Meeting documents

SWT Corporate Scrutiny Committee
Wednesday, 4th January, 2023 6.15 pm

Venue: The John Meikle Room - The Deane House. View directions

Contact: Sam Murrell, Email: and Amy Tregellas, Email: 

Webcast: View the webcast

No. Item



    To receive any apologies for absence.


    Additional documents:


    Apologies were received from Cllrs Habib Farbahi (subs Cllr Tom Deakin), Gwil Wren (present via zoom and subs by David Mansell), Marcus Kravis, Nicole Hawkins and Simon Nicholls. Cllr Benet Allen the Executive Member for Resources also submitted his apologies.


Minutes of the previous Corporate Scrutiny Committee pdf icon PDF 322 KB

    To approve the minutes of the previous meeting of the Committee held on Wednesday 7 November 2022.

    Additional documents:


    The Minutes of the previous meeting of Corporate Scrutiny Committee held on Wednesday 7 December 2022, were confirmed as a true record.


    Prop: Coles / Sec: Whetlor (approved by those present).



Declarations of Interest

    To receive and note any declarations of disclosable pecuniary or prejudicial or personal interests in respect of any matters included on the agenda for consideration at this meeting.


    (The personal interests of Councillors and Clerks of Somerset County Council, Town or Parish Councils and other Local Authorities will automatically be recorded in the minutes.)


    Additional documents:


    Members present at the meeting declared the following personal interests in their capacity as a Councillor or Clerk of a County, Town or Parish Council or any other Local Authority:-



    Minute No.

    Description of Interest


    Action Taken

    Cllr N Cavill

    All Items

    SCC, West Monkton & Shadow Taunton Town


    Spoke and Voted

    Cllr S Coles

    All Items

    SCC, Taunton Charter Trustee & Shadow Taunton Town


    Spoke and Voted

    Cllr T Deakin

    All Items

    SCC, Taunton Charter Trustee & Shadow Taunton Town


    Spoke and Voted

    Cllr L Lisgo

    All Items

    Taunton Charter Trustee & Shadow Taunton Town


    Spoke and Voted

    Cllr D Mansell

    All Items



    Spoke and Voted

    Cllr N Thwaites

    All Items



    Spoke and Voted

    Cllr L Whetlor

    All Items



    Spoke and Voted



Public Participation

    The Chair to advise the Committee of any items on which members of the public have requested to speak and advise those members of the public present of the details of the Council’s public participation scheme.

    For those members of the public who have submitted any questions or statements, please note, a three minute time limit applies to each speaker and you will be asked to speak before Councillors debate the issue.

    We are now live webcasting most of our committee meetings and you are welcome to view and listen to the discussion. The link to each webcast will be available on the meeting webpage, but you can also access them on the Somerset West and Taunton webcasting website.

    Additional documents:


    No items or questions had been submitted in advance of the meeting for public participation.


Update on Local Government Review

    Executive Portfolio Holder Report for Local Government Reorganisation (LGR) – Councillor Sarah Wakefield.


    To provide a verbal update on LGR progress. This has been requested as a standing item on the agenda by the Chair, Cllr Sue Buller.


    Additional documents:


    This item was brought forward on the agenda to enable the Portfolio Holder for Local Government Reorganisation (LGR) and the Community Governance Review (CGR), Cllr Sarah Wakefield to attend Ruishton Parish Council meeting.


    LGR - Digital Changes

    Marcus Prouse updated the Committee on the proposed digital changes which are due to take place from 5pm Thursday 19 January until 8am Monday 23 January. This important work is to move all the ICT systems over to the SCC platform in advance of vesting day. Some of the other districts have already transferred and it is hoped that the lessons learnt will enable a smooth transfer for SWT. Members should save all work on their device and log out by 4.45pm on 19 January.  All systems will be shut down by 5pm and any unsaved work will be lost There will be no access to IT during this period and into week commencing 23 January.


    SWT iPads and SWT mobile phones do not need to be left on but there will be no access to any Microsoft 365 apps such as Outlook, OneDrive, Teams, Word, Excel, etc. during the cutover weekend.  Mobile phones can be used to make and receive calls and text messages. 


