Place Scrutiny Committee


MINUTES of a meeting of the Place Scrutiny Committee held at Council Chamber, County Hall, Lewes on 14 July 2023.




Councillors Matthew Beaver (Chair) Councillors Julia Hilton (Vice Chair), Ian Hollidge, Johanna Howell, Philip Lunn, Steve Murphy, Paul Redstone, Stephen Shing and David Tutt




Councillors Claire Dowling




Rupert Clubb, Director of Communities, Economy and Transport

Ros Parker, Chief Operating Officer

Ian Gutsell, Chief Finance Officer

Karl Taylor, Assistant Director Operations

Andrew Le Gresley, Team Manager - Rights of Way & Countryside

Nick Skelton, Assistant Director Communities

Samantha McManus, Team Manager Library and Information Service





1.            Minutes of the previous meeting


1.1       The Committee RESOLVED to agree the minutes of the meeting held on 28 March 2023 as a correct record.




2.            Apologies for absence


2.1       Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Chris Collier, Alan Hay and Eleanor Kirby-Green (Councillor Johanna Howell substituting). Apologies were also received from Philip Baker and James Harris.




3.            Disclosures of interests


3.1       Councillor Julia Hilton declared a personal non prejudicial interest under item 5 Reconciling Policy, Performance and Resources when discussing solar PV projects for schools, as she is a Director of a community energy co-operative. Councillor Matthew Beaver declared a personal non prejudicial interest under item 6 as he is the Chair of the Combe Valley (Pebsham) Country Park Board. Councillor David Tutt declared a personal non prejudicial interest under item 8 Work Programme as he is a member of the Southern Water consumer challenge group.




4.            Urgent items


4.1       There were none.




5.            Reconciling Policy, Performance and Resources (RPPR) 2024/2025


5.1       The Chief Finance Officer introduced the report which is the start of the Committee’s work on the Reconciling Policy, Performance and Resources (RPPR) process and sets out how that Committee can contribute to the process. The report contains the State of the County report which provides an overview of the current operating environment for the Council. The Committee is invited to identify any areas of interest for inclusion in the work programme or further information for presentation at subsequent meetings. The Committee is also recommended to establish an RPPR Board which will submit comments on behalf of the Committee to Cabinet on the budget for 2024/25.

5.2       The Committee made a number of comments and asked questions based on the report which are summarised below.

5.3       Emergency Active Travel Fund – The Committee commented on the £0.6 million underspend in the capital programme and asked whether ‘shovel ready’ projects could be developed including those linked to Rights of Way, to ensure future funding is fully spent. The Director of Communities, Economy and Transport (CET) responded that the delivery of projects under the Emergency Active Travel Fund were challenging due to the funding conditions and very tight timescales. The funding is being used to support the safe routes to school project, which also supports Active Travel. In future it will be important to build consensus on planned projects in advance of funding becoming available.

Hastings Bexhill Movement Access Programme

5.4       The Committee noted the slippage on the delivery of this package of schemes with £1 million being spent. As such, cost inflation pressures present a risk to delivery and the Committee asked what could be done to speed up the delivery of the schemes. The Director of CET acknowledged that inflation risk is a challenge to project delivery. Schemes can take time to deliver as some are controversial and require consultation before they can be delivered. Delays have also been experienced in the design and feasibility stages. The new highways maintenance contractor, Balfour Beatty Living Partnerships, has a new designer for schemes who is reviewing the current projects to see if they can be speeded up. Also, reducing the number of projects would improve delivery. The challenge is having the revenue funding to develop projects and a pipeline of projects is slowly being built within existing capacity.

Home to School Transport

5.5       The Committee noted current overspend and planned investment in home to school transport and asked if more information could be provided about the nature of this expenditure. The Director of CET explained that the demand for Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) home to school transport had increased expenditure. Work has been undertaken to optimise routes and share vehicles and chaperones where possible, but there are a number of individuals where it is not possible to share a vehicle due to their needs. The Chief Finance Officer clarified that £4 million out of the £8.9 million planned investment is for Home to School Transport. The Director of CET offered to provide more detail on the planned investment after the meeting.

Climate Emergency Works

5.6       The Committee asked about the re-profiling of the budget and the use of retentions. The Director of CET clarified that the retentions are the contractual payment of sums of money that are retained until the end of an agreed defects period for the projects, which then become due for payment at a later date.

