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16th November 2010
Minutes of the Corporate and Regulatory Services Committee held on Tuesday, 16 November 2010 at 7.30 pm in the Council Chamber, Council Offices, 47 Derry Road, Strabane
Present: In the Chair: Councillor D Hussey
Other Members: Councillors M Boyle, A Bresland, J Donnell, J Emery, T Kerrigan, C McGill,
K McGuire, E McMenamin, J McNulty, J O’Kane.
Total = 11
Clerk and Chief Executive (CE)
Chief Environmental Health Officer (CEHO)
Chief Building Control Officer (CBCO)
Corporate Policy Officer (CPO)
Mr Paddy Mackel, Assistant Secretary, Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA)
Mr Michael Robinson, Assistant Departmental Secretary, NIPSA
Apologies: Councillors D Breslin and B McMahon.
The Chairman welcomed all to the meeting and proceedings commenced.
Suspension of Standing Orders
Councillor Donnell requested a suspension of standing orders and asked that in the interests of community relations, a letter of congratulations be sent to Prince William and Kate Middleton on the announcement that day of their engagement and forthcoming marriage.
On the proposal of Councillor Donnell, seconded by Councillor Kerrigan, it was agreed with 5 votes in favour, 4 against and 1 abstention to send a letter of congratulations.
Councillor McGuire asked that it be recorded that he did not support the proposal.
NIPSA Briefings: Wider Cuts In Northern Ireland and Staff Cuts in Department of the Environment (DOE) Planning Service
The Chairman welcomed the delegation from NIPSA to the meeting to present the above, copies of which were previously circulated to Members.
Councillor Bresland joined the meeting at 7.40 pm.
NIPSA Briefing on Wider Cuts In Northern Ireland
Mr Mackel thanked Members for affording him the opportunity of addressing Council on the general attack on all public services, which he believed would occur if the £46 billion worth of proposed cuts were implemented.
Continuing, he advised as follows:
• The current UK government had no mandate from the people in Northern Ireland to impose the proposed cuts.
• There was no consultation with MPs, MLAs or Councillors on the rationale for the cuts, or justification for doing so over a four-year period rather than the twelve years that was available.
• The Trade Union Movement welcomed the joint declaration from the devolved administrations at the Stormont Executive, and in Scotland and Wales.
• Clearly there was little or no mandate from these jurisdictions.
• NIPSA believed that a joint approach was the best way of tackling the onslaught on public services and the devastation this would cause to local communities, in particular to older people, the young, the most vulnerable and the disadvantaged.
• Fermanagh District Council had passed a motion condemning the cuts and committing itself as a Council to resisting the cuts.
• Omagh District Council had recently debated the issue.
• Latest projections from the Confederation of British Industry were that 20,000 jobs would be lost in the public sector and 16,000 jobs in the private sector.
• The unemployment count in September 2010 was over 58,000, which was up 1,000 from August 2010.
• This was an increase of more than 5,000 since September 2009.
• In Strabane, more than 1,700 unemployed people were on Job Seekers Allowance. This figure did not include those on Incapacity Related Benefits.
• There were 5,200 job vacancies in August 2010 with almost 140,000 jobseekers competing for these.
• Adding a further 30,000 to 40,000 to that group was both a travesty and a political attack on ordinary workers by those unaffected by the cuts.
• Twenty-three out of twenty-nine members of the government’s cabinet were millionaires.
• The Trade Union Movement believed that there was an alternative to the cuts, and to do otherwise was not only morally wrong but was also a deliberate decision by supporters of financiers, speculators and bankers who had caused the problem in the first place.
• Tax Research UK had estimated that tax evasion, tax avoidance and unclaimed taxes amounted to £123 billion.
• This was compared to benefit fraud and error which amounted to £3.1 billion.
• In the last three years, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) had spent £630,000 on advertising tackling tax evasion and £17.4 million on advertising tackling benefit fraud.
• Staffing levels in HMRC, which was tasked with tackling tax evasion and avoidance of £123 billion, had been reduced by 30%.
• If that money was collected by the Treasury, the Northern Ireland Assembly’s entitlement would be approximately £3.5 billion under the Barnett Formula and the Province’s difficulties would be resolved.
In conclusion, Mr Mackel said that all jobs would be cut by 25% to 30% and this would impact on education, health, benefits, regeneration, community planning and economic development. Accordingly, he urged Council to debate the issue and consider passing a motion condemning and resisting the proposed cuts.
