To receive and consider the report of the Deputy Chief Executive.
The Committee welcomed Executive Leader, Executive Member (Economic Development and Public Service Reform) Councillor Alistair Bradley, Executive Member (Homes and Housing) Councillor Peter Gabbott and Director of Commercial Services Mark Lester.
The performance of the directorate was in four parts,
· Markets and Town Centre
Of the 45 projects, 39 (81%) were classified as green or completed. 4 (8%) have been put on hold and 5 (10%) have been rated amber.
The directorate’s spending was slightly over budget, although generated income from the directorate could vary yearly, as they were a reaction to the commercial world. The biggest expenditure was staffing, there was a reduction on income due to the decrease in collection of market rents and the removal of the car parking charges prior to Christmas 2021 as part of the corporate bounce back. It was highlighted that the new car park came from the car park budget rather than the town centre.
It was understood that the difficulty in recruitment and gaps in the structure were a cause for the underperformance of some indicators.
During lockdown, the number of requests made to purchase freehold reversion and housing valuation increased, this resulted in the time taken to issue the letters.
The below target figure for the rent collected from Digital Office Park was an effect of Covid-19. The Council decided to allow those behind on their commercial rent time to recover and clear their arrears, but each case was dealt with on a case by case basis. There were guidance notes for enforcement and Officer discretion allowed. Businesses that requested grants or funding were required to provide the council with their finances, and the Council learnt the sustainability of businesses and had been able to offer advice and support where possible. Causing the failure or hindering of business was of no benefit to the Council.
Voids in the covered market had mostly been resolved since the writing of the report, those that remained were temporary the Council created to move units around. In other areas of the town centre excluding Market Walk were below target at 14.7%, there were signs that the target of 7.5% would soon be met and exceeded, as long term empty units were returning to the market. However, larger units on Market Street were still empty, but some were contributable to rental the Council did not control. It was suggested that some level of rates levied by private landlords was too high.
The town centre vacancy rate was 11.2% with a target of 8%. The response rate for CCTV within 5 days was worse, no single reason but a mixture of variables.
With the loosened Covid-19 restrictions, the Council desired to engage and support Community Centres to re-open. The current occupancy rate 44.18% occupancy rate with a target of 51%. Prior to Covid-19, the occupancy rate was 60%.
Accommodation figures were positive. There was efficient use of assets, with lower rates of voids at Primrose Gardens and Cotswald House. There were some delay in payments that was related to housing benefits and by Quarter Four, this was expected to be rectified. Over the winter, the Cotswald facilities that were not being used due to Covid-19 were used by the Winter Watch Service to shelter people from the streets. The reopening of Primrose Gardens was at a more cautious pace due to the vulnerability of residents.
Members questioned if the targets within the report related to Primorse and Cotswald were realistically achievable. it was confirmed that the performance targets were based on the business models that were at the time a best guess, but there were factors with turnaround time that was out of the control of the Council, such as the circumstances in which units became available.
Members raised that they were unaware that there were conference facilities at Primrose. It was suggested for Members to be given a tour of the facilities and gain a greater understanding of what the Council had to offer Communities.
Alker Lane, which was now known as Strawberry Meadows was one of the four corporate strategy projects. Approximately 60% of the units had been let. Most of the smaller units had been let, and the larger units were to be rebranded and targeted to potential tenants. Strawberry Meadows was expected to break even for the first time, although once conceived as hotdesking space had now been repurposed to create more fixed offices in response to the rise Covid, hybrid and home working, removed the sustainability of the proposed model. It was currently uncertain if the project would need to return to council for additional investment.
The new Market Walk had a single remaining unit, there was no current rush to fill these, as options were being discussed. The Council preferred to have what it wanted rather than quick money, at present the empty unit was being used on a temporary basis by various charitable organisations for storage for aid distributed to Ukraine, with the Council provided temporary power provision.
The Town Centre witnessed the reemergence of custom, with increased footfall, but it was acknowledged that it would take time to get over the issues caused by two years of covid-19, restrictions, and lockdowns. Coach visits was impacted by Covid, but both shopping and football coaches were returning.
Further improvements to the Town Centre was underway, recently awarded ‘Loo of the year’ for the seventh year running.
£1,000,000 was being invested in Bengal Street and the issues at the Tatton Care Scheme have been resolved, with optimism that the completion programme was on track, and to be opened throughout 2022 and 2023.
The Whittle GP Surgery and Community Centre was due to open 17 March.
Mark Lester in response to Chair’s request for an assessment of the last year in the role expressed the benefit of hybrid working while working across two organisations. The two organisations were able to share expertise, capacity, and resources both formally and informally. The Shared Services allowed both councils to build and maintain strong working relationships and enabled stronger bids for grants and funding.
Decision: The report was noted.