REVIEW OF GREEN SPACE MANAGEMENT STRATEGY
The Executive Member for Leisure presented a report of the Head of Leisure and Environmental Services in respect of the review of the Councils Green Space Management Strategy. The following appendices were submitted with the report:
Appendix A - Green Space Management Strategy 2017-2021; Appendix B - Citizens Panel Focus Groups; Appendix C - Comments from Area Committees; Appendix D - Proposals for Play Areas; Appendix E - Green Space Capital Programme 2017-2021; and Appendix F - Impact Assessment. The Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee presented the following referral from that Committee, made at its meeting held on 17 January 2017, in respect of the Review of the Green Space Management Strategy (Minute 85 refers): RECOMMENDED TO CABINET: (1) That Cabinet consider whether the demographics and size of the focus groups were appropriate for the type of consultation, particularly whether the views of young people and children who were the main users of these facilities, had been included; and (2) That Recommendation 2.3 of the report be amended to reflect that the Council should be more proactive in seeking community groups to take on facilities and advertise that support would be offered to guide groups through the process, particularly through use of social media. The Chairman of the Royston and District Committee (Councillor Fiona Hill) reinforced the comments made by the Royston & District Committee at its meeting held on 30 November 2016 regarding the Green Space Management Strategy. There were nine play areas in Royston referred to in the Strategy, and the proposal was to continue with full investment in three play spaces, limited investment in four, and removal of the equipment in the remaining two. (Betjeman Road and Farriar Court), unless an alternative source of funding or another provider could be found. The Chairman of the Royston and District Committee stated that the above proposal had been formulated after a visit which had showed that the two play areas were apparently not being used and lack of equipment wear and tear. The areas were comprised of wet-pore safety surfacing and so little wear and tear would be evident in any event, hence the Royston & District Committees view that the evidence was flawed. The Committee was aware that the areas were used by small children. There may be other well-used play areas in close proximity, but often younger children felt intimidated by older children and preferred the smaller play areas. The Chairman of the Royston and District Committee commented that childhood obesity was a huge problem, and play areas were recognised as a vital requirement in the National Planning Policy Framework in planning future developments. At least two of the play areas mentioned in the Green Space Management Strategy were located in fairly new estates. NHS England and Public Health at Hertfordshire County Council also encouraged active play. Although the proposal was to leave open spaces, this would not encourage young children to use them without the play equipment. The Chairman of the Royston and District Committee explained that she had visited the Royston play areas with the Executive Member for Leisure, and had pointed out the concerns of the Royston and District Committee. She asked Cabinet to take these concerns seriously and to re-consider the proposal to remove play equipment before finally adopting the Green Space Management Strategy 2017-2021. The Executive Member for Leisure advised that the report recognised the great value of the Districts green spaces, but identified in the light of the Councils financial outlook described in the Medium Term Financial Strategy that it was no longer considered prudent to continue with the existing relatively high level of capital and revenue expenditure devoted to those green spaces. The Executive Member for Leisure stated that the draft proposals had been the subject of consultation by focus groups comprised of members of NHDCs Citizens Panel. This method had employed an open questionnaire approach as this allowed a more considered opinion of the wider community. It ensured a relatively proportional representation of different demographic and socio-economic groups. There had also been press coverage, which had generated a good deal of e-mail responses. By and large, the feedback from the focus groups, the e-mail responses and the Area Committees had been largely similar, particularly in respect of equipped play areas. One of the main comments was that the Council should look at alternative ways to retain all 47 play areas. The Executive Member for Leisure explained that the Brook View play area in Hitchin had given rise to the most comments. This play area had been identified as having medium usage, in which case the equipment could be removed, as the nearby Broadmead play area could be used instead. However, having listened to the consultation responses, the greater use of Brook View by younger people had been recognised, and hence the last Green Space Project Board meeting had accepted that this play area should be upgraded to the next level (ie. retained with limited investment). In respect of the Project Boards further recommendations following the consultation exercise, the Executive Member for Leisure advised as follows: Great Ashby play areas - historically, NHDC had taken on responsibility for these play areas, as there was no parish/community council for Great Ashby. Great Ashby now had a community council and, should it take on responsibility for these play areas it would provide parity with other parishes in the District which had such responsibility, paid for through parish precepts. At the request of the Ward member for Great Ashby, it was proposed that all 8 play areas would be up for discussion with the community council over the next 12 months. Accordingly, the categorisation of these play areas would be amended in the Strategy to allow for flexibility, provided the outcome was at no greater cost to NHDC; Play areas in the Districts towns - it was now proposed to remove the equipment from 13 smaller play areas, with a view to a new proactive campaign (as recommended by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee) with town/parish councils and community groups over the next 12 months or so to seek alternative funding sources/providers to take over the capital and revenue costs of running these play areas. In respect of the two such small play areas identified by the Royston and District Committee, the relatively low usage of these areas had been corroborated by the Councils Grounds Maintenance contractor, although it was hoped that an alternative provider (possibly Royston Town Council) could be approached to take over the responsibility for these areas. 