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Council Environment & Regeneration section key in providing essential services during COVID-19

14 April 2020
Details of the significant work being carried out by Council’s Environment and Regeneration Section to provide critical and essential services during the current COVID-19 pandemic was outlined to Elected Members at a special online briefing this afternoon, Tuesday 14 April.
 
Elected members heard that despite dealing with a pandemic situation, plans to roll-out over 12,000 Brown Bins across the City and District, were going ahead and would start as early as next week, Monday 20 April, with a view to collections starting within a two week period.
 
Karen Philips, Director for Environment and Regeneration, told elected members how the key focus of the section was on the provision and maintenance of critical services such as refuse collections, street cleansing, enforcement services, cemetery provision and fleet and property management. She said the unit was also proactively working to providing as many other services as possible, including Building Control, Capital Development, Planning Services and Regeneration.
 
She explained how the Environment and Regeneration teams are continuing to work to advance with key projects such as ongoing parks maintenance and development, the development of a tree strategy, climate adaptation plans and the green infrastructure plan.
 
Details were also provided in relation to the current stance of a number of key capital projects that are at various stages of contractual arrangements and development. Members were advised that Council is engaging directly with contractors, funders and stakeholders in relation to moving forward with many of the projects, with an updated report to come before them for consideration in the coming weeks.
 
In relation to Building Control services, members heard that full plan applications, building notice applications, regularisation applications and property certificates are all currently being accepted, registered and assessed. Site inspections are currently on hold, and when dealing with Completion Certificates , staff are, where appropriate, issuing qualified certificates, while the investigation of dangerous structures, are being dealt with on a priority basis.
 
Members were informed that postal numbering applications and queries are being dealt with, while street naming applications, dual language street applications and bus shelter requests are being accepted but decisions are pending until the resumption of Environment and Regeneration Committee. The Council’s energy management service is also continuing with a prime focus on minimising energy usage in closed facilities.
 
A detailed report outlining the continued work of the Planning Service was also provided to members explaining how the majority of staff are currently working from home and accessing the Planning Portal that allows them to continue to deal with all casework queries, compiling reports and preparing planning decisions. A rota system is in place to cover essential office based tasks that include new application receipts, validations, the issuing and signing of decisions and financial documentation.
 
In terms of current planning applications, members were informed that these are being processed as normal and taken as far as possible in the current climate, while new applications are being received by post only and validated with a phased in consultation process to begin from next week. Planning decisions are being issued on a priority basis only, while site inspections are suspended unless for priority emergency enforcement issues. The planning enforcement team are working to advance cases as far as possible while Tree Preservation Order priority work is continuing. Members also heard how the Council is awaiting new DfC regulations relating to virtual committee meetings and advice from the Council’s legal department in relation to the protocol for the operation of Planning Committees going forward.
 
Elected Members heard how the majority of major regeneration projects across the city and district, including the City Centre and Town Centre regeneration projects, the Rural Development Programme and the Spencer Road and Carlisle Road Revitalisation projects are all temporarily on hold and under constant review.
 
The Director for Environment and Regeneration explained that the Council faced a number of operational and delivery challenges in respect of these regeneration projects, that included the potential for increased costs, the potential inability to meet external grant funding timelines and limited access to external partners as well as the difficulties experienced by contractors to resource and deliver on many of the projects.
 
She said Council was looking at a series of options for recovery that would include looking at prioritising all paused works and making bids for new and additional funding streams.
 
Elected members taking part in the online briefing were also provided update in relation to other key services that remained fully operational over the Easter period.
 
Members heard that the new waste Helpline – 028 71376590 -  set up by Derry City and Strabane District Council last week continued to work over the Easter period and was proving hugely successful in providing advice to the public and deal with priority cases of excess waste. They heard how Council is continuing to advise the public they must fully utilise the existing refuse collection services and are being encouraged to recycle and not put any additional pressure on the service.
  
Updated information with regard to the role played by Council in assisting DfC with the community hub and the work being done on ground to roll out the significant financial package for the community and voluntary sector was also provided, while information relating to a new Sports NI hardship fund was also relayed to members.
 
Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Cllr Michaela Boyle acknowledged the co-operation of the public in adhering to the Government restrictions on movement over the weekend and thanked people for staying at home over Easter. She urged people not to be complacent and to continue to respect the advice.
 
She said it was heartening to see the majority of people in the Derry City and Strabane District Council acting responsibly and choosing to stay at home and said it was important they continued to do this in the days and weeks that follow.
 
“I would like to extend a big thank you to everyone for their continued support. These are difficult times for us all but by being responsible and staying at home we are undoubtedly saving lives. We are a united community, who care for one another and we are all playing our role in preventing the spread of this virus by staying at home,” she added.
 
Concluding the Mayor extended a heartfelt thank you to Council staff, particularly those working in front line services, for their ongoing commitment and dedication. She also praised staff who worked over the Easter period to provide essential services during this current emergency situation.