The Assistant Director Countryside and Leisure presented the Service Plan for 2023-2024. Key challenges under the headings of Maintaining our Nature Reserves and Green Space, Trees and Outdoor Health and Wellbeing were identified as follows:
· Delivery of duties under the new Environment Act including securing 20% biodiversity net gain on all new developments, as opposed to the mandatory 10%. Guidance on this duty is awaited from Defra. Training will be provided for planning officers and information workshops will be held for Members.
· Development of a local nature recovery plan, led by Devon County Council.
· Working with Natural England’s policy on nutrient neutrality on the River Axe with the aim of delivering habitat based nutrient neutrality mitigation measures and water efficiency measures on Council housing stock in the Axe Valley catchment.
· Delivery of nature recovery and re-wilding projects including the Wild Honiton project.
· Development of a new Tree Strategy for East Devon once the draft Devon Tree Strategy is published around March/April and the expansion and support of the Tree Warden Scheme.
· Delivery of priorities identified within the Leisure Strategy including actively re-negotiating dual site agreements, a stock condition survey of leisure centres and provision of leisure facilities at Cranbrook.
· Delivery of priorities within the Culture Strategy which will be assisted by the recent employment of the Cultural Producer.
· Ensuring synergy between the Leisure Strategy, Cultural Strategy and Tourism Strategy.
The Portfolio Holders for Coast, Country and Environment and Tourism, Leisure, sport and Culture thanked the Assistant Director and his team for their work and acknowledged the significant value of the countryside in maintaining residents’ wellbeing.
Questions and comments from Members included the following points:
· The Sport England pilot for Cranbrook has taken a long time to get up and running. There is a clear plan for delivery and focus now needs to be on delivering actions identified in the plan.
· Concerns regarding durability of new trees planted on developments will be raised with planning enforcement officers and the issue will be included in the new Tree Strategy.
· Concern was expressed regarding support for the most vulnerable to be able to access leisure centre facilities and Members’ attention was drawn to the forthcoming meeting of the LED Forum and the agenda for that meeting.
· There is an urgent need to address issues regarding nutrient neutrality on the River Axe and on-going work to set up the framework will be communicated to Ward Members. £100,000 is available in the Planning service budget and it is vital that the right expertise is brought in for this work in collaboration with Dorset and Somerset.
· There was a need for sufficient officers to deliver the new Tree Strategy and it was noted that there had been issues with the recruitment of tree officers. Officers were of the view that the recent pay review should assist with recruitment and other routes such as apprenticeships should also help with long term recruitment and retention of staff.
· Regarding concerns over Ash dieback, it was noted that this would be addressed through re-planting and would be addressed through the new Tree Strategy.
· Concern was expressed that if leisure centre facilities are withdrawn then work in conjunction with the NHS would be lost unless other facilities elsewhere are available.
· Members queried what other leisure facilities are available through providers other than LED. It was noted that the information may be available as data was compiled during production of the Leisure Strategy.
· Concern was also expressed that LED might be duplicating what is already being provided by other providers and there was a need to understand potential areas of duplication between LED and private providers to ensure that the Council is obtaining best value for tax payers.
· With regard to the development of a café offer at Seaton Wetlands, it was noted that this would be a very modest and sensitively located concession to encourage visitors to explore the whole of the Wetlands as well as to generate some income.
· Regarding development of the ACED Network, it was confirmed that all cultural events in East Devon should be able to be accessed via the ACED website.
RECOMMENDATION TO CABINET:
That the Service Plan for Countryside and Leisure for 2023 – 2024 be adopted subject to the addition of the following:
That an objective be included for a scoping paper to be prepared in order to understand the areas of potential duplication between LED and the private sector to ensure that, going forward, LED is not being paid to carry out work which is being done elsewhere. This is to ensure the best use of taxpayers money.
Prior to the start of the next item, the Chair advised that the Overview Committee had become inquorate due to a Committee member having to leave the meeting. Another member was expected to join later during the meeting.