14 larger play areas would receive full investment and 20 play areas would receive limited investment; Football pitches - the level of use of these pitches would be monitored and, if supply exceeded demand, the aim would be to reduce the number of pitches accordingly; Football pavilions - the consultation recognised that these pavilions were used by a very small section of the community on a limited number of days each year. The 2016/17 Capital Programme currently contained a £50,000 contribution towards a new pavilion at Walsworth Common, but in view of the fact that it may take some years to secure additional funding for the project, it was now proposed that the £50,000 be moved to the 2020/21 Capital Programme. In respect of the 4 pavilions recognised as being beyond economic repair, it was proposed that they be closed at the end of the 2016/17 football season and that, following a years consultation similar to the play areas, the pavilions be either demolished or taken over by local community groups. The future of Swinburn and Ransoms pavilions in Hitchin were dependent upon the outcome of the new Walsworth pavilion project, but would remain open for the time being; Other Green Space infrastructure - it was proposed to not develop further the provision of wheeled sports, tennis courts and Multi-USE Games Areas (MUGAs), with the exception of items contained in the approved Masterplan for Bancroft Recreation Ground, Hitchin; and Green Space Capital Programme - the revised Capital Programme contained a 4 year, £809,000 NHDC capital investment for green space on areas identified as priorities by residents. It also aimed to secure £479,000 of Section 106 contributions and external grants, giving a total 4 year investment of approximately £1.3Million. The Executive Member for Leisure concluded by stating that the revised Capital investment programme took into account the results of public consultation and focused investment on areas of greatest community benefit. It would ensure that the Green Space Management Strategy met with the requirements of the Councils current Medium Term Financial Strategy, whilst maintaining an adequate and sustainable green space infrastructure. The Executive Member of Policy, Transport and Green Issues commented that he had attended the meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee where the consultation exercise had been discussed. There had been discussion at that meeting about the 29 residents involved in the Focus Groups, but with his knowledge of the Councils Citizens Panel from which the 29 were chosen, he knew that those individuals were scientifically selected. Assuming the science was right, it was going to be reflective of the demographics of the District. The Executive Member of Policy, Transport and Green Issues continued that it was important to note that further responses had been received through the local press, via e-mails and Area Committees and from users of the play areas and that, unsurprisingly, they wished the play areas to be kept open. He felt that it was also important during consultation exercises to capture the views of Council Tax payers who were not regular users of the play areas, and that their views were just as valid. The regrettable fact was that their views tended not to get reflected in petitions and other forms of response. The Cabinet was satisfied that the consultation exercise on the review of the Strategy had been appropriate and robust. In approving the Strategy, the Cabinet supported the recommendation of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee that the Council should be encouraging and working with potential alternative providers, such as community groups, in taking over capital and revenue maintenance responsibility for the facilities scheduled for closure. Members imposed a deadline of 1 March 2018 for the submission to the Council of proposals from any such alternative providers. RESOLVED: (1) That the results of the consultation, as identified in the body of the report, be noted, and that it be further noted that Cabinet was satisfied that demographics and size of the focus groups were appropriate for the type of consultation, and that the views of young people and children who were the main users of these facilities had been included in the consultation results; (2) That the draft new Green Space Management Strategy (GSMS) 2017 - 2021, as attached at Appendix A to the report, be formally adopted; (3) That it be noted that, prior to removing facilities identified in the Strategy, the Council shall allow up to 1 March 2018 for interested parties to put forward sustainable proposals that would fund both the capital and revenue requirements to safely continue to provide such facilities, and that a proactive approach be adopted in seeking community groups to take on facilities, including advertising that support would be offered to guide groups through the process, particularly through use of social media; (4) That the work programme in the new Green Space Management Strategy be incorporated into the 2017/18 budget setting process; and (5) That, so far as Cabinets authority is required in respect of any variation to the contract with the Grounds Maintenance contractor, to give effect to any future revenue saving options identified within the GSMS, such authority be delegated to the Head of Leisure and Environmental Services, in consultation with the Executive Member for Waste, Recycling and Environment. REASON FOR DECISION: To best enable the retention of the green space within the budgets available to the Council. [Note: Councillor Tony Hunter requested that his name be recorded in the Minutes as abstaining in the vote upon the above resolutions.]
