Officers informed Members of the updated Regeneration Action Plan following an examination undertaken by Audit Wales.
Members were pleased that Officers had taken on board a lot of the suggestions that were made by Audit Wales. It was noted that the comments relating to communications were reassuring; if the Council continued to make progress with the recommendations detailed in the action plan, future projects could be benefited and it could provide the public with confidence in what the Council was trying to achieve. The importance of Community Benefits was also raised; it was reassuring that the Council had acknowledge a better way of dealing with this matter, and that Officers will be involved at an early stage for each project going forward. It was mentioned that this was beneficial in order for the public to be aware of the direct benefit from a project.
Officers acknowledged that there were always improvements that could be made to various elements of services; some of the barriers to this could be related to systems, resources or a combination of the both. It was stated that the milestone planner that was completed with the Media Team had been reinvigorated, in order for them to have a much better idea of what projects were coming up; Officers were hopeful that this will solve some of the issues that arise.
Following the discussion, it was agreed that the Head of Property and Regeneration would provide a report to the Committee on the subject of Community Benefits.
Members asked if there were any further updates on the Welsh Government formula for flood areas. It was confirmed that the position statement was the same as previously reported to the Committee, and that there were still a lot of issues relating to flood zones across the County Borough; the flood maps were known to change, land could be taken off the flood zone list or added onto the list, and the reasoning behind this could often be difficult for people to understand. However, it was mentioned that the information on flood areas was improving year on year, and was becoming more robust which will help the Council to make the best possible decisions in regards to the utilisation of land. Officers highlighted that the County Borough had some challenging areas with flood mitigation, and in terms of taking developments forward was an expensive process and was a risk, as the desired results may not be achieved at the end of the process.
It was asked if there was a process in which the Authority could challenge the decisions that Natural Resource Wales (NRW) make in regards to flood land. Officers confirmed that NRW could only be challenged on a case by case basis, as it would need to be proven that the development in question was not going to put anybody else into determent; this was a difficult and long process, which would involve a lot of consultancy work by external specialists. It was stated that flooding issues were becoming more prevalent, and NRW were doing their best with the resources at hand, in order to understand where the impacts will be. Members were informed that when the Council provides its data on flow rates etc., NRW will look at the data and may need to change their model slightly; therefore, their model will always be a constantly changing status, which was concerning for developers as it would add to the risk element.
Officers were asked if there was an update on the progress of obtaining monies from the Levelling Up Fund. It was confirmed that there had been no further news on the Levelling Up Fund or the Community Renewal Fund; if the Council were to be successful in obtaining monies from this fund, they had a spend profile in place for the rest of the year. Officers mentioned that a lot of organisations who had been part of the bidding process, have had to change their spending profile completely due to timescales and not having confirmation of monies. It was hoped that the Council would have heard if it was successful or not during the summer period, however Officers still had no indication of when they would be receiving the decision; this caused an issue for the Council as it would be difficult to get the spend out by the end of the financial year, which was March 2022. Officers confirmed that they needed to start making decisions imminently, as work needed to be completed on the projects; however, due to not having indication on whether the Council had been successful or not, the challenge will be having to conduct the work at a risk and potentially not be able to re-claim some of the costings.
A discussion took place in relation to the Shared Prosperity Fund; in regards to this, Members highlighted that it would be beneficial to collaborate with Local Members for the town centre areas. It was stated that the Shared Prosperity Fund would follow on from the Levelling Up Fund; it was hoped that the timescales given for this would be better than the previous, in order for Officers to submit bids effectively. Members were informed that Officers had already started working on project ideas to discuss with Members in the near future; this will be beneficial as Members will have seen some of the projects that Officers were hoping to submit, prior to the event.
It was queried whether there was an indication as to what the priorities were going to be for the Shared Prosperity Fund. Officers mentioned that the UK Government had stated they had been inundated with bids for the Levelling Up Fund, which was why the decision was delayed; this was an indication that there wasn’t going to be a sufficient amount of money available due to the number of bids that had been submitted.
The Committee noted the report.