Agenda and minutes
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Venue: St Aldate's Room - Oxford Town Hall. View directions
Contact: Sarah Claridge, Committee Services Officer
Apologies for absence
Apologies for absence were received from Councillor Hayes.
Declarations of interest
There were no declarations of interest made.
The Chair presented the report.
The Committee reviewed and noted the following changes in its work plan for the 2016/17 council year.
The Scrutiny Officer advised the Committee that:
• The Sustainability Strategy (listed for scrutiny in December) has slipped.
• Workplace Parking Levies (listed for scrutiny in February) will come forward once the County have proposals to consult on. In November their Cabinet agreed to develop proposals.
• Instead of an update on the work of the Health & Wellbeing Board, the Board Member has suggested that Scrutiny looks at their Health Inequalities report and consider areas the City could take forwards. This may require a one-off Panel meeting in the new year.
The Committee agreed to scrutinise the Health Inequalities report as suggested.
Cllr Chapman asked about when the language schools panel would start, the Scrutiny Officer said that the Committee had commissioned a report and depending on the outcomes of it a review panel would be formed in February or March 2017.
Cllr Henwood updated the Committee on the work of the Housing Panel. The Panel has a meeting on Wednesday –with Oxford and Brookes Universities to discuss student numbers and HMOs.
Cllr Tidball updated the Committee on the work of the Devolution Review Group. The group met last Monday with the chair of OxLEP, the devolution report authors and the Head of Planning and Regulatory to discuss the infrastructure needs of Oxfordshire. The next meeting is scheduled for 16 November and will focus on social care.
The Committee requested the Commissioned Advice Strategy from the Forward Plan.
The Chair presented the report on recommendations.
All recommendations from the last meeting were agreed with one partial – Recommendation 2 on Tree Management Policy.
The Committee noted the report.
Cllr Hollingsworth, Board member for Planning and Regulatory Services presented the report. The Annual Monitoring Report (AMR) covers a wide range of indicators, the interesting ones have been highlighted in the officer’s report. The AMR is a statutory requirement and will influence the local plan review by determining whether policies need to be revised or retained.
The Committee discussed student numbers and student build accommodation.
· The Council’s policy is to allow only 3,000 students from each university living outside of student accommodation. Brookes currently has 3,700 students living outside of student accommodation.
· Student accommodation is defined in the Local Plan as being accommodation fully owned and run by Brookes or Oxford universities. It also includes long leased properties which are managed by the universities.
· The policy does not extend to language schools or other education institutes in the city. The Council attempted to include these at the last review of the Local Plan but it was blocked by the inspector.
· The penalty for exceeding this policy is that the Council will add a Grampian condition on all University planning applications that specify that the new academic buildings can’t be occupied until the number of students living in private accommodation are down.
· The growth in university numbers means that the Council will have to refine its policy. It might not be appropriate to continue to group graduate and post graduate students together.
· Brookes University’s proposal to differentiate students into type is interesting and needs to be considered as we need a policy that is fit for the next 20 years.
· Student accommodation needs at other academic institutions in the city will also be considered during the review of the Local Plan.
· The Council has commissioned work with Cambridge City Council to review the growth of academic institutes which will help inform future policies.
Cllr Wilkinson asked if indicator 33: Traffic growth at inner and outer cordons was relevant? The Planning Policy Officer explained that the data comes from Oxfordshire County Council and the City Council can’t influence it but it does provide context for other policies. The Committee decided to query the need of this indicator with the City Executive Board.
Cllr Wilkinson asked whether the Council record the numbers of pubs that have shut and been subject to a change of use. The Planning Policy Manager explained that the Council doesn’t keep a list of pubs lost but if members want us to record this, the current policy is that we would stop monitoring one of the other indicators as the fewer indicators the more useful the document.
Cllr Wilkinson asked about the promotion of self-build in the city. Self-build is promoted on the Council’s website but there is not a lot of interest in the city as there are few sites available.
Cllr Simmons asked why the Council had failed to meet retail targets. Cllr Hollingsworth explained that the Government has made a number of changes to how we manage retail in the local plan. It is now very ... view the full minutes text for item 56.
Cllr Tanner, Board member for A Clean and Green Oxford presented the report. He explained that progress was being made in improving air quality in the city but that further action was needed. The Air Quality Officer explained that public awareness of the impacts of air pollution on health was increasing. There needed to be a shift to zero emissions in the city as hybrid buses still produced diesel emissions.
The Committee asked about the implications of a recent Client Earth court ruling. The Air Quality Officer advised that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) had indicated that their broad framework and the current targets would remain in place post-Brexit. DEFRA was likely to look to increase the number of Clean Air Zones being implemented in UK cities but this was not expected to affect Oxford because a planned zero emissions zone already went further. Another possible change could be the responsibility for meeting EU targets, which sat with the Secretary of State, being pushed down to local levels, together with any associated fines. The Committee suggest that, in the event of a future weakening of air quality targets in the UK, the Council should continue to work to the current EU targets.
Cllr Wilkinson said that the Low Emissions Zone (LEZ) in Oxford City Centre was not well publicised by signage. The Air Quality Manager explained that the LEZ only applied to buses and while the bus companies were fully aware, more could be done in terms of wider awareness-raising.
Cllr Fry said that there were no smokeless fuel obligations or restrictions on boat emissions in the City Centre area, unlike at various residential mooring zones in the city. The Committee suggest that such measures are needed and, in addition, that the Council should lobby the statutory body to introduce appropriate measures more widely.