CORPORATE BUSINESS PLANNING - BUDGET SETTING 2017/18
The Executive Member for Finance and IT presented the report of the Strategic Director of Finance, Policy and Governance in respect of Corporate Business Planning - Budget Setting 2017/18. The following appendices were submitted with the report:
Appendix 1 - General Fund estimates (1.9% Council Tax increase); Appendix 2 - General Fund estimates (£5 Council Tax increase); Appendix 3 - Revenue Efficiency and Investment proposals; Appendix 4 - Revised NHDC Sustainability Plan; and Appendix 5 - Budget Risks for 2017/18. The Chairman of the Finance, Audit and Risk Committee presented the following referral from that Committee, made at its meeting held on 23 January 2017, in respect of the Corporate Business Planning - Budget Setting 2017/18 (Minute 64 refers): RECOMMENDED TO CABINET: That, following the Committees disappointment that the Cabinet had not accepted its previous recommendation in respect of Efficiency Saving E25 - Replace Area Committees with a more informal alternative, it was recommended that this item be removed as: (i) it was still premature/speculative at the current time to identify a savings figure for this proposal, without a fully costed alternative; and (ii) the rationale for the savings figure of £50,000 was unclear from the paperwork, especially as no alternative had been identified. The Executive Member for Finance and IT advised that the recommendation from the Finance, Audit and Risk Committee would be considered when the Cabinet discussed the efficiencies and investment proposals later in the meeting. The Executive Member for Finance and IT stated that the Budget would be adjusted in the paperwork that was submitted to Council on 9 February 2017 to reflect the decision made at the Council meeting held on 19 January 2017 regarding the increase in Members Allowances for 2017/18. The Executive Member for Finance and IT advised that the major changes to the report from the draft Budget report considered by the Committee in December 2017 were as follows: The proposed changes to New Homes Bonus that introduced a baseline percentage were now incorporated into the main report, they were previously provided as an addendum; The forecast of numbers of new homes had been reviewed. Based on the revised information available, this was not expected to lead to a significant change in the funding; The Council Tax Base for 2017/18 had been reviewed. This was an increase of 1.4% from 2016/17, and was higher than the previously expected increase of 0.65%. This was expected to generate an additional £75,000 of Council Tax income from 2017/18 onwards; Budget risks for 2017/18 had been reviewed again, leading to small increase in the amount to allow for in the minimum General Fund balance; A high level review of budgets, as at the end of November 2016, had been carried out. This had identified £469,000 of underspends against the working budget. Of this there were requests for £191,000 of this to be carried forward into 2017/18. The impact on 2017/18 was expected to be minimal (£5,000); The decrease in funding meant that further savings needed to be identified and delivered. When combined with the shortfall against the existing target, there was a need to deliver at least a further £1.43 million of savings by 2020/21; and A revised NHDC sustainability plan was attached to this report as Appendix 4. The Executive Member for Finance and IT summarised the other major elements of the report. He remained of the view that a £5 increase (Band D equivalent) in Council Tax for 2017/18 was appropriate, and that the Capital Receipts direction proposals contained in the report be confirmed. The Executive Member for Finance and IT went through the lists of Efficiency and Investment proposals contained in Appendices 3 and 4 to the report. The following comments/amendments were made: E3 - Parking Strategy - meetings regarding this matter were ongoing, and any proposals forthcoming would be the subject of consultation with interested parties, including Town Centre Managers and Area Committees; E11/E12 - Green Space Management Strategy - the expenditure reduction figures would be adjusted on these items to reflect the decision made earlier in the meeting on this matter; E19 - NHDC Apprenticeship Scheme - continuation of the Scheme for 2017/18 was safeguarded, but this matter would be reviewed each year; E25 - Replace Area Committees with a more informal alternative - the Executive Member for Policy, Transport and Green Issues commented that the issue raised by the Finance, Audit and Risk Committee in December 2016 had been addressed by Cabinet at its meeting held on 20 December 2016, the minutes stating
although the concerns of the Finance, Audit and Risk Committee were acknowledged, this proposal should remain in place to allow alternatives to be investigated. The Executive Member for Policy, Transport and Green Issues remained of that view, and he advised that further meetings would take place to identify a more informal alternative. However, it was unlikely that that any informal alternative would be in place for the start of the 2017/18 financial year, and hence it was agreed that the saving figure for 2017/18 should be halved to £25,000; E28 - Removal of Allotment concessions - it was agreed that this item be deleted, pending a review of the viability of all Council concessions. RECOMMENDED TO COUNCIL: (1) That it be noted that the provisional Central Government settlement for 2017/18 is £4.671 million, which is £186,000 less than previously forecast; (2) That