Key reports to Cabinet for October include support for residents and business during Covid, climate change emergency and building for the future.
Supporting the district through Covid
Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of local residents during Covid is coming under the spotlight at two key meetings of Epping Forest District Council.
Stephanie Rea, Associate Director of West Essex Mental Health Services, will be attending the online meeting of the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee (O&S) to talk about the work of the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust. Meanwhile, members of Epping Forest District Youth Council will be preparing to update the District Council’s cabinet following their latest health and wellbeing survey in local schools.
Watch the live meetings
Both meetings will be broadcast live online and recorded for subsequent viewing.
The District Council’s response to Covid dominates many of the other items for debate.
Building for the future
O&S will be receiving updates on the Council’s key internal projects. Physical adaptation of the Civic Offices in Epping has been progressing well. The new internal layout of the Civic Offices is designed to deliver innovation and office space for local businesses as well as the Council, it’s partners and community groups. The building work goes hand in hand with the Council’s new ways of working for employees. Redesign of the building combined with early adoption of flexible and homeworking for employees has made the Council particularly resilient to the impact of Covid.
At the same time Cabinet is set to consider further investment in the post-Covid recovery of local High Streets. Funds have already been allocated to Epping High Street while a range of further short, medium and long-term projects are being developed for other town centres.
As Covid continues to hit the income of all public sector organisations, Epping Forest District Council’s strategy for financial independence and stability is proving to be of even greater importance. The latest quarterly monitoring report for Qualis, the Council’s wholly owned private company (at O&S) and the Council’s 2019/2020 financial outturn (at Cabinet) show the strategy to be working well.
Whilst severely affected by Covid-19, the Council’s finances still remain strong because of careful financial planning over many years. This means that the Council can continue the 20p parking tariff for two and a half hours to boost the recovery of local high streets beyond Christmas.
Qualis is taking forward a range of multi-million pound development proposals including new homes and a leisure centre for Epping. The Council’s Housing Repairs Service has also just completed its transfer to Qualis. Tenants are already seeing the benefits of faster response times and the transfer has opened up further commercial opportunities to make money from the services on behalf of the Council and residents. This will be fully reported in the next Qualis update.
Wider development of new homes and infrastructure features in four Cabinet reports. There are 84 new energy-efficient Council flats and houses in the development pipeline. The Council is also working on two special housing initiatives in Waltham Abbey and with St John The Baptist Church in Epping. Another 160 units could be delivered, subject to detailed feasibility and planning approvals in the next phase.
Climate Change Emergency
Building ‘passive’ new housing sets a new standard of energy efficiency for the Council’s housing. ‘Passive’ design incorporates the latest insulation and thermal comfort standards, reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions as well as saving tenants’ money on utility bills.
Planning for the Future
All councillors are being asked to comment on the government’s new White Paper ‘Planning For The Future’.
For many years, councillors have battled to preserve the balance of local development, including the needs for housing and jobs to support local people, while protecting and preserving the green and historic nature of the District for future generations. Good progress is set to be reported to Cabinet on the current draft Local Plan and new sustainability guidance for the District as well as Harlow and Gilston Garden Town.
However, the white paper proposes radical changes to the current planning system.
Included within the white paper are proposals to streamline and speed up the planning decision process.
Although the district has a lot of undeveloped land, more than 90 percent is Green Belt, the proposals could lead to many more houses being built. All councillors are being given the opportunity to learn more in specially organised workshops and asked to respond to the consultation for a coordinated response to central government.
Council Leader Chris Whitbread said:
It is probably many years since local government has experienced such challenging times. Both sets of reports to Overview and Scrutiny and Cabinet clearly show the nature and extent of that challenge. However, Epping Forest District Council is well placed.
We are forecasting and dealing with the current crisis in a managed and reasonable way while also concentrating on the opportunities that exist in making our district a better post-Covid place in terms or employment and skills, opportunities in general and being mindful of our environment and climate.
The work of our Youth Council shows how much we can look forward to as the younger generation comes through. Its latest work on mental health in local schools is excellent and will feed into our future polices.
Qualis has enabled us to build on our already strong finances and will give us the scope to expand and develop local services just as people need it in the post-Covid recovery.
We are deeply committed
Councillor Chris Whitbread said:
We are deeply committed to our local environment. Our new Council houses are being built to the highest standards ever, incorporating the most modern insulation and energy efficiency, helping us deliver the carbon reductions our planet needs, while benefiting generations of local families for years to come.
But we are worried by some of the suggestions in the latest government white paper. Any increase in new housing above the level already identified in our draft Local Plan has to cause concern. All councillors have a voice in the consultation, as do local residents in making their views known to the government.
Overview and Scrutiny is available to watch online from 7.30pm on Thursday 15 October.
Cabinet starts at 7pm on Monday 19 October.
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