(Link to Council Priorities: All)
The Portfolio Holder for Environment, Councillor Mrs. Mary Marshall was invited to attend the meeting to answer any questions that the Committee had in respect of the work currently being undertaken as part of her Portfolio and to highlight any issues or challenges. In addition, the Portfolio Holder Member for Planning, Councillor Mrs. Karen Randolph, had been invited to reattend the Committee in order to answer any additional questions relating to the Local Plan that the Members may have.
The Committee welcomed Councillor Mrs. Randolph to the Committee and took the opportunity to ask her a number of questions in respect of the Local Plan.
One Member enquired what weight the administration would give to the public responses in favour of, or against, any of the five Local Plan options, given that each of the localities in Elmbridge was likely to favour a different approach and, in this regard, how would the Portfolio Holder ensure fairness. The Portfolio Holder explained that the five Local Plan options that had been identified had been established from evidence-based information and were not draft plans. These were possible options that could be considered during the consultation process, but it was important to note that it was unlikely that any one option could/would be implemented universally across the Borough. Unfortunately, the Government’s methodology used when devising a Local Plan was not satisfactory in terms of ensuring fairness as the Council was unable to analyse the results by age, domestic situation, employment status, residency etc. All this information was important when analysing the different demographics within the Borough. The Portfolio Holder explained that the consultation was not for residents to vote for any particular option identified but to have an opportunity to engage with the Plan making process and provide their views on how they feel the Borough should develop over the next 15 years. Furthermore, the Local Plan was not just to address the housing need within the Borough but also to identify the infrastructure required, economic viability, Schools etc. The results from the consultation, in conjunction with the evidence-based information, would assist with the formation of the Local Plan and it was important that as many people as possible responded to the Consultation process.
In response to a question regarding the procedure and timeline for choosing a preferred Local Plan option and whether the public would have a further opportunity to make any comments, the Portfolio Holder explained that following the close of the options consultation the timetable for the new Local Plan would be reviewed, and this would continue to be reviewed after each consultation stage. The feedback on the results of the options consultation would be published before Christmas and in the new year, a six-week consultation (January-March 2020) was planned in respect of the Local Plan’s Vision i.e. updating the Council’s Development Management Policies. The preferred approach for the Local Plan and the Site Selection would then be presented by way of a Draft Local Plan, including all of the updated Development Management Policies and this was anticipated to be completed next year. The Draft Local Plan would then be considered by Cabinet and Council (September-October 2020), followed by a 6-week representation period for residents to provide any comments. Any comments received at this stage, although collated by the Council, would be passed directly to the Planning Inspector for consideration. It was anticipated that the examination of the Local Plan would take place approximately three to four months after submission, around the first quarter of 2021.
As a follow up question, the Member enquired as to the extent the Council’s Administration was prepared to push back against the Inspector’s likely desire to squeeze the maximum number of homes in the Borough. The Portfolio Holder explained that it was difficult to answer this question at this stage of the Plan-making process as it was unknown whether the Plan would or would not meet the housing need or how many homes would be planned for. Furthermore, the Local Plan that the Council submitted and presented for examination to the Planning Inspector should be one that had met all of the rigorous tests required in terms of soundness and once the Plan had been agreed it would be robustly defended at the Evidence in Public (EIP) stage.
On behalf of the Committee, the Chairman thanked both the Portfolio Holder for Planning and the Head of Planning for attending the meeting and for providing the Members with detailed answers in respect of the Local Plan.
The Committee then welcomed Councillor Mrs. Marshall to the Committee and took the opportunity to ask a number of questions.
