42.1 Councillor Jones introduced the Annual Update on the Planning and Museums Portfolio. Key points made were:
- There had been record numbers of visitors to museums as a result of a varied programme of high-quality exhibitions and events;
- The number of school visits had increased significantly, although unfortunately due to the high quality of the packs for teachers, less of these visits were now accompanied;
- The Museums Service had not achieved its income targets for hiring its venues and there was a need to be more entrepreneurial;
- Building Control had maintained good performance despite vacancies within the team. There had been a significant increase in the volume of work the team was doing since the Grenfell Tower Fire and two members of the team now held level six fire safety qualifications;
- Building Control Officers made proactive visits to houses of multiple occupation and challenged owners to improve their properties where necessary;
- The Planning Service continued to process planning applications promptly with just one major application going beyond the time limit. None of the Council’s decisions had been overturned by the Planning Inspectorate;
- The Planning Service continued to encourage the owners of buildings on the Buildings at Risk Register to keep them safe and bring them back into use.
42.2 Councillor Gibbs noted that Ipswich’s museums had been able to host significant works of art over the past few years and asked whether this was as a result of better relationships with national arts organisations. James Steward, Ipswich Museums Manager, explained that the Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service had built good relationships with many organisations and was a trusted museums service. Mr Steward noted that some people had been surprised by the quality of exhibitions in Ipswich and said that he hoped that people came to expect this high standard.
42.3 Councillor Pope asked what was being done to increase income through hiring museums spaces. Councillor Jones explained that a review was currently taking place to identify how income could be increased and a strategy would then be developed.
42.4 Councillor Gage commented that the visitor figures were very impressive and that staff should be recognised for their good work. Councillor Jones agreed and added that different types of people were also visiting, for example, the Council had just won an award for its work with Job Centre Plus which brought unemployed people to the museums.
42.5 Councillor T Lockington asked whether the Council’s Building Control Team could promote higher standards aimed at reducing the carbon footprints of buildings. Councillor Jones noted that the Building Control Team had to apply national standards but that suggestions could be made for greener ways of doing things. Gavin Whitman, Operations Manager - Building Control explained that thermal regulations were currently being consulted on.
42.6 Councillor Pope asked whether the Planning Service had been able to increase the amount of trees and green space in new developments and also promote native hedgerows. Martyn Fulcher, Head of Development, explained that in many cases officers had been able to persuade developers to retain or plant trees and that strong policies enabled the Council to push for on site provision of green space. A list of native hedgerow species was being added as part of the Local Plan revision which would help encourage the use of these in developments.
42.7 Councillor T Lockington queried whether the fact that no appeals had been allowed suggested the Council was too risk averse in its decision making. Mr Fulcher explained that developers were keen to work with the Council to avoid refusal and often modify proposals to make them acceptable.
42.8 The Chair thanked Councillor Jones and officers for their attendance and answers.