Following the Borough council's resolution to pass the recommendations of the Land Sales Scrutiny Panel in July 2011 to the Cabinet, the cabinet have responded in the Agenda for its meeting on 7 September at 10 am.

The Cabinet propose to carry out only some and not all of the recommendations.

In the opening remarks the Cabinet claim "the broad rationale for the Newcastle Development Programme was found to be sound by the Scrutiny Task Group" which puts a very positive spin on the Scrutiny Committee's report which begins:

i. The reports approved by full Council in July 2010 and Cabinet in December 2010 appeared to lack sufficient information for sound and informed decisions to be made.

Moving on to the responses themselves, recommendation 1 of the Scrutiny Panel has not been addressed because the Cabinet disagree with the Scrutiny Panel and the Full Council that there is a need to clarify the housing needs of the borough.
The Cabinet has partially addressed recommendation 10 that the Land Sales of the seven sites not be progressed until a review of council owned assets is completed. However the Cabinet agenda refers only to  'other surplus non-operational land belonging to the council' rather than the recommended "all Council owned land and property assets". This is much more limited in its scope and continues to use the highly contentious label "surplus land".
Recommendation 2 regarding the review of the outdated green space strategy has been addressed merely by a proposal to review progress on the implementation strategy. The Cabinet do not propose in their Agenda to update the strategy as recommended.
Scrutiny recommendations 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 have been wrapped up by simply proposing an "Annual Disposal Programme". This is to be supported by site specific technical reports,  a process for community consultation and financial alignment. The response appears very brief and non specific, considering the detailed list of Scrutiny recommendations. The Scrutiny recommendations call for a very strong response in these areas.
A new proposed document 'Site Allocation Development Plan' partly addresses Recommendations 4 and 6 concerning an asset disposal strategy and robust consultation. Again though it is not clear that all land and building assets including Brownfield, operational land and building assets will be included.
My own personal view is that the the clear recommendations of the Scrutiny Committee have been somewhat diluted in the agenda to the Cabinet Meeting due on 7 September. Nor do I believe that the Cabinet has wholeheartedly accepted the spirit of the report in its Agenda nor accepted its failings. It has dismissed key recommendations such as a detailed council land viability assessment, a review of the Green Space Strategy and for clarity over housing needs.
The agenda is subject to approval by Cabinet and can be changed on the meeting on 7 September at 10 am. The meeting is open to the public at Civic Offices, Merrial Street

Extracts from Cabinet Agenda


3.5 Summary

3.5.1 As indicated above the broad rationale for the Newcastle Development Programme was found to be sound by the Scrutiny Task Group. However it is evident from the Task Group’s report and recommendations that there is both a need and scope for improving the processes and procedures relating to the planned disposal of surplus land.
3.5.2 The recommendations below seek to reflect a balanced and pragmatic response to the Scrutiny Task Group’s work in the context of the related functions and duties of the Council:-
(a) That the Newcastle Development Programme (NDP) Scrutiny Task and Finish Group, and all those involved in supporting the review process, be thanked for their report and recommendations in respect of this matter.

(b) That it be confirmed that no further decision be taken at this stage regarding disposalof the seven NDP sites. (Addresses Scrutiny recommendation 10).

(c) That the appropriateness of development, in land use planning terms, of the seven NDP sites along with all other surplus non-operational land belonging to the Council, be reviewed as part of the forthcoming Site Allocations Development Plan Document process. (Addresses Scrutiny recommendations 4, 6 and 10).

(d) That future versions of the Council’s Asset Management Strategy incorporate an annual planned disposals programme, as appropriate, supported by:

(i) appropriate site specific technical information;

(ii) a clear process for effective community and stakeholder consultation along with a summary report of the outcome of any related public consultation activities regarding individual sites and;

(iii) clear evidence of alignment with the Council’s financial capital planning process.

(Addresses Scrutiny recommendations 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10).

(e) That officers be instructed to undertake an annual review of the progress made with implementation of the North Staffs Green Spaces Strategy and the associated action plan. (Addresses Scrutiny recommendation 2).

(f) That members note the information regarding the ongoing transformation programme, particularly in relation to The Way We Work Programme and theBusiness of the Council programme. (Addresses Scrutiny concerns about transparency in decision-making rather than any direct recommendation).

(g) That the annual Member Training and Development programme be reviewed and revised, as may be necessary, to incorporate training relating to both Asset Management and strategic policy making. (Addresses Scrutiny recommendation 11).

NB. There is no recommendation that directly responds to the Scrutiny Task Group’s first
recommendation; Cabinet is satisfied that the statutory town planning system and processes address this point satisfactorily given the existence of:
• An adopted Core Spatial Strategy which has clear targets for the quantum and broad location of future housing;
• A statutory annual monitoring report procedure to Government;
• An approved Housing Strategy and;
• A forthcoming Site Allocation Development Plan Document.