the estimated position on the Collection Funds and how this will be funded be noted; (3) That a £5 increase (Band D equivalent) in Council Tax for 2017/18 be approved; (4) That the position relating to the General Fund balance be noted and, that due to the risks identified, a minimum balance of £1.6 million is recommended; (5) That the reduction in the 2016/17 working budget of £469,000 be approved, and the expected impact in 2017/18 of £5,000 be noted; (6) That the requests for carry-forward that total £191,000 be noted; (7) That the inclusion of the efficiencies and investment proposals, as set out at Appendix 3 to the report, in the General Fund budget estimates for 2017/18 be approved, subject to the following amendments: E11/E12 - Green Space Management Strategy - the expenditure reduction figures to be adjusted to reflect the decision made earlier in the meeting on this matter; E25 - Replace Area Committees with a more informal alternative - the saving in 2017/18 be halved to £25,000, as it was unlikely that any informal alternative would be in place for the start of the 2017/18 financial year; E28 - Removal of Allotment concessions - this item be deleted, pending a review of the viability of all Council concessions; (8) That the savings targets for future years be noted; (9) That the inclusion of the Capital Receipts direction proposals in the budget report be confirmed; (10) That the NHDC Sustainability Plan, as attached at Appendix 4 to the report, be noted; and (11) That the estimated 2017/18 net expenditure of £16.5Million, as detailed in Appendix 2 to the report, be approved. REASON FOR DECISION: To ensure that all relevant factors are taken into consideration when arriving at the proposed Council Tax precept for 2017/18; and to ensure that the Cabinet recommends a balanced budget to Council on 9 February 2017. [Note: Councillor Tony Hunter requested that his name be recorded in the Minutes as abstaining in the vote upon the above recommendations.]
CAPITAL PROGRAMME 2017/18 ONWARDS
The Executive Member for Finance and IT presented a report of the Strategic Director of Finance, Policy and Governance in respect of the proposed Capital Programme 2017/18 onwards. The following appendices were submitted with the report:
Appendix A - Capital Programme Summary; Appendix B - Capital Programme Detail; and Appendix C - Capital Investment Proposals for 2017/18 and onwards. The Executive Member for Finance and IT advised that the Councils Capital investment in North Hertfordshire for 2017/18 amounted to some £16Million. The Executive Member for Finance and IT explained that the Capital investment proposals contained in the report could be summarised into the following headings: Those that were invest to save. These proposals followed the principle agreed in the Medium Term Financial Strategy to look for ways of investing capital resources in order to save on running costs in the General Fund; Those that related to investment in the Leisure Centres; Those for Closed Circuit Television (CCTV); Those that were to deliver the action plans of the current Green Space Strategy; Those for investment in IT infrastructure. The Executive Member for Finance and IT stated that the Capital investment proposals did not include the implications of the revised Green Space Management Strategy considered by Cabinet earlier in the meeting. These implications would be included in the budget paperwork to be submitted to Council on 9 February 2017. The Executive Member for Finance and IT commented that the Capital Programme could be funded by a combination of third party contributions (e.g. S106 and grants), government grants, revenue contributions, prudential borrowing and useable and set aside capital receipts. The estimated intended funding sources for the Capital Programme were shown in Appendix A to the report. The Executive Member for Finance and IT advised that each capital scheme must be individually assessed on its own merits and business case, but that the overall affordability of the Capital Programme must also remain under review The Cabinet noted that, in 2017/18, a total of £2.2million of third party contributions and grants was expected to be applied, in order to alleviate pressure on the Councils available capital receipts and to allow for further investment The Executive Member for Finance and IT stated that a number of assets had been identified for disposal, via the Asset Management Plan, and it was anticipated that the Council would complete disposals during 2018/19 which would generate receipts of around £2.4million. The capital receipts direction allowed new capital receipts to be used for one-off revenue purposes to support transformation and efficiency projects that delivered ongoing revenue savings. This option would also be considered as receipts became available. The Executive Member for Finance and IT went through the Capital Programme detail and Capital Investment Proposals for 2017/18 and onwards set out in Appendices B and C to the report, respectively. RECOMMENDED TO COUNCIL: (1) That the inclusion in the proposed Capital Programme of all the new Capital Investment proposals listed in Appendix C to the report, totalling £4.584Million overall (£1.174Million profiled in 2017/18) be approved; and (2) That the provisional Capital Programme for 2017/18 to 2020/21 of £16.14Million, as detailed in Appendices A and B to the report, be adopted. REASON FOR DECISION: To ensure that the Capital Programme meets the Councils objectives and that officers can plan the implementation of the approved schemes.
