The Director of Environment and Regeneration presented the above report, a copy of which had previously been circulated. She advised that the purpose of the report was to present Members with an update in relation to Directorate achievements during 2019/2020 and a six monthly update in relation to progress against planned service delivery targets for the first six months of 2020/2021.
Councillor Jackson welcomed the report and on behalf of his Party commended staff on the work carried out by the Directorate particularly during such challenging times. He referred to the considerable amount of information contained in the report which reflected the scale of work carried out by the Directorate. He referred specifically to the delivery of community centres which had been long awaited. He referred to the level of work carried out in respect of campaigning for these centres and the massive beneficial impact they would have on respective communities. He referred to the Top of the Hill Community Centre which had recently opened its Playgroup and Youth Club which was hugely welcomed in the area. He looked forward to a time when this facility could be enjoyed by the wider community. He stated that the report reflected the work plan in respect of the previous six months which, he reminded Members, was in the midst of a global pandemic. He said Officers had to be commended on the level of work carried out. He referred to the reduction in services being offered by other Councils, when this Council had endeavoured to ensure that service provision continued as much as possible throughout the pandemic. This was a positive and welcome approach. He referred to the work which was continuing in regards to the Council’s Greenways and Play Strategies and in particular the newly announced shop front enhancement scheme planned for Spencer Road. He referred to the fact that this was an extremely challenging time for businesses and particular local independent businesses and the long await Shopfront Initiative provided a glimmer of hope for the future.
Councillor Jackson noted with concern the low figures in regards to progress made under planning. Whilst acknowledging how the planning function had continued throughout the ongoing pandemic and restrictions put in place he enquired if the figures mentioned were a matter of concern.
Alderman Hussey commended Council Officers on the efficiency with which they dealt with the Covid Recovery Revitalisation Programme. He referred to the 6.89 million euro which had been secured in respect of the Riverine Project and enquired if there were concerns regarding receipt of these monies.
The Director of Environment and Regeneration thanked Members for their comments and acknowledged the level of work which had been carried out and schemes delivered during the previous six months and during such challenging times. She commended her Senior Management Team and all of the staff within the Directorate on their hard work and efforts during this period. She stated that currently there were no concerns in terms of planning and referred to an issue which had arisen in regards to updating the information. She pointed out that the targets were in respect of the year end and she undertook to ensure that these were updated and presented to Members in due course. She referred to some difficulty which had arisen in regards to planning enforcement because of the difficulties in being able to undertake site visits during the early part of the lockdown. However, this had been addressed as far as was possible.
The Director of Environment and Regeneration assured that the Riverine Project was now fully established and the funding had been secured. She pointed out that Donegal were the lead partner in this project as Council was with the North West Greenway Project. She said that they worked in close partnership with monthly Project Board Meetings taking place. She continued that a Design Team had now been appointed in respect of the Riverine Project who would progress the detailed designs through the planning process and on to the delivery of the project. She stated that as was the case with all projects of such a huge scale there clearly would be challenges. However, it was currently on track and Council was engaging with SEUPB in terms of ensuring that the project could be delivered within the timescale. She referred to the fact that the timescale was tight however, it was fantastic news that the project was now at delivery stage and Council was now progressing it as quickly as possible.
Alderman McCready commended staff within the Directorate on their outstanding achievements particularly throughout the pandemic. He referred specifically to the fact that 40% of Council’s budget was utilised within the Environment and Regeneration Directorate and it was therefore subject to considerable scrutiny. He enquired when the most recent route and branch review of the Directorate in regards to efficiencies, had been carried out and if this could be factored in in the future. He said he understood this was carried out monthly or bi-annually as a matter of course, however, he would be raising it at a future meeting of the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee for consideration by the Lead Finance Officer and his team. His reason for raising this matter was because of Covid and its clear impact on services and the lessons learned in regards to home working in terms of Council becoming more google-esque in the operation of its services. He sought an addendum to a future report in regards to how Council’s practices would change in the future and if this created any opportunities to extend services within the existing budget.
Councillor Dobbins commended whole-heartedly the Director of Environment and Regeneration and her team on their achievements particularly during such challenging times. She referred to the fact that none of the staff within the Directorate had been furloughed and were working behind the scenes which was evident. She disagreed with the comments made by Councillor Jackson in regards to planning. She expressed concern at the possibility of issues in regards to enforcement lagging given the impact thereof.
Councillor Carr welcomed the report and the progress which had been made in such unprecedented times. He requested that Member’s comments be relayed to all Members of staff within the Directorate bearing in mind the work carried out by them during such challenging times.
The Director of Environment and Regeneration thanked Members for their comments which she undertook to convey to all members of staff within her Directorate. She said all staff were regularly commended by senior management on their hard work and efforts.
The Director of Environment and Regeneration explained that a review of services was carried out regularly and as Members were aware, since the implementation of the new Council, more than £3.1 million of efficiency savings had been realised which had been reinvested in growth. She stated that the Environment and Regeneration Directorate had contributed significantly to these savings and were constantly considering how services could be provided more efficiently. She stated that clearly because of the updates provided by the Chief Executive and the Lead Finance Officer Council were in unprecedented financially challenging times and a considerable amount of the work including service delivery and Covid recovery and all of the major tasks carried out by her and her team were extremely integrated and involved with the Lead Finance Officer and his team in terms of considering how Council could respond to the financial challenges being faced. This included examining any possible efficiencies which could be made in order to contribute to a favourable outcome of the rates process for ratepayers. It was also considering if, given no other choice, how to reduce services in the least intrusive way possible. She pointed out that the vast majority of services provided by her Directorate were statutory services which were relied upon by residents on a daily and weekly basis. She said in a number of areas Council was leading the way referring to the number of awards received particularly “Britain in Bloom” and “Pride of Place” type of initiatives. She said that whilst Officers were extremely keen to maintain standards they did recognise the difficult financial challenges facing Council. She continued that Officers had been considering possible options in regards to the following year’s budget all of which would be included within the briefings to be presented by the Chief Executive and the Lead Finance Officer for Members’ consideration. She reiterated that Officers were mindful on a daily basis of the need to ensure that the services being provided were as economical, efficient and effective as possible.
The Chairperson also commended the Director of Environment and Regeneration and all her staff on the excellent work carried out by them during such challenging times.
Recommended that Members noted the content of the six month progress report and approved the Directorate Delivery Plan for 2020/2021.