Rich Clarke, the Head of Audit Partnership, presented a risk management report, which described the authority’s arrangements for managing strategic risk. The report provided an update on the evaluated threat level as well as the controls in place for each of the 10 risks identified.
Mr Clarke advised that Jane Lynch, the Head of Planning Services, had been invited to the meeting, in order to provide a detailed response to any concerns members might have on the strategic risks for which she was the named, lead officer. From the appendix attached to the report, Mr Clarke advised that this was principally risk scenario 8 – ‘inspector decision which challenges housing targets versus housing supply’.
Mrs Lynch advised that the authority effectively no longer had a five-year land supply based upon the direct result of two recent planning appeals. She added that the authority was in the current position of looking towards the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for guidance as the basis for its decision-making in respect of applications relating to sites beyond the ‘limits to built environment’. As a result of that situation Mrs Lynch advised that the risk scenario had been slightly down-graded because it had reduced the risk of an inspector’s decision which challenged the authority’s housing target.
Councillor Moore queried whether that was the right interpretation of the current position, adding that, if the authority had a five-year housing supply in place, it would have been in a strong position to have refused such planning applications in the first place. This, she added, suggested that the authority was currently in a weaker position, which might therefore have justified retention of this risk scenario’s ‘red flag’ status.
Mrs Lynch accepted the argument in part. However, she advised that the authority currently had no choice other than to work within the guidance of the NPPF for relevant sites and the practical consequence of that was a reduction overall in the risk.
Mr Hedges enquired if a question could be addressed to Mrs Lynch on risk scenario 1 – ‘cinema site remains undeveloped’, which the Head of Planning indicated she was happy to answer. She explained that, while no planning application had yet been made for this site by the new owners, there had been constant contact with them, including approaches made by the company before they had acquired the land.
Mrs Lynch added that the authority had made it clear in all discussions that it was looking for early progress with the redevelopment of this site, a view which she said accorded with the owner’s own ambitions. Mrs Lynch added that the redevelopment was likely to see a mixed-use scheme result, with housing, a GP surgery and a cinema included. She added that the owners had held a community workshop on the site’s future on 18 July, ahead of a more comprehensive public consultation process after the summer holiday period.
Mrs Lynch advised that there was every indication that the owners were backed by a strong team of professionals.
Councillor Chapelard enquired if he could ask a question on risk scenario 10 – the Development Programme – even though this was not within the remit of the Head of Planning Services. Lee Colyer, the Director of Finance and Corporate Services, advised that it might be preferable to defer this until the meeting of the Committee being held on 20 September, when the authority’s Chief Executive would be present, to answer questions on strategic risks.
Councillor Moore raised a question on risk scenario 4 – ‘unable to plan financially over the longer term’. She asked whether the wording “Government has provided more flexibility surrounding council tax income” implied that business rate retention was a mitigating factor.
Lee Colyer, the Director of Finance and Corporate Services said that, currently, the Government was consulting on that particular proposal, so it was too early to say whether this would become a mitigating factor. He added that the localisation of business rates, while being an attractive principle, was likely to have additional responsibilities attached. He said that, once more details were known, he would be reporting further to members.
The Chairman, in seeking approval to the report’s recommendation, expressed his thanks to Mrs Lynch – who was leaving the authority that week – for her support for the Committee’s work and for her past help generally for members and he wished her well for the future.
RESOLVED – That the risk management report and arrangements for managing strategic risk be noted.