The Committee noted that there was a growing body of evidence that planting trees can help to reduce nitrogen dioxide concentrations and noted that the Council could draw on local expertise in this field. The Air Quality Officer agreed and said this was something that could be looked at. The Committee suggest that further consideration should be given to the case for tree planting to offset emissions and whether tree planting could be included in the Council’s Air Quality Action Plan.
The Committee examined air quality data at various locations in the City for 2011 to 2015 and questioned why, following a trend of steadily improving data, air quality appeared to have deteriorated in 2015 at various locations. The Committee heard that the monitoring data was considered to be accurate to within plus or minus 25%, so the 2015 rises were generally within the margin of error. However, it was expected that prolonged roadworks close to some monitoring locations had had a significant impact on air quality in those areas.
The Air Quality Officer said that St. Clements was one area where, even allowing for the margin of error, the monitoring data ... view the full minutes text for item 57.
Cllr Brown, Board member for Customer and Corporate Services presented the report. She told the Committee was today was the first day of the new benefit limits.
The Committee made the following comments
Cllr Pegg asked if there was a number that concerned benefit recipients could call. She asked that advice on how to assist people and the phone number be sent to all councillors. The Revenues & Benefits Programme Manager agreed to do this.
Cllr Simmons asked how much of the grant the Council was using and how much do we predict to use? - Cllr Brown said that the Council hadn’t spent half of the budget because we’ve been aware of the lower benefit cap being introduced. The Council has been saving money to assist households that need help over the next few months.
Cllr Simmons asked if there had been any progress on the London grant levels in Oxford. Cllr Brown said the Council continues to lobby government on having London levels on all sorts of things.
Cllr Chapman asked if the government grant will be the same next year. The Revenues & Benefits Programme Manager said he expected the total grant settlement to be around 500,000. There has been approximately a £1.1M reduction in benefits, so there will be pressure on the budget.
Cllr Fry asked if there had been implications on officer time due to the increased demand. The Revenues & Benefits Programme Manager said that additional funding had been secured from DWP for administration which would fund a full time post for 1 year. The team now consist of 4 members with a caseload of 30-40 people each. The challenge will be to manage the caseload and work out on-going workload.
Cllr Azad asked how the team could prevent homelessness in the private rental sector.
The Revenues & Benefits Programme Manager explained that Support would be given irrespective of living conditions, with the aim being to keeping people in their properties.
The Chair asked if any progress had been made on the Scrutiny Committees previous recommendation 2: on approaches being taken by other local authorities.
Cllr Brown said the team is actually leading the way for other councils to follow.
Cllr Simmons asked why the Council doesn’t top up the fund and asked if other councils were topping up?
The Revenues & Benefits Programme Manager said that most of the other council aren’t topping up their fund as they can’t financially afford to.
The Scrutiny Committee noted the report and thanked officers for their good work.
The Digital Development Manager presented the report. The Digital Strategy explains how the Council will use technology to improve customer services. The Strategy has a customer focus and will provide automated services (for those who wish to use them) and broaden the range of services customers can access on the Council’s website.
The Committee discussed the challenges of making services accessible for people who don’t use computers. The Committee received assurances that the Council wouldn’t be stopping services to those who don’t use computers and that officers would still be available for members of the public to talk to. The Strategy was just about making more services accessible on-line. Technology was also recognised as increasing inclusiveness, as accessibility programs enable people with disabilities to access council services online.
Cllr Tidball welcomed the fact that the new Council website met AA accessibility standards and suggested a number of groups and individuals the Council could engage with around online accessibility, such as the student disability community and the University of Oxford’s Accessibility Advisor.
Cllr Simmons noted that the Strategy did not extend to outside visitors, he felt that as many search engines directed visitors to the Council website there was a need for the Strategy and action plan to outline how the Council would direct these visitors to tourist providers.
Cllr Fry felt that the planning part of the council website was quite difficult to navigate and improving this should be a priority in the Action Plan. The Digital Development Manager said that the planning software was provided by a national provider and that it would be a challenge to make significant improvements until such a time as the contract was due for renewal.
Cllr Henwood said it would be beneficial to have access of the Council website at the community centres so that people without computers could access council services online.
Cllr Simmons said that the Digital Strategy’s customer focus could transform how Council engaged with customers. He suggested it would be worthwhile to combine the Digital Strategy with the Community Engagement Strategy.
The Scrutiny Committee agreed the following recommendation to CEB
That the Council consults with disability groups on the accessibility of online council services.
That the Digital Strategy and Action Plan mention the needs of visitors, in particular how the Council website could direct visitors to tourist providers.
That the Council prioritises improving the ease of use of online planning services, and includes this longer-term aim in the Action Plan.
That consideration is given to whether the Council’s website could be more accessible from community centres.
That consideration is given to whether the Digital Strategy could be combined with the Community Engagement Strategy in future.
Dates of future meetings
Meetings are scheduled as followed:
6 December 2016
30 January 2017
28 February 2017
27 March 2017
All meetings start at 6.00 pm.
Housing Standing Panel – 9 November 2016
Finance Standing Panel – 8 December 2016
The next meeting is scheduled for 6 December 2016
Minutes from 6 October 2016
Recommendation: That the minutes of the meeting held on 6 October 2016 be APPROVED as a true and accurate record.
The Committee resolved to APPROVE the minutes of the meeting held on 6 October 2016 as a true and accurate record.