School Decarbonisation Projects

5.7       The Committee asked when the council is likely to see the savings in energy use and carbon emissions from these projects. The Director of CET agreed to provide further information on the energy and carbon emission savings made by the heat decarbonisation and solar PV projects in schools.

Disposal of Key Assets

5.8       The Committee asked if the Property Team had enough resources to support this area of work. The Chief Operating Officer outlined that the work on asset disposal is challenging due to the limits on staff resources, especially recruiting qualified surveyors. The work in this area has been rigorously prioritized within the resources available, but it would be possible to do more if the team had more staff.

5.9       The Committee commented that it would like cover the following items as part of the RPPR work:


State of the County report.

5.10     The Committee commented that the housing affordability statistic might be mis-leading as East Sussex has a relatively elderly population who may own their own homes, and asked if there is a better ratio we could use (e.g. income and affordability for first time buyers might be more meaningful). The report also states that Lewes, Rother, and Wealden have net negative land use emissions. Could this be explained and clarified as to whether the balancing out of emissions is permanent of transitory. The report also mentions the use of coal and oil, but the Committee doubted whether coal is used very much in East Sussex. The Director of CET responded that he would pass on the comments to the data analysts who produce the report.

Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP)

5.11     It was clarified that the estimate of the budget deficit of around £40 million in 2025/26 has been updated to include another year in the MTFP (which covers the next three financial years). So the forecast deficit would rise to around £55.5 million in 2026/27, not taking into account the funding the Council may receive for Adult Social Care (ASC) which was a two year settlement. If ASC funding were to continue at the same level, then the forecast deficit would reduce by £28.2 million. The forecasts aim to set out the range of the possible deficit, without knowing in detail the future funding settlements. The forecast deficit is a continuing deficit unless funding levels change, or it is possible to achieve a balanced budget.

5.12     The Committee RESOLVED to:

1) Note the information within the 2022/23 end of year Council monitoring report and State of the County 2023 report relevant to the remit of the Committee;

2) Agreed the areas of interest for scrutiny as outlined in paragraph 5.9 above for consideration in the committee’s future work programme, future RPPR reports or meetings and at the Committee’s autumn away day; and

3) Establish a RPPR scrutiny board to consider the developing Portfolio Plans and financial plans and to submit scrutiny’s final comments on them to Cabinet in January 2024





6.            Rights of Way and Countryside Team - update report


6.1       The Team Manager, Rights of Way & Countryside, introduced the report and gave a short presentation on the services provided by the Rights of Way (RoW) and Countryside Team. The Committee discussed the contents of the presentation and report. A summary of the comments and questions raised by the Committee is given below.

Footpath Diversions

6.2       The Committee asked about footpath diversions for major developments and what powers existed to ensure paths are reinstated. The Team Manager, Rights of Way & Countryside responded that footpath diversions for developments under the Town and Countryside Planning Act should be part of the planning process and are processed by planning authorities, in consultation with the RoW Team. Developers do have the right to apply to temporarily close footpaths for 6-18 months, but if they do not reopen them the Team can serve a notice and taken enforcement action as well as the Planning Authority being able act if the developer breaches planning conditions.

Stile replacement and footpath accessibility

6.3       The Committee asked about the criteria for replacing stiles on footpaths with gates to improve accessibility and wheelchair accessible routes. The Team Manager, Rights of Way & Countryside outlined that the Team had undertaken a mapping exercise to see where it would be possible to reduce the number of stiles and where they are a danger to use. The Team also responds to requests to remove stiles. Work to replace stiles has mainly been on village edge routes and not so much on urban routes where they are less of an issue.

6.4       The Team does develop and promote wheelchair accessible routes when external funding is available. This work tends to be with the South Downs National Park Authority and the District and Borough councils. The Team does not have maps of wheelchair accessible routes but would like to look at developing this if there is external funding available.

6.5       The Committee asked if the Council can encourage landowners to replace stiles with gates. The Team Manager, Rights of Way & Countryside responded that existing stiles and gates are authorised structures, and it can take time to persuade landowners to change the stiles they are responsible for. If landowners do not want to change stiles to gates, the RoW Team cannot compel them to replace stiles. The Team is replacing stiles with gates as part of an externally funded project with the High Weald AONB. The project is replacing around 10% of stiles in particular areas of the High Weald.

6.6       It was clarified that if stiles and gates are not repaired or replaced when they are damaged or not fit for purpose, the process is to send a letter to the landowner first requesting that they take action. After 28 days the Team will contact the landowner if no action has been taken and can then serve a notice. Once a notice has been served, if no action has been taken within 28 days, the Team can take enforcement action to remedy the problem and recharge costs to the landowner.


