Council back in the summer, the country was poised for the Olympic Games.

The Olympics proved to be the most fantastic success. As a Country, we staged probably the best Olympic and Paralympic games ever. At a time when the economy is flat and families are struggling to make ends meet, we all showed the rest of the world what Great Britain can achieve.

I am very proud to say that Epping Forest District played its part in our national success. The Lee Valley White Water Centre outside Waltham Abbey was completed on time and budget, giving thousands of people their first taste of the Olympic rapids before any of the other new venues had opened.

But this was just the platform – we helped to provide a stage but it was the people, the volunteers, the spectators, and most of all, the athletes that made the Games such a success. And as we look ahead to 2013 that is how I see the job of Epping Forest District Council – to provide the stage and the conditions in which the residents of Epping Forest can perform to their maximum potential.

So how do we do that?

To begin with we must leave as much of your money in your own pocket as possible. We are a low tax council. It is three years since the last increase in the Epping Forest District element of the Council Tax. We have one of the lowest Council Taxes in Essex.

We are pro-business. A healthy business sector means jobs and services for local people. Pay and Display parking charges in our towns are among the lowest you can find. Many car parks are free at weekends in the run up to Christmas. Working with local businesses, we promote our town centres, visitor attractions and tourism for local residents and visitors alike.

We are pro the environment. There is terrific demand on local housing because people want to live here. We do all we can to defend the Green Belt and we are trying to provide homes to meet the needs not only of people today, but our children and grandchildren in the future.

Healthy living and an active social life go hand in hand with a good life at home and work. We provide leisure centres, support a Youth Council and keep our older residents fit and active. Much of our work is supported by volunteers. Whether you are clearing country paths and coppicing trees with Countrycare or leading a walk for older people through Epping Forest or the Lee Valley Regional Park, the work of the council is magnified and enhanced by the generosity and spirit of volunteers.

Everyone has a part to play and there is never a better time than Christmas to show your support for the district. I want everyone who lives and works in Epping Forest to join with me in making 2013 the year our district takes off.

Use your local high street

One Shops Local and Visit Epping Forest are two websites designed to support local business. Created by Epping Forest Chamber of Commerce, local businesses, the council and other members of our Local Strategic Partnership, these sites are the place to find all the information, deals and recommendations you need to support your local high street.

If you have a few hours to spare and want to make another kind of difference, why not contact Voluntary Action Epping Forest to find out what you could do.

So next time you are thinking about a day out, looking for a good tradesperson or writing your shopping list remember the answers are all online and available on your doorstep.

On behalf of all the councillors and staff at Epping Forest District Council may I wish you a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Chris Whitbread
Leader – Epping Forest District Council

Council on 18 December 2012

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Business, Chairman, Commercial properties, Community, Council tax, Councillors, Countryside and wildlife, Democracy, Environmental health, Housing, Licensing, Local business, Local plan / planning our future, Meetings, Our countryside, Planning, Private housing, Regulations, Residents, Supporting business, Trees and landscapes, Young people, Your community, Your home, Your money

Local Plan, Housing, CCTV, Ash Dieback, The Box and more discussed at Council on 18 December 2012.

Local Plan

Progress on the new Local Plan and associated work was reported to the latest meeting of Epping Forest District Council on 18 December by Councillor Richard Bassett, Planning Portfolio Holder. In a written report, Councillor Bassett said that work on the Local Plan is continuing. All the issues and options consultation responses will be entered into the analysis system by the end of December.

Analysis of the data is ongoing for forthcoming workshops involving Town, Parish and District Councillors and MPs during the first 3 months of the new year. A further workshop will be held later in the year that will consider the implications of further evidence and a preferred option for the emerging Local Plan to be published in late summer or early autumn 2013 for consultation.

Councillor Bassett has also asked the Forward Planning team to compile a list of the “Brownfield” sites they have considered as part of the Local Plan process. It is hoped that this will help councillors identify any which were not identified in the Strategic Land Availability Assessment part of the process. He reminded councillors that brownfield sites which would accommodate less than 6 houses would not be part of the identification process as they are considered as windfall sites and applications for these normally appear through the normal planning process.

Councillor Bassett noted further work on population projections due to take place in the next few months following recent releases of Census 2011 data. He is also due to hold a follow-up meeting with Harlow District Council in January to discuss cooperation focusing on planning and economic development.

Housing

In other updates, Councillor David Stallan reported progress towards the council’s new house building programme. It is envisaged that the development of the first sites will commence in 2014 and be completed in the winter of 2014/15. He also reported on the use of government grants to support the Council’s Homelessness Prevention Service, Epping Forest Citizens Advice Bureau and 20 additional loans under the council’s successful Rental Loan Scheme.