Thanking Members, he handed over proceedings to his colleague, Mr Robinson.
NIPSA Briefing on Staff Cuts in DOE Planning Service
Mr Robinson advised as follows:
• Upwards of 271 staff were to be cut from Doe Planning Service.
• The service was part funded by baseline funding from the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) and application fees received.
• There had been a significant reduction in application fees received due to the recession.
• Planning caseloads which averaged 180 per case officer were still higher than the 150 recommended for planning authorities in Great Britain by the Addison Report.
• Cutting 200 posts in the Operations Directorate as proposed would increase officers’ caseloads to over 300. This would cause considerable delays in the processing of applications and health, safety and welfare issues for the remaining staff.
• Planning Service was not obliged to be self-financing and it was unclear if the Minister sought additional finances required from DFP.
• The cut was a self-inflicted wound to the Northern Ireland economy.
• Clearly the current fees structure was inadequate.
• NIPSA supported the recommendation for a Strategic Review.
• The Further Review of Planning Service Operating Costs had stated: “Cutting 50% of staff in the Operations Directorate will seriously reduce the capacity of the Planning Service to process applications, assist with recovery of the economy, reduce applications in the 6/12 month category, reconsider deferred draft PPS 21 planning applications, and process enforcement cases.”
• The review team instead had recommended a cut of 38%.
• The 50% staff cuts sought in Development Planning would thwart the government’s target to have up-to-date development plans in place by 2011.
• Failure to properly fund enforcement would leave Northern Ireland vulnerable to infraction proceeding from the European Union.
• Any infraction fines would be substantial and would be levied against the Northern Ireland block.
• In conclusion, NIPSA supported the following comment made by Sammy Wilson in an email to a constituent: “… it would be a grave mistake to strip experienced planning officers out of the service resulting in an inability for the planning service to deliver quick planning decisions when investments starts again in the economy.”
The Chairman thanked the delegation for their presentation and he invited Members’ comments.
Councillor McNulty thanked the delegation and he made the following comments:
• Elected representatives of the corporate body had a responsibility to represent those from deprived areas in their communities.
• The proposed cuts would impact on those already suffering deprivation.
• Immediate action was needed by Council to resist the cuts.
• He enquired which Councils had passed resolutions opposing the proposed cuts.
Mr Mackel advised that Fermanagh District Council had passed a motion opposing the proposed cuts. He added that Omagh District Council had recently debated the issue but he was unaware as yet of their decision. He further added that 2,000 of the 8,000 public sector jobs in the Omagh area would be lost if the cuts went ahead.
Councillor McNulty asked that a motion be called supporting Fermanagh District Council’s stance on opposing the proposed cuts.
Councillor McMenamin thanked the delegation and he made the following comments:
• Attempts to eliminate tax evasion were welcomed.
• Strabane district already suffered the highest deprivation in Northern Ireland and in Europe.
• Further redundancies by the Civil Service would:
o Put many skilled workers on the unemployment heap.
o Cause a major exodus of workers from the area.
o Consequently, vital job skills, trades and expertise would be lost to the district.
• Everybody must stand together to oppose the proposed cuts.
• He enquired what the delegates would recommend.
Mr Mackel said that in his view, a joint declaration by every Councillor and MLA opposing the cuts would be a good start. He added that there was no point in blaming others for the cuts and that these would happen only if they were allowed to happen. He further added that if an additional 20% tax was levied on the richest, this would resolve the current situation.
Councillor Emery thanked the delegation and he made the following comments:
• Planning applications already took 4 to 6 months to process.
• He voiced concern that the proposed staff cuts in the Planning Service would impact on service delivery, with consumers having to wait longer for applications to be processed.
Mr Mackel responded as follows:
• The provision and delivery of a first-class planning service was critical to the economy.
• The proposed cuts were self-defeating as they would stifle any economic development.
• In the long-term, applicants would go elsewhere and consequently the Planning Service would grind to a standstill.
Councillor O’Kane thanked the delegation and he made the following comments:
• As one of the 26 Councils in the Province, Strabane District Council was blighted by cuts from government and the Civil Service.
• Despite deprivation in the Strabane district, the workhouse/soup kitchen environment was thankfully in the past.
• Councillors must stand united and strenuously oppose all cuts.
• He felt that the other 25 Councils should be contacted and their support be solicited in order to oppose the proposed cuts.