Given the Climate Emergency that had been declared by the Council, one Member asked the Portfolio Holder to advise the Committee of the level of CO2 emissions that had been reported by the Council for its own operations for the period January to August 2019 in comparison to the same period in 2018, the whole of 2018 and explain any differences in the performance achieved. Furthermore, the Member noted that it had appeared that the Council had recently invested in some new vehicles and enquired whether these were electric, hybrid, diesel or petrol driven vehicles. The Portfolio Holder explained that she did not have the information for the period January to August 2019 however, since 2008/09 and up until 2017/18 the Council had noticed a year on year reduction in CO2 emissions, estimated at -17.81%, and this information was accessible via the Council’s website. The Portfolio Holder advised that she was not aware of any newly purchased Council vehicles. She further added that the Council had a fleet of electric vehicles that were used by officers when undertaking Council business off site, but she was not aware of any vehicles that had been purchased since the Council’s Climate Emergency declaration. The Chairman explained that officers would look in to this matter and circulate a response to Members following the meeting.
In respect of the Council’s Climate Emergency declaration made in July 2019, the Chairman reminded Members that she had sought clarification at the Council meeting that the declaration specifically included a commitment that when existing Elmbridge vehicles or contracts were due for renewal that this be taken in to consideration.
Following the Council’s pledge to make the Council carbon neutral by 2030, one Member enquired what steps were being taken to promote the uptake of electric or other cleaner vehicles by employees and visitors to the Council and whether any incentives had been considered in this regard. The Portfolio Holder explained that unfortunately it was not in her gift to advise visitors to the Council on what they should or should not drive but could provide education and awareness. However, the staff car park did have a number of charging points installed to power the Council’s electric vehicles and when the vehicles were in use, any staff member that had a hybrid or electric vehicle could currently use this facility to charge their vehicle.
As a follow up question one Member enquired whether the charging points in the staff car park were solely for employees use and whether they had to pay for using them. The Portfolio Holder explained that when an officer used their vehicle for work purposes they were able to claim back petrol costs in respect of the mileage done. By allowing officers the ability to charge their vehicles as an incentive was not only greener but was more cost effective.
One Member enquired whether the Council had any plans to install solar panels on the Civic Centre to offset the vehicle charging costs. The Portfolio Holder explained that the Civic Centre already had solar panels installed on the building and that an audit was due to be undertaken in this regard which could identify a need for additional panels or identify any possible alternative recommendations.
In respect of Tetra-Paks, one Member commented that residents had found it difficult in recycling these since the recycling banks had been removed. In this regard the Member asked what alternate measures had been put in place to address this. The Portfolio Holder explained that Tetra-Paks were not considered economically or environmentally viable to recycle given that the recycling banks did not crush the Tetra-Paks and therefore the banks became full quite quickly. The Portfolio Holder was aware of only one company that recycled Tetra-Paks and due to the costs involved it was not financially viable to recycle these.
In respect of a question relating to why there had been instances where textiles had not been collected along with the normal refuse, the Portfolio Holder advised that she was only aware that this had happened on a couple of occasions, however this was an Amey operational issue and the Council was working with Joint Waste Solutions to improve the reliability and resilience to all of the refuse service areas.
One Member enquired how much it would cost for the Council to become carbon neutral by 2030 and what steps the administration was doing to achieve this. The Portfolio Holder explained that as highlighted in the recent Cabinet paper, the Council was to engage with the Carbon Trust, employ an expert in this area and to work with the Surrey Environment Partnership in order to establish a way forward. In respect of the costs involved, the Portfolio Holder advised that this was to become more apparent in due course. Furthermore, the audit being undertaken in respect of the Council’s assets would also establish what could or could not be done to improve the buildings. In response, the Member commented that the Council should be identifying ways of reducing its carbon footprint but also saving money at the same time. In response, the Portfolio Holder explained that she was aware that local communities were keen to get involved with this issue and as Members there was a responsibility in how money was spent in this regard.
The Chairman enquired what had been done to incorporate air quality issues within planning applications specifically ones that had large vehicles and multi movements and whether Air Quality Management Areas had been taken into account during the planning process. The Portfolio Holder explained that whilst this was a question for planning, the Committee had already been advised on how air quality was being monitored by the Council during the previous agenda item. However, the Portfolio Holder was aware of a recent planning application, although not relating to this Borough, that had been declined on air quality reasons.
The Chairman thanked both the Portfolio Holder for Planning and Environment for attending the meeting and for providing detailed answers to the various questions posed by the Committee.