CCTV

In his written reports, Councillor Gary Waller, Safer, Greener and Highways Portfolio Holder updated councillors on the reallocation of existing money and new money to enhance CCTV in Loughton High Road as well as a further £40,000 to expand and maintain other new CCTV systems across the district. Councillors agreed a further £10,000 towards the upgrade of Loughton cameras.

Following late-night disorder in Epping, Councillor Waller has also authorised more cameras with funding by club licensees. He also announced a combined operation by the council and Essex Police including more police patrols, use of drug dogs, checking taxi licensing and live CCTV monitoring.

Ash Dieback

Ash Dieback has now been reported in the Epping Forest district. Council staff are advising concerned members of the public and referring possible cases to the national helpline. Tree wardens are also being advised about the disease and are encouraging local surveys to supplement those being undertaken by the Forestry Commission and Woodland Trust. Councillor Waller reported that infection is unlikely to be found on council owned trees in the short term, because there have been no recent plantings of ash saplings. The council’s regular survey of its own stock will include a check for signs of the disease in future.

Councillor Waller’s report noted that although ash is an important tree in the district it is not the major tree of the local countryside or towns. It is a minor component of the district treescape compared to oak in the wider countryside and beech in Epping Forest. The loss even of a high percentage, would be significant but could be mitigated by an active planting programme of other species on council land and by larger landowners and farmers.

The Box – Epping

A late question by Councillor Ken Angold-Stephens informed District Councillors of an emerging funding concern at The Box – a facility for young people in Epping High Street. It would seem, funding by Essex County Council through to April is in doubt and the facility is in danger of closing without intervention. Councillor Chris Whitbread, Leader of Council thanked Councillor Angold-Stephens for bringing the matter to the council’s attention. He is to instruct District Council Officers to contact the organisers of The Box without delay and encourage an application for grant aid to support The Box until the end of the Financial Year.

Local Council Tax support scheme adopted

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Community, Consultation, Council tax, Councillors, Democracy, Housing, Meetings, Older people, Private housing, Residents, Your community, Your council, Your home, Your money

Epping Forest District Council’s Local Council Tax Support Scheme has been agreed and adopted by Full Council at its meeting on 18 December. From 1 April 2013 Council Tax Benefit will be replaced by the Local Council Tax Support Scheme (LCTS) as a consequence of the Welfare Reform Act.

From April 2013 people of working age who pay no Council Tax may have to pay some, and those who currently pay some may have to pay more. Key elements of the new scheme are:

  • The calculation of support based on 80% of the Council Tax bill, rather than 100% at present
  • Anyone of working age who lives in a higher Council Tax band, will have their support calculated as if their property was a Band D
  • Inclusion of child maintenance in the calculation (excluding the first £15 per week per family)
  • The capital limit (personal savings) will be reduced from the current level of £16,000 to £6,000
  • Second adult rebate will not be included in the scheme for people of working age
  • A minimum award of £0.50 per week. This is in line with the minimum award in housing benefit
  • The inclusion of an Exceptional Hardship Fund to help the most vulnerable customers affected by the changes

Pension age people are protected from any reduction to their benefit payments under the new scheme although they may need to pay more if Council Tax increases.

Residents who are currently in receipt of Council Tax Benefit will be contacted in the New Year with details of the impact of these changes. Residents are being advised to go online in advance of this communication to find out whether they will be affected by the introduction of LCTS at www.eppingforestdc.gov.uk/index.php/residents/council-tax

Councillor Syd Stavrou, Finance Portfolio Holder said: “Councils across Essex have worked together to implement schemes that limit the impact of the central government grant cuts on our most vulnerable residents. The district is losing approximately £1 million a year compared with the old scheme. Pensioners are protected and people in some of the other most vulnerable groups. We have had to make some difficult decisions about who gets help and how much but we feel that the proposals are as fair as possible to the majority of people within the resources available.”

Funding allocated to Councils for LCTS has been cut by 10% and is frozen at 2011 levels; this results in a drop of £1m for Epping Forest District.

 

Benefit cap changes

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Buckhurst Hill, Chigwell, Community, Council tax, Epping, Housing, Loughton, Ongar, Private housing, Residents, Waltham Abbey, Young people, Your area, Your community, Your home, Your money

From April 2013 there will be a ‘cap’ or maximum limit on the total amount of benefit that people of working age can receive. Households will have income capped to £500 per week for families and £350 for single people.

The Government will add up how much money you get from a range of benefits including housing benefit and if the total comes to more than the maximum amount allowed your housing benefit payments will be reduced to bring the total income in line with the applicable cap.

How will this affect me?