The Chairman thanked the delegation and he made the following comments:
• He concurred with Councillor O’Kane’s comments.
• All cuts in public and private sector jobs must be resisted.
• Strabane district had always been under-resourced and this should be taken into consideration when speaking with other Councils in Northern Ireland.
• He said that a letter could be sent via the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) soliciting support from the other 25 Councils to oppose the proposed cuts.
On the proposal of Councillor Hussey, seconded by Councillor O’Kane, it was agreed that a letter be sent via the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) soliciting support from the other 25 Councils to oppose the proposed cuts.
Councillor McGill thanked the delegation and she made the following comments:
• She supported the proposal that Strabane District go forward as a united front.
• Statistics from NIPSA for 2005-2010 showed that deprivation in West Tyrone remained high.
• She fully supported staff for doing a good job.
• She voiced concern that staff morale would be affected by the proposed cuts.
• Taxing the rich as appropriate and penalising tax evaders were effective ways of resolving the issue.
Mr Mackel referred to deprivation in general and advised that as a result of the proposed cuts, funding from the Department of Social Development would be withdrawn from a number of community projects. This in turn would cut the number of community projects and community workers’ jobs.
Councillor Kerrigan thanked the delegation and he made the following comments:
• Referring to current financial difficulties in the Republic of Ireland, he enquired what options the UK government would have in the same scenario with regard to borrowing.
• He voiced concern at the current high interest rates for borrowers.
• Planning applications already took a long time to process.
Mr Robinson advised that the UK government used British banks, whereas the Republic of Ireland used German banks. He added that it made more sense economically to borrow from British banks, which were in better condition.
Councillor McGuire thanked the delegation and he made the following comments:
• Strabane district could take no more cuts.
• Residents were already driving significant distances to seek work.
• Elected representatives must stand up and vote against the proposed cuts.
Councillor Boyle thanked the delegation and she made the following comments:
• She voiced concern that 72% of the tax and benefit cuts would come from women’s income as opposed to 28% from men.
• Women would pay three times more than men despite earning less.
• In the present economic climate, many women had to return to work in order to sustain outgoings.
The Chairman thanked the delegation for their comprehensive presentations and they left the meeting at 8.35 pm.
6th Monthly Performance Report
The CPO presented the 6th monthly performance report, a copy of which had been previously circulated for Members’ attention.
The Chairman asked the CPO to refer Members specifically to the red indicators.
Emergency Planning/Business Continuity
The CEHO referred to the telephone scheme at Riversdale Leisure Centre which was being set up as a back-up system and he said that this had not gone ahead due to cuts in funding and grants.
Councillor McGill referred to the staff absenteeism rate and asked if this was due to low staff morale.
The CE said that it may be due to long-term absences skewing the figures but that Strabane District Council had a low level of absenteeism compared to other councils.
The CPO responded that she was not qualified to comment on this.
Councillor McMenamin felt it may be due to the Review of Public Administration (RPA).
Councillor Hussey asked that a report regarding staff absenteeism and morale be included in next month’s Human Resources Manager’s report and this was agreed.
The CPO advised that the management team discussed budgeting and recouping at every Management Team meeting.
Councillor McNulty felt that, in his view, it was not good policy to have a low level of spend at the beginning of the financial year.
The CE said that there had been a dramatic improvement in spending this month.
The CBCO said that Building Control aimed to ensure that projects were completed. However, in the present economic downturn with fewer people working, many projects were slowing down or ceasing. Applicants were protecting their planning permission by providing foundations for a gable wall and not proceeding any further at this time. This would mean that rates for Council would also significantly decrease.
On a related issue, Councillor McNulty requested that a breakdown in underpaid rates in the Strabane district area be sought from the Land Property Services and this was agreed.
The CPO advised Members that the Chief Technical Services Officer would provide an update on the above to the November Environment Committee meeting.
Councillor McNulty commended the figures for the above.
The Chairman thanked the CPO for the report.
Sub-Regional Collaboration on Alcohol Abuse
The CPO drew Members’ attention to a draft letter to CEs and senior decision makers in the North West, which advised as follows:
• In April 2010, Derry City Council and Strabane District Council commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to consider opportunities for sub-regional collaboration across public sector bodies in the North West, including Donegal.
• The assignment was based in the context of the proposed move to a new 11 council model in 2011 as part of the RPA reform of local government. Unfortunately this had now been postponed until 2015 and elections next year would be to the existing 26 councils.