    After the cutover weekend (from Monday 23 January), priority will be given to restoring customer facing servicesfirst and getting staff operational again.  Support for Members is being planned for later in the week and details will be issued as soon as they are available. 


    LGR – Peer Review

    The outcome of the Peer Review was that the assessing team could see the level of work and activity was progressing well in anticipation of vesting day, but that a more long term view needed to be taken. It was highlighted that whilst it was necessary for all operations and systems to be safe and legal on the 1 April, it would be the ongoing work towards transformation that would make the savings as outlined in the One Somerset business case. Overall, however the assessment was very positive and there was a recognition that the various work streams and teams were working well together.


    LGR – Local Community Networks (LCN)

    A report will be taken to the SCC Executive Committee on 18 January which will outline and make recommendations for the LCN geographies and boundaries. It is likely that these will be slow to implement and unlikely to be ready for Day1 of the new Council. Budgets and Governance need to be aligned and this may take some time. Parish Councils who wish to take on assets and or services from the principal council will need to precept for this themselves, and make provision in their budgets. Unlike the larger councils, parishes are not subject to capping on their precept, so can set it at a higher rate if they wish.


    LGR – Planning Committees

    The Planning process is being reviewed across the 4 district councils, and the new planning constitution is being drawn up. This  ...  view the full minutes text for item 80.


Corporate Scrutiny Request/Recommendation Trackers pdf icon PDF 146 KB


Corporate Scrutiny Committee Forward Plan pdf icon PDF 104 KB

    To receive items and review the Forward Plan.


    Additional documents:


    Cllr Whetlor and Marcus Prouse confirmed that a verbal update and presentation on the Public Transport Task and Finish group would be provided at the 1 Feb 2023 meeting.


    The Local Labour Agreements (Planning Policy Report) would also be brought forward on that date.


Executive and Full Council Forward Plan pdf icon PDF 132 KB


Planning Performance Update pdf icon PDF 736 KB

    This matter is the responsibility of Executive Councillor Mike Rigby (Planning, Transportation and Economic Development)

    Report Author: Alison Blom-Cooper


    Additional documents:


    Executive Councillor Mike Rigby, (Planning, Transportation and Economic Development), introduced the report and described the challenges the planning service is currently experiencing which include: Recruitment and retention of staff; phosphates and the impact of moving to the Unitary Council.


    The report author, Alison Blom Cooper made a presentation to the Committee which can be accessed here.


    Questions and comments from the Committee were as follows:-


    ·       Is phosphates the sole reason for the planning backlog? It is a contributing factor, but lack of resource due to recruitment and retention of planning staff has also been an additional challenge. Some applications take a long time to process because planning officers are waiting on requested information from the applicant. The application stalls because the required information is not provided.

    ·       Is the 5yr Housing Supply figure a target or advisory? The Secretary of State has indicated that this is to start a conversation, but guidance is needed before numbers can be reduced.

    ·       How are phosphate credits calculated? Is this information available on the website, so that prospective applicants can refer to it?

    Report to the Phosphates Planning Sub Committee - Progress on the Interim Strategy and determinatio.pdf (

    A Phosphate Budget Calculator and other information is available to view on the SWT website.

    ·       Why are different wastewater treatment works awarded different phosphate credits? This is determined by the efficiency of each water treatment plant. Better treatment plants will generate a greater amount of credits.

    ·       What is happening with planning enforcement as the service seems to have deteriorated in recent months? Cllr Rigby explained that planning enforcement was not a statutory part of the service, and it has struggled recently due to lack of resources. He agreed however, that more should be done and hoped that this was something that the new unitary would tackle robustly. New officers have been employed who have taken a while to find their feet, but they are now working through the backlog.

    ·       Why do applicants tend to withdraw their applications before receiving a determination? Usually this happens when it looks like the application is heading for refusal. Applicants will withdraw the application in order to go away and work on it. They will then re-submit at a later date.

    ·       How is the 5 year land supply affected by the phosphates backlog? SWT and the Planning Inspectorate are evaluating what is deliverable, and looking at land availability. Estimates are then being made.