If your benefits are capped this will mean you may have to pay more towards your rent than you do currently. This is a really important change because if you get behind with your rent you may risk losing your home.
The cap will not apply if you, or your partner or any children you are responsible for, and who live with you, are entitled to working tax credit or receive any of the following

There will be a period where the cap will not be applied for 39 weeks for those who have been continuously in work for the previous 12 months.

The cap will apply to the combined income from:

National Empty Homes Week

Written on . Posted in Buckhurst Hill, Building control, Chigwell, Commercial properties, Community, Council tax, Epping, Grants, Housing, Local business, Loughton, Ongar, Out and about, Planning, Private housing, Residents, Supporting business, Waltham Abbey, Your area, Your home

National Empty Homes week runs from 26 November to 1 December 2012 highlighting the waste of empty properties.

Each dwelling that stands empty is a wasted resource and the council is committed to bringing empty properties back to use.

  • An empty property can cost an owner up to £10,000 a year in maintenance, Council Tax, increased insurance and potential loss in rental
  • They act as a magnet for crime and anti-social behaviour including squatters, vandalism, arson and rubbish dumping
  • Run-down, derelict and abandoned properties bring down the appearance of a neighbourhood and give a sense of decay and decline
  • The house next door to an empty property may be devalued by as much as 10%

We can help owners of empty properties by giving advice and information and also by offering financial assistance.

Report an empty property

If you know of an empty property and want to make us aware of it, please complete the online form.

If you would like to discuss any property or issue relating to empty homes call the Empty Property Officer on 01992 564706. All calls and information received will be treated in confidence.

Read more on empty properties.

Comment on potential changes to planning permission for extensions

Written on . Posted in Building control, Business, Business rates, Commercial properties, Conservation and listed buildings, Consultation, Gypsy and traveller, Housing, Housing repairs, Licensing, Local business, Local plan / planning our future, Planning, Private housing, Regulations, Residents, Supporting business, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your environment, Your home, Your money

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has issued a consultation document for 6 weeks seeking comments on possible temporary changes to permitted development rights on extensions.

Among its proposed course of action is to allow homeowners and businesses to make larger extensions to their homes and business premises without needing to submit a planning application. For example, this could allow a maximum 8 metre depth for a single storey rear extension to a detached house and 6 metre depth for any other type of house, without needing planning permission. If approved, this would be a temporary measure for 3 years.

You can comment on this consultation direct to the DCLG, which ends on 24 December 2012, on a downloadable response form by following the link below. This form also includes details of the proposals.

Comment on the DCLG consultation document

First reflections on the Local Plan consultation

Written on . Posted in Building control, Business, Consultation, Councillors, Gypsy and traveller, Housing, Local business, Local plan / planning our future, Our countryside, Out and about, Planning, Private housing, Regulations, Residents, Supporting business, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your home

Anyone who wants to know what local residents and stakeholders said during the recent ‘Community Choices’ public consultation can find out in our latest video update.

Councillor Richard Bassett, Planning Portfolio Holder has chosen Chipping Ongar as the location for his second Local Plan blog. He gives an initial assessment of the evidence submitted to Epping Forest District Council on the issues and options facing the district as it continues to prepare a Local Plan covering the next 20 years.

More than 5,500 responses were made in response to the Council’s appeal for evidence and opinions. It will be several months before detailed analysis is completed.

In addition to online consultation documents and a questionnaire, the Council organised a number of evening drop-in sessions throughout the district at which local people discussed the issues and options with councillors and staff face to face. Presentations were made to Town and Parish Councils, several of whom invited district council representatives to talk about the consultation at their public meetings. The district council received letters and emails as well as several petitions, all of which are being incorporated into the body of evidence.

Councillor Bassett said: “We received a great deal of interest and I would like to thank everyone who participated in the consultation. The new Local Plan will be our district’s best defence against inappropriate development as well as enabling us to provide homes and employment opportunities for our children. The evidence and opinions provided by our residents are vital in making it as strong and robust as possible.”

The next stage in the public consultation process will be the publication of a ‘preferred options’ document containing draft policies based on evidence from ‘Community Choices’ and forecasts of population growth and housing need. Eventually this will lead to a ‘submission’ Local Plan for further scrutiny by a government-appointed inspector at an ‘Examination in Public’. Only by successfully passing all these stages will the final Local Plan be adopted as the blueprint for appropriate development over the next 20 years.

Council thanks community for choices

Written on . Posted in Business, Community, Conservation and listed buildings, Consultation, Councillors, Gypsy and traveller, Housing, Local business, Local plan / planning our future, Our countryside, Parking, Planning, Private housing, Residents, Trees and landscapes, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your environment, Your home

We wish to thank all of the 5,255 residents and businesses who presented their views on future housing and development before the close of the Community Choices consultation on Monday 15 October.