6.7       The Committee asked about the work the Team does to support volunteers and work with groups such as the Ramblers and Sustrans. The Team Manager, Rights of Way & Countryside responded that working with volunteers effectively requires adequate support and the Team has one Volunteer Officer when there used to be three. The Team does work with the Ramblers from time to time and with Parish Councils but has limited capacity. He added that he would provide feedback to the Volunteer Officer on approaching Parish Councils about volunteer work.

6.8       The Team would be happy to work with Sustrans and the Ramblers to open up less used paths which have encroaching vegetation. However, the Team does have limited capacity to work with volunteers. If brambles or encroaching vegetation needs to be cleared it can be reported to the Team and they can programme works.


Income, Resources and the impact of inflation

6.9       The Committee asked where the income comes from that the Team is able to generate. The Team Manager, Rights of Way & Countryside outlined that most of the income of around £100,000 comes from property searches and the Team is able to charge landowners for footpath diversion work which can be around £2,500 for each diversion. There are also depositions to protect land from a right of way being created.

6.10     The Committee noted the effect of inflation on budgets and asked what level of funding would be needed to counter the impact of inflation on the amount of work that could be undertaken. The Committee also asked what difference an extra full-time post would have on the Definitive Map Modification Order (DMMO) backlog. The Team Manager, Rights of Way & Countryside responded that he could provide a figure to catch up with the effect of inflation after the meeting and would speak to the Team about the resources needed for DMMOs. Having more resources would definitely help and this is also a national issue.

Cattle and farm tracks

6.11     The Committee noted that there have been issues with cattle in fields with footpaths that run through them and the cattle injuring people. The Committee asked how the RoW Team deal with these issues. The Team Manager, Rights of Way & Countryside responded that the responsibility for dealing with incidents lies with the farmer and the Heath and Safety Executive. There are around 2-3 significant incidents per year. Once an incident is reported to the Team, the Teams’ main duty is to gather all the relevant information from the farmer and the person affected. The Team do write to farmers where an incident has been reported to them.

6.12     The Committee asked what proportion of footpaths follow farm tracks. The Team Manager, Rights of Way & Countryside estimated that around 10% of Rights of Way are shared with farm tracks and other private access routes. This can sometimes cause conflict between the different users.

Definitive Map

6.13     The Committee asked if the Team had information on the widths of Rights of Way and whether encroachment into the width of paths is a problem. The Team Manager, Rights of Way & Countryside outlined that the widths of Rights of Way should be recorded in the Definitive Map Statement. If not, the Team can look at historical or site information to determine the width of a footpath or other RoW. The Team can investigate encroachment from landowners, but it would need to meet the test of ‘significant’ encroachment for action to be taken.

Projects and External Funding

6.14     The Committee asked if the Team had a list of projects ready to be taken forward when funding becomes available, for example, Active Travel funding. The Team Manager, Rights of Way & Countryside responded that since 2010 the team have been surveying the whole network and have a list of works that they would like to undertake such as surfacing work and work on bridges. For surfacing work, if the Team uses Section 106 Planning Agreement, Community Infrastructure Levey (CIL) or Active Travel funding and if the work is on private land, the landowners’ permission is still required. If Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) or Active Travel projects coincide with routes the Team would like to upgrade, this can work well, and the Team can take projects forward.

King Charles III – South-East England Coast Path

6.15     The Committee asked if additional funding is available for the work on the new national trail. The Team Manager, Rights of Way & Countryside confirmed that Natural England fully fund the implementation and management of the King Charles III South-East England Coat Path and the project officer hosted as part of the Team. There have been no major issues with landowners concerning the new national trail and any objections would be dealt with by the Secretary of State.

Vegetation Management and Disposal

6.16     The Committee asked if the team are able to remove encroaching vegetation and whether its is possible to remove arisings from site as leaving them in situ is not popular with residents, particularly in urban areas. The Team Manager, Rights of Way & Countryside acknowledged that vegetation disposal is an issue due to the cost and not having a disposal site. The Team tries to dispose of cleared vegetation on site if possible as this is the most cost-effective solution. Keeping a path unobstructed by side vegetation is the landowner’s responsibility. Surface vegetation is the County Council’s responsibility. The Team have access to Land Registry information, so they are able to identify landowners if necessary. If there are multiple reports of encroaching vegetation blocking a path, then the Teams can prioritise this for clearance work.