    ·       Who is on the Phosphates Nutrient Group? This is made up of representatives from the 5 Councils and the nominated representative for SWT is Executive Councillor Derek Perry who has responsibility for Phosphates. His substitute is Executive Councillor Mike Rigby.

    ·       What are windfall sites? These are small sites that come forward that were not previously listed in the Local Plan. Figures are predicted but look at historical data to make an assessment.

    ·       Cllr Lloyd requested more information from enforcement officers, and regular updates in respect of the Listed Buildings and conservation area around Tonedale Mill,  ...  view the full minutes text for item 84.


Access to Information - Exclusion of the Press and Public - Appendix A only


    During discussion of the following item (Agenda Item 11 – Appendix A only) it may be necessary to pass the following resolution to exclude the press and public having reflected on Article 13 13.02(e) (a presumption in favour of openness) of the Constitution. This decision may be required because consideration of this matter in public may disclose information falling within one of the descriptions of exempt information in Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972. Executive will need to decide whether, in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption, outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.


    Recommend that under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 the public be excluded from the next item of business (Agenda Item 10 – Appendix F only) on the ground that it involves the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraph 3 respectively of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Act, namely information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information).



    Additional documents:


    The committee voted to move into confidential session if it was necessary to discuss Item 11, Appendix A.


    Prop: Coles / Seconded: Thwaites – (Unanimous)


Commercial Property Investment Activity and Performance Report pdf icon PDF 654 KB

    This matter is the responsibility of Cllr Benet Allen, Executive Member for Corporate Resources.


    Report Author:  Chris Hall, Director of Development and Place.



    Additional documents:


    In the absence of the Executive Councillor for Resources, Benet Allen, the report was introduced by Chris Hall, Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Place and Climate Change.


    Chris stated that it was a positive report which provided an overview of the current position. No acquisitions or disposals had taken place since December 2021, and all commercial obligations have been met. The commercial investment portfolio is now in the working phase.


    A question was raised at the Scrutiny pre-meeting regarding the amount of debt remaining for the Council’s commercial investment. This is outlined in paragraph 5.7 in the report and was also covered in further detail in a report to Audit and Governance Committee on 7 November 2022 providing an update in the response to the external auditor’s annual report.

  Auditors 2020-21 key recommendations update.pdf


    The debt position can be summarised as follows:




    Total capital investment


    Less: Amount financed using revenue funds


    Equals: Amount financed using borrowing


    Less: Borrowing repaid in 2021/22 and 2022/23 (known as MRP)


    Current balance of residual borrowing (92.5% of total initial investment)



    The total amount paid off of the initial investment to date is therefore £7.402m (3520 + 3882 per table above).


    Comments from the Committee were as follows:-


    ·       Cllr Lisgo asked on a point of clarity if the Commercial Investment portfolio included the SWT housing stock? The housing stock is separately ring-fenced within the Housing Revenue Account (HRA). It is not part of the Commercial Investment Portfolio.

    ·       Cllr Mansell asked how many low cost loans applied to the commercial investment portfolio? The Council’s total borrowing position is determined within Treasury Management. This is currently set at £73 million for low-cost loans. The majority of this will be tied into the Commercial Investment Portfolio.

    ·       Steelite – This was the largest acquisition within the portfolio. It was tied into a long term lease and was performing adequately, but due to it’s high useage on utilities and the impact of the Cost of Living Crisis it was prudent to flag this as a risk.

    ·       Aztec West – Concern was expressed that one of the suites was currently empty. Jo Wharton confirmed that rent was being paid under the break-clause, and that it could be favourable as some of the neighbouring tenants were considering expanding. It may be possible to enlarge one of the other rented suites to incorporate this, which would increase the rental income and maintain a good relationship with the tenant.

    ·       A Commercial Property Investment Specialist, Harvey Gardner was now employed by SWT to build relationships with the occupiers of the commercial spaces and ensure good landlord/tenant liaison.

    ·       The income repayments have come from a variety of areas: Reduction in reserves, debt repayments, treasury management and reallocation of underspends from previous years.


    Cllr Buller finished by saying that the responsibility for the portfolio would soon rest with the new authority, and uncertain times were ahead. She was concerned about the amount of investment in Steelite, due to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 86.