Since the start of the consultation on 30 July, councillors and staff have been talking, and listening to the views of, residents and businesses across the district. Planning Portfolio Holder Councillor Richard Bassett concluded his part of the marathon consultation during the last week with public local council meetings in Sheering and Nazeing.

Planning our future - local planCouncillor Bassett said: “I would like to thank everyone who has taken a constructive part in the process. The more information we can gather from local people, the stronger the Local Plan will be and the better able we will be as a community to protect our district from inappropriate development. It’s a long process and there will be several more rounds of consultation before the final Plan can come into force.”

Over the course of the past 11 weeks, the Council has been doing everything in its power to engage with residents and businesses.

Councillor Bassett said: “We are pleased to report that more than three thousand people replied to the consultation. We are now starting to work through those submissions. They have been received in a variety of ways including an online questionnaire, email, exhibitions, petitions and public meetings.”

During the next phase, the Council staff will collate and sift through all the evidence working with District Councillors to produce a first draft of the Local Plan called ‘Preferred Options’. This will contain proposals for policies to meet future population, housing and development growth and it will again go out to public consultation. Many people chose to use handwritten paper forms to make their submissions. Extra time will be factored in for inputting these alongside the online submissions made via the website.

Councillor Bassett said: “This is the next part of the long process to create a formally accepted Local Plan for the District. The final version of the Local Plan has to be approved by the planning inspectorate and it is important that the widest ranges of options are considered during the total process. This ‘Issues and Options’ part of the consultation has gathered evidence that will help us reject unsuitable sites and concentrate on appropriate development opportunities.”

It will take the council many weeks to work through all the evidence submitted during Community Choices but several key themes are already clear.

Councillor Bassett said: “Very few people support the idea of development in the Green Belt. Councillors share that view but recognise that our children will need somewhere to live. We must accept that a small proportion of the Green Belt will be required to provide enough land for the population growth forecasts over the next twenty years.”

He continued: “Most people would prefer to see any new development take place on previously developed or derelict Brownfield sites. The council has worked hard to try to identify such Brownfield opportunities through the ‘Call for Sites’ exercise. However we may not have been able to identify enough of this type of land and we are appealing to anyone who thinks they may know of any Brownfield site, not included in Community Choices, to let the council know.”

Councillor Bassett concluded: “Everyone wants to protect the environment and special character of the district which makes it such a popular area in which to live. Councillors feel strongly that the district needs to be protected as much as possible. Without a Local Plan, developers would only have to satisfy the general guidance contained in the National Planning Policy Framework, which comes into effect in April 2013 and this may not pay regard to local concerns.”

For more information go to Planning our Future or email ldfconsult@eppingforestdc.gov.uk or call 01992 564517.

Essex Key Facts: Latest edition of district area data published

Written on . Posted in Business, Community, Crime and safety, Democracy, Energy efficiency, Housing, Local business, Older people, Our activities, Our attractions, Our countryside, Out and about, Private housing, Residents, Supporting business, Young people, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your environment, Your home, Your money

Image showing many datasets being compared
 

Data is everywhere!

With moves to a more open approach to publishing statistical information and data being encouraged across the public sector, more and more datasets, covering more and more subjects, are becoming widely accessible to all.

Unfortunately, amongst the biggest constraints on accessing the data you need can be knowing where to look, finding the time to visit the many varied websites that publish data and identifying the information you require from amongst what can appear to be an overwhelming amount of statistics that you don’t need.

To make this task a little easier and to help our residents, businesses, students and visitors find relevant data in a more straightforward and direct way, we publish a regular compilation of many of the datasets that are available. ‘Essex Councils Key Facts’ pulls together information on a wide range of subjects and allows readers to see how Epping Forest District compares with its Essex neighbours. The figures give a context to the environment in which we live, work, study and do business, and help paint a picture of some of the issues that face us all on a day to day basis.

Our latest issue, ‘Essex Key Facts Volume 4’, has recently been published and covers Business Data, Jobs and Skills Mismatch Analysis, Access to Key Services and Rural Accessibility to Services. You can find this issue, alongside copies of our previous editions, on our website by following the link below:

 
We hope you find these publications useful and easy to use. If you have any comments on the documents, please drop us a line by email on performance@eppingforestdc.gov.uk
 
The following previous editions are also available:
 
Volume 1: Political control, council tax, population, ethnicity, health, welfare, education, business & employment, carbon emissions, land use mix
Volume 2: Planning, housing, deprivation, mortality, older people care needs, crime
Volume 3: Audit Commission Value For Money profiles