6.17     The Committee asked if there was any conflict between those people who wanted to leave vegetation to thrive for nature conservation purposes and those who wanted to have it cut back. The Team Manager, Rights of Way & Countryside responded the Team had not had many issues with this and they do try to leave a wildlife strip or verge. Many of the rangers have an ecological background and do bear in mind nature conservation requirements when carrying out their work.

Tourism and Active Travel

6.18     The Committee asked how the Council promotes Rights of Way (RoW) in the Tourism offer and where there might be value for money in looking at RoW as part of Active Travel work. The Team Manager, Rights of Way & Countryside acknowledged that most of the Team’s focus is on maintenance, enforcement work and nature conservation work. Work on the new coastal path has more emphasis on tourism and there may be an opportunity to promote the circular walks that are already online more widely.

6.19     Work on the LCWIP may allow RoW schemes, which have the potential to provide more value for the money, compared with highways schemes which tend to be more expensive. It was clarified that it can be difficult and a long process to change the status of a footpath to allow its use for cycling (e.g. by upgrading to a bridleway) and the Team has limited staff capacity to do this type of work. This is mainly due to needing landowner permission to upgrade paths. The Team would need more staff and money to undertake Active Travel projects, but there is an opportunity to build a business case to look at how the RoW Team can contribute to Active Travel.

Links to Planning and Infrastructure contributions (Section 106, CIL)

6.20     The Committee asked if there are links to planning authorities for funding RoW work and the potential impacts on existing Rights of Way by developers. The Team Manager, Rights of Way & Countryside outlined that the planning authorities will flag up any impacts on existing RoW network from new developments and the Teams are consulted on 200-400 planning applications a year. For new developments this is mostly concerning the status of existing RoW rather than new routes within the development. More often Section 106 and CIL funding is used to link the development to existing routes or upgrade existing routes. It was clarified that ESCC maintains the portion of the Cuckoo trail which it owns, which is around one third of the trail, and Wealden District Council maintains the other two thirds.

6.21     The Committee RESOLVED to note the activities undertaken by the Rights of Way & Countryside Team and be aware of current work, challenges, and future priorities for the service.




7.            Implementation of the Libraries Strategic Commissioning Strategy 2022/23 - 2027/28


7.1       The Team Manager, Library and Information Service introduced the report and provided an update on the implementation of the Libraries Strategic Commissioning Strategy. The Strategy was last updated in December 2021 and took into account the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic. Libraries are strongly placed to support communities and are working to drive up the number of library visits post pandemic. The Service has renewed the computers and network provision in libraries and has enhanced access to digital services. The Service is also working with Adult Social Care to support refugee groups. Future challenges include staffing, building costs, inflation, and anti- social behaviour in libraries.

7.2       The Committee commented on the report and asked a number of questions which are summarised below.

Antisocial Behaviour

7.3       The Committee noted the number of antisocial behaviour incidents and asked what measures were being taken to combat this. The Team Manager, Library and Information Service outlined that the Service does have strong mechanisms and appropriate staff training in place to deal with antisocial behaviour. There are library byelaws in force and the Team works closely with other partners such as the Police to deal with this issue. Some libraries have CCTV and there is an incident reporting system to monitor the situation and identify any patterns.

Income Generation

7.4       The Committee asked about the income generation opportunities in libraries, such as having coffee concessions, and the potential commercial opportunities from historic images and documents. The Team Manager, Library and Information Service responded that income is generated from the shared use and leasing out of spaces within library buildings. The Service does have a range of goods for sale in libraries such as greeting cards and recognises the interest in historic documents. The Team is reviewing the goods for sale and will look at the commercial opportunities from historic documents. A coffee concession was trialled at the Seaford library but this was not commercially viable. There is strong competition from other local coffee outlets making concessions difficult, but this will be kept under review in the light of any changing needs.

7.5       The Assistant Director Communities added that around £300,000 a year is generated from renting out space within libraries to services such as Parking, Public Health and the NHS. This provides income but also other benefits such as additional staff. The Assistant Director Communities commented that he did not think it was possible to obtain more income from parking, such as from the sale of parking permits.