• Derry City Council and Strabane District Council remained keen to explore ways in which public sector bodies could collaborate on issues of mutual concern to improve economic and social outcomes in the region.
• The assignment used the learning from over 100 formal and informal ‘Total Place’ pilots carried out in Great Britain in 2009 to identify more efficient joined-up services delivering better outcomes at reduced cost.
• During interviews conducted by the PwC team and the senior management teams of both Councils, questions were raised as to the lack of evidence of a joined-up approach to tackling substance and alcohol abuse and anti-social behaviour.
• It was proposed that two one-day workshops be held in Derry and Strabane (a) to identify the root causes of alcohol abuse and (b) to assess the overall cost of alcohol-related interventions and collective cost of eradicating same.
• Accordingly, she was now seeking Members’ support to the proposed workshops and their attendance or that of a nominated deputy or deputies at same.
On the proposal of Councillor McMenamin, seconded by Councillor Kerrigan, support was granted for the above.
Local Area Community Planning Pilot
The CPO reminded Members that following the announcement of the above at September’s Special Council Meeting, a successful tender had been submitted to the Big Lottery Fund for the contract to deliver same. The project’s aims were as follow:
• To complement the existing Future Search Process in each Council by bringing the local planning process to the District Electoral level.
• To support the Voluntary and Community Sector to engage in the community planning process.
She further advised that the project involved the recruitment of two part-time staff, who would be placed within each of the community networks. Derry City Council was the administrative lead in the project and would undertake recruitment and financial transactions. She outlined the suggested criteria for selection of the District Electoral Area.
Councillor McNulty stated as follows:
• He agreed that the project needed to be taken on board.
• The new Strabane Town Community Partnership may wish to have a say regarding the project.
Councillor McNulty declared an interest in the Strabane Town Community Partnership as part of the consortium.
The CPO advised that she was aware of the network and she had raised the above with the consortium.
The above pilot and proposed selection criteria for the District Electoral Area was noted.
Draft Justice Bill
The CE reminded Members that they had received an email that day with the corporate responses on the Draft Justice Bill for consideration and comments. He added that given that the deadline was the following day, they were asked to submit their comments to the CPO by 4.00 pm on the following day.
The Chairman thanked the CPO for a comprehensive and knowledgeable draft response.
Chief Environmental Health Officer’s Report
The CEHO presented his monthly report, a copy of which had been previously circulated for Members’ attention. The following issues were discussed:
The CEHO advised that 29 applications were dealt with in October 2010, as outlined in the report, and these were noted.
Councillor Donnell declared an interest in the following: J/9/0340 and J/10/0366.
Electronic Planning Information for Citizens
The CEHO referred to his report and advised as follow:
• The Planning Service had commenced the Electronic Planning Information for Citizens (ePIC) System, which had been implemented in the Belfast Planning Office, Planning Headquarters and Craigavon Divisional Planning Office.
• ePIC would be implemented in Omagh Planning Office on 29 November 2010, which would impact planning applications in the Omagh, Strabane and Enniskillen council areas.
• Following that date, all consultations to Environmental Health, Building Control, Parks and Recreation and Chief Executives of Council would be issued electronically.
• In addition, all responses from statutory bodies would be available online once submitted to the Planning Service, and the Environmental Health Department would post their responses on the Planning Service portal.
Discussion ensued and the following points were made:
• ePIC was an opportunity to speed up the processing of planning applications.
• Difficult plans would still take time before being put on the website.
• Those not IT literate would find the new system difficult.
• Would planning applications still be published in the local press?
• Hard copies of plans would no longer be sent.
• Accordingly, maps would now need to be printed off.
• Fewer staff would handle case notes and concerns were raised that this could create staff reductions in the Planning Service.
The above was noted.
The Smoking (Northern Ireland Order) 2006
The CEHO reminded Members that at last month’s Committee meeting he had sought Council approval to take legal action against the registered keeper of two taxis, which were involved in smoking incidents on 23 June 2010 in contravention of the above Act.
He further advised as follows:
• The names and addresses of the two taxi-drivers were subsequently provided to the Environmental Health Department and Fixed Penalty Notices were issued to the two drivers on 22 October 2010.
• Anyone issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice could pay a reduced fine of £30.00 if the Notice was paid within 15 days of being issued.