TREASURY MANAGEMENT STRATEGY 2017/18
The Executive Member for Finance and IT presented a report of the Strategic Director of Finance, Policy and Governance in respect of the proposed Treasury Management Strategy 2017/18. The following appendices were submitted with the report:
Appendix A - Treasury Management Policy Statement: Appendix B - Treasury Management Practices; and Appendix C - Treasury Strategy Statement. The Executive Member for Finance and IT advised that there were no major changes to the Treasury Management Strategy for 2017/18 from that approved for 2016/17. However, there were some clarifications to the Property Fund criteria, as follows: (i) Clarification of how the maximum investment period operated in relation to property funds. There were both up-front set up and exit costs for Property Funds. The capital value of these funds also fluctuated over time. Whilst in general it was possible to exit these funds at any time, there were likely to be more optimum times to do so. Therefore, there would not be a requirement to disinvest in line with the maximum period of investment of 5 years, and instead investments would be monitored on a regular basis to balance the need for cash (liquidity risk) with exit costs (market risk); (ii) No more than 25% of investments to be placed with Property Funds; and (iii) As Property Funds and Building Societies were exposed to the property market, the combined value of these investments would not exceed 75% of total investments. In response to a Members question, the Head of Finance, Performance and Asset Management commented that the 25% figure mentioned in (ii) above was very much a maximum figure. He further confirmed that it would be imprudent and potentially in breach of Section 1 of the Local Government Act 2003 for the Council to raise external finance (i.e. borrow) whilst it had sufficient capital reserves to fund the Capital Programme. RECOMMENDED TO COUNCIL: (1) That the Treasury limits for 2017/18 be approved as follows: (i) Interest Rate Exposure (as at Paragraph 3.4, Appendix C); (ii) Maturity Structure of Borrowing (as at Paragraph 3.4, Appendix C); (iii) Investment Strategy to continue to use Building Societies and UK Banks (as at Paragraph 4.2, Appendix C); (iv) Total Principal Sums invested for periods longer than 364 days (as at Paragraph 4.3, Appendix C); and (2) That the Treasury Management Strategy for 2017/18, as set out at Appendix C to the report, be approved, and that it be noted that there are no major changes from the approved 2016/17 Treasury Strategy, although there are a couple of clarifications to the Property Fund criteria detailed in Paragraph 8.6.1 of the report. REASON FOR DECISION: To ensure the Councils continued compliance with CIPFAs Code of Practice on Treasury Management and the Local Government Act 2003 and that the Council manages its exposure to interest and capital risk.
SELF MANAGEMENT OF BALDOCK ALLOTMENTS
The Executive Member for Leisure presented a report of the Head of Leisure and Environmental Services in respect of the proposed Self management of Baldock Allotments. The following appendix was submitted with the report:
Appendix A - Impact Assessment. The Executive Member for Leisure advised that, in April 2016, the Councils allotments sites at North Road, Baldock and Clothall Road, Baldock were leased to the Baldock Allotment and Leisure Gardens Association (BALGA) and a managed services agreement was entered into. This agreement required BALGA to manage the Baldock allotments on behalf of the Council. The Executive Member for Leisure stated that, on 14 December 2016, the Council received a request from BALGA to change the agreement with them to an alternative service provider model, whereby they would still provide allotments on the sites, but on an independent basis rather than on behalf of the Council. The reason BALGA had requested the change was that the current managed service agreement restricted how they could manage the allotments. Under the current agreement they could not impose any conditions that varied from how the Council managed its allotments in the rest of the District. The Executive Member for Leisure explained that, under an alternative service provider model, BALGA would have greater flexibility to manage the allotments and would be free to impose their own terms and conditions which was what was originally intended. An example of a change they would like to make was to make it a condition that Baldock Allotment Holders were required to join their association. This approach was recommended by the National Allotment Association and was the norm where allotment associations had direct management of allotments. RESOLVED: (1) That it be agreed, in principle, to terminate the existing managed services agreement with Baldock Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Association to enable the Association to offer independent allotment provision in Baldock, in accordance with the terms of their leases; and (2) That authority be delegated to the Head of Leisure and Environmental Services, in consultation with the Executive Member for Leisure, to determine whether to implement the change following the period of consultation. REASON FOR DECISION: To give Baldock Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Association the flexibility to manage allotments at a local level.