Use of Libraries for public consultation and other services

7.6       The Committee asked whether it would be possible to use libraries for public consultations and other services such as the One You health service as a way of attracting people into libraries. The Team Manager, Library and Information Service outlined that the One You health service is offered by a range of partners and is in line with the priority outcome to promote health and wellbeing in the Libraries Strategic Commissioning Strategy. Libraries do currently provide access to public consultation documents and facilities for looking at consultations online.

Targeted Work with Deprived Communities and on Digital Exclusion

7.7       The Committee asked if the Service collects information on the number of people from deprived communities attending events and activities and the effectiveness of these programmes. The Committee also asked if the Service had a way of measuring the benefits from the digital exclusion work.

7.8       The Team Manager, Library and Information Service responded that the Library Service does target deprived communities and schools in deprived areas as part of its outreach work. For example, library staff promoted the Summer Reading Challenge at 74 school assemblies which resulted in participation rates exceeding pre-Covid levels due to the proactive outreach and strong communications that were undertaken. A data driven approach is taken to targeting services, which enables parents to take up free activities when looking for activities for their children.

7.9       The digital exclusion work includes the IT for You programme delivered by volunteers. The Library Service has over 300 volunteers supporting programmes across the service. The support provided is tailored to the needs of groups and individuals, with volunteer co-ordinators working with partners to understand what support is needed. There is some emerging research on the benefits of this work from the Libraries Connected research that is undertaken nationally. The Service is committed to understanding how effective their work is in this area.

Voluntary Community Libraries

7.10     The Committee asked what ongoing support is available for voluntary community libraries, such as with book stock and other types of support. The Team Manager, Library and Information Service outlined that the community run libraries were provided with book stock and furniture when they were first established. There is also a disposal process in which stock and furniture is offered to community run libraries.

Extended Access to Services

7.11     The Committee noted the work of the Home Library Service which delivers books to the door for those people who are unable to visit a library. The Team Manager, Library and Information Service commented that the Home Library Services is reliant on volunteers and has made over 700 visits and deliveries to people’s homes and care homes over the last year. The Service has also extended the book reservations facility, which is free to use.

7.12     The Committee RESOLVED to:

1) Endorse the progress that has been made to deliver the Libraries Strategic Commissioning Strategy 2022/23 – 2027/28 as set out in the report; and

2) Note the current service priorities and challenges.





8.            Work programme


8.1       The Committee discussed the recent water supply problems in the north of the County where South East Water is responsible for the water supply. It was suggested that the Committee request South East Water attend a future meeting of the Committee to explain what actions they are taking to resolve the water supply issues experienced by East Sussex residents and businesses. The Committee also considered that it would be beneficial to invite Southern Water, who supply some parts of the County, to answer similar questions about water supply resilience and long term water supply plans.

8.2       The Director of CET commented that it might be helpful for the Committee to think about the sort of questions they would wish to put to the water supply companies about long term water supply and demand, and the short term solutions that can be put in place to resolve the water supply issues that have been experienced. The Committee noted that some of the long term planning is based on the assumption that individual water consumption would reduce from 150 litres per person per day, to 100 litres per person per day which might be unrealistic.

8.3       The Committee agreed to request that South East Water and Southern Water attend a future Committee meeting to respond to questions about the water supply issues and longer term water supply planning for East Sussex.

8.4       The Committee discussed a range of topics that they would like to reflect and include within the work programme. These included the following topics and issues:

Local Transport Plan (LTP) Reference Group - update

8.5       Councillor Paul Redstone, Chair of the LTP Reference Group gave an update on the work of the Group. The Reference Group has been working with officers and representatives from the consultants, Steer, on the development stages of the LTP. This has included the work with other stakeholders who have been contributing to the development process. The Reference Group’s work has included commenting on the drivers, transport scenarios and potential interventions within the LTP, and inputting into the Vision and Strategy for the LTP. The next step is for the draft LTP to go out to public consultation, with the final version being presented to Cabinet and then Full Council for approval.

8.6       The Committee RESOLVED to

1) Agree the agenda items for the future Committee meetings, including items listed in the updated work programme in appendix 1 of the report;

2) Amend the work programme in line with paragraphs 5.12, 8.3 and 8.4 above;

3) Note the upcoming items on East Sussex County Council’s (ESCC) Forward Plan in appendix 2 of the report;

4) Note the Climate Emergency Action Plan Working Group will be reconvened; and

5) Confirm the membership of the Economic Growth Strategy Reference Group as outlined in paragraph 2.4 of the report.






The meeting ended at 12.53 pm.



Councillor Matthew Beaver (Chair)