• If paid within 29 days of being issued, that amount increased to £50.00.
• If the Notice was unpaid within the stipulated period and the recipient had not indicated a wish to contest its issue, then Council could instigate legal proceedings.
• He was now seeking approval to instigate legal proceedings against the persons detailed in Fixed Penalty Notices SDC/SF/020/10 and SDC/SF/021/10, in the event that neither was paid within the 29 day period (up to 20 November 2010).
• If either was paid, then no further action would be taken.
In response to Councillor Boyle, the CEHO advised that following 23 June 2010 when the incidents occurred and the issuing of Fixed Penalty Notices on 22 October 2010, no response or payment had been received. He added that his department had written to all taxi-drivers in the area advising that smoking was not permitted in their vehicles.
Councillor McMenamin said that taxi-drivers, who earned on average £30.00 per night, had no area in which to smoke. He added that, in his view, the fine was very harsh, especially for first-time offenders and accordingly, he could not support this.
The CEHO said that he was duty bound to enforce the legislation if Notices were unpaid.
Following discussion among Members, approval was granted for the above.
Councillor McMenamin asked that it be recorded that he did not support the motion.
On the proposal of Councillor Bresland, seconded by Councillor Kerrigan, the CEHO’s monthly report was adopted.
Any Other Business
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Councillor Donnell enquired what the rules and regulation were with regard to carbon monoxide poisoning.
The CEHO responded as follows:
• Advice could be found on the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) website at www.hseni.gov.uk – but this was for facilities in domestic settings only.
• All gas appliances, including Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) fires, should be checked annually by registered CORGI/Gas Safe engineers.
• Carbon monoxide was also emitted from chimneys and accordingly these should be swept regularly.
• Audible carbon monoxide detectors/alarms should be installed in all premises.
• These cost on average £15.00 and were available from any good DIY supplier or hardware store.
• The Northern Ireland Housing Executive no longer installed these as a standard fitting.
• Advice could also be sought from the Environmental Health Department.
In response to Councillor Bresland, the CBCO interjected that oil burners in utility rooms and boilers in general also needed to be checked regularly in order to avoid the emission of carbon monoxide fumes.
Councillor Donnell thanked both officers for their comments.
Animal Welfare Bill
Councillor Kerrigan stated that he had spent the past few days at Stormont discussing the above and he asked that this be tabled for discussion at next month’s Committee meeting.
Air Quality in the Strabane District
Councillor McNulty referred to letters he had been handed that night regarding the above.
The Chairman said he was unaware of this being tabled. He added that it was his understanding that the CEHO was dealing with this and that a corporate reply had been prepared by the CPO for the press.
Councillor McNulty said that elected representatives had a responsibility to the community to debate issues raised by members of the public regarding the enforcement of corporate decisions. He asked that this be raised for debate at next month’s Committee meeting.
Councillor O’Kane said that residents in the Strabane area lit their fires at different times during the day and night. He added that where firelighters were used to ignite smokeless fuel, smoke could be observed emitting from their chimneys.
The Chairman proposed that a report regarding the following be brought to next month’s Committee meeting and this was agreed:
• The effectiveness of the smoke control zones in the Strabane district.
• The corporate decision of Council regarding breaches of legislation for same.
Chief Building Control Officer’s Report
The CBCO presented his monthly report, a copy of which had been previously circulated for Members’ attention. The following was discussed:
The CBCO advised that 46 applications, as outlined in the report, were dealt with in October 2010 and these were noted.
Councillor Donnell declared an interest in the following: BN/2010/5066.
Councillor McNulty declared an interest in the following: BN/2010/0279.
On the proposal of Councillor McMenamin, seconded by Councillor McGuire, the CBCO’s monthly report was adopted.
Any Other Business
Derg Visioning Framework
Councillor McGuire said that he was unhappy that items had been removed from the above programme and he asked that a report regarding this issue be brought to next month’s Economic Development meeting. This was agreed.
On the proposal of Councillor Boyle, seconded by Councillor McMenamin, the meeting went ‘Into Committee’.
On the proposal of Councillor McNulty, seconded by Councillor Bresland, the meeting went ‘Out of Committee’.
Any Other Business
Parking Issues at Casement Place, Strabane
Councillor McNulty requested that a site meeting be arranged between the residents of Casement Place, Strabane and DOE/Roads Service regarding parking issues and this was agreed.
The meeting ended at 9.30 pm.