• Looking back with satisfaction - looking ahead with confidence

    2nd September 2014 | News | Claire
  • CABINET WILL HEAR OF PROMISES KEPT AND FRESH CHALLENGES AHEAD

    Members of East Devon District Council will tomorrow (Wednesday) hear how well the authority is doing at delivering its promises and staying within budget, as well as the main aims it hopes to achieve in the coming year.

    The information comes in the form of an annual report for 2013-14, highlighting the council’s performance against the four priorities in the Council Plan 2012-16, and looking ahead to future aspirations.

    The report also records levels of satisfaction among residents as collected in a Viewpoint survey sent to a random selection of residents in May 2013.
    Overall, the council has delivered on many of its promises, which are listed in the report under the following priority headings:

    1. Living in this outstanding place
    2. Working in this outstanding place
    3. Enjoying this outstanding place
    4. An outstanding council

    Of the promises listed in Priority 1, seven have been achieved and three are on track to be delivered by 2016. In this section, the most important issue is helping deliver more local homes for local people so young families and people on low incomes can afford to live here. The council must provide sites for affordable housing, improve job opportunities and invest in our main towns to ensure they remain attractive places to live and visit.

    In 2013/14 the council said it would build at least 100 affordable new homes. It achieved 310 and also helped provide three rural affordable home schemes at Chardstock, Whimple and Uplyme.

    The council also helped bring back more than ten long-term empty properties into use or sold for renovation.

    Progressing well

    In Cranbrook more homes have been built and occupied and planning permission for a new train station serving the town was also granted. The E.ON combined heat and power plant to service Cranbrook and Skypark Business Park became fully operational in the autumn. Regeneration schemes in Exmouth and Seaton are progressing well.

    The residents’ survey in 2013 revealed that 83% are satisfied with the green box recycling scheme, 96% feel safe when outside in their local area during the day, with 84% feeling safe after dark.

    Promises for 2014-16 include continuing to deliver at least 100 affordable homes a year; continuing to deliver good quality street cleansing and grounds maintenance services and working with partners to improve public health and wellbeing.

    Of the promises listed in Priority 2, five are on track. One such undertaking here was to increase job opportunities by developing employment sites at the western end of the district. The first business occupier is now on-site at Skypark business park, with further planning applications expected in 2014/15. The first building at Exeter Science Park opened in December and has been occupied by a global technology company that has since announced plans to lease a further unit.

    The Exeter Science Park Centre is due to open in April 2015 – providing around 30,000 square feet of bespoke office and laboratory facilities and fully resilient internet connectivity.

    Regeneration

    Another promise was to explore regeneration opportunities through the district. Honiton’s new Beehive Community Centre is now complete. In Axminster, redevelopment of the Webster’s Garage site has been approved. In Sidmouth, there have been discussions with Sidmouth Town Council about the use of Fort Field and opportunities for investment of funds from new developments.

    The council is working to deliver the Seaton Jurassic Centre in Seaton, a multi-million pound visitor centre. Meanwhile, the Countryside team continues to provide high quality spaces such as the Axe Estuary Wetlands and other nature reserves across the district.

    Extracts from the Viewpoint survey show that 72% of residents agree the council is using the natural landscape and countryside to attract more visitors and tourists, while 58% agree the council is making East Devon’s towns better places to live in through regeneration.

    Promises in the pipeline include further investment in regeneration opportunities in towns, continuing to seek job expansion to the west of the district and promoting inward investment and new business growth.

    In terms of Priority 3 – enjoying this outstanding place – one of the earlier promises has been achieved and a further three are on track.

    One pledge was to provide a range of facilities and activities to help support healthy lifestyles. In Exmouth the tennis and fitness centre received a £180,000 revamp including replacing the surface of the tennis courts and improved lighting. Sidmouth’s leisure centre had a £40,000 plus refit with improvements in the sports hall and squash courts. Another of promise was to continue funding Leisure East Devon, who received £1 million, supporting the council’s ambitions for health, sport and leisure.

    Most visited

    Repeat wins of Green Flag Awards for Connaught Gardens in Sidmouth and Manor Gardens in Exmouth testifies to continuing good management of green spaces, while a full programme of art events at Honiton’s Thelma Hulbert Gallery included the successful ‘intoLACE’ exhibition, which saw 1,272 visitors – the second most visited exhibition in THG’s history.

    Volunteers clocked up 4,755 hours of work with the Countryside team through 2013/14. Their enthusiasm and hard work are invaluable. Residents’ feedback confirms that 84% of people are satisfied with the council’s food hygiene service and feel confident about eating in cafes and restaurants in East Devon, while 79% are satisfied with parks, public gardens, play areas and open spaces.

    Among the objectives for the coming two years are keeping creative art workshops and international art exhibitions available and accessible; ensuring East Devon’s open spaces are used to their full potential; and completing and promoting the Axe Estuary Wetlands as a regionally important wildlife destination.

    Priority 4 is being an outstanding council and here one promise has already been achieved and eight more are on track to be delivered by the deadline.

    In line with its pledge, the council has made great strides in developing a clean and simple website based on the principles of gov.uk. Most pages should be updated for all services by the autumn.

    From Viewpoint survey feedback it’s clear that 72 per cent of customers are satisfied with council services, but the Open for Business project will help improve this score by offering services where and when customers want them and us to achieve this.

    All key strategic projects from the communications plan have been delivered.
    This has included the creation of a new e-newsletter, connectED, the Knowing East Devon population and place report, this annual report and customer and stakeholder surveys. Feedback indicates that 84% of people feel they are kept informed and 70% believe the council provides value for money. A response rate of 49% agreeing that the council responds quickly when asked for help shows there is definite room for improvement in this area.

    Business plan

    The shared ICT service project working with Exeter and Teignbridge councils has progressed well during the year and the programme team will now produce a detailed business plan for each council to review in 2014/15.

    Aims for the coming year include delivering a transformation strategy to prepare for continued cuts in government funding, implementing new technology enabling more online transactions and improving systems for staff to work in a mobile and flexible way.

    In a joint foreword to the latest Annual Report, Chief Executive Mark Williams says: “I’m pleased to report that over the past year we’ve been able to keep good quality front line services running despite major cuts in government funding. It’s been a difficult challenge and it’s not looking any easier this year as the government slice another 14 per cent (around £794,000) from the grant they provide us – with even deeper cuts to come further down the line.

    “In future years we’ll have to redouble our efforts and be even more imaginative to protect services in the face of rising costs and falling income. We will not shy away from the challenge of not only continuing to provide good service but also planning ambitiously for the future”.

    And Council Leader Paul Diviani sums up: “This annual report is testament to how successful we have been in the past 12 months at keeping our promises. I’m delighted with the progress we have made and I look forward to reporting still more advances next year”.