Alison Duggal (Deputy Director Public Health/ Consultant in Public Health & STP Prevention Lead) and Tony Harwood (Resilience and Emergency Planning Manager) were in attendance for this item.
1. Mr Hill (Cabinet Member for Communities and Regulatory Services) introduced the report which provided an overview of Kent County Council’s (KCC) resilience and emergency planning duties, its current activities and emerging risks. Mr Hill also welcomed Mrs Duggal to the Committee to provide an update on the emerging issues relating to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and to address any public health related concerns.
2. Mrs Duggal provided an update on the confirmed cases of coronavirus in Kent and the measures that had been put in place to mitigate the spread of the virus. The Government had announced that it was in the containment phase of the process, however, in coming weeks, steps would be taken to move into the delay and detain phase. Kent County Council continued to support the NHS and critical front-line services within the Council, including Adult Social Care, to ensure staff were equipped with personal protective equipment and that those requiring domiciliary care were still able to be supported.
3. Officers responded to comments and questions as follows:
(a) In relation to the work carried out with Parish Councils and community organisations, Mrs Holt-Castle (Interim Director of Environment, Planning and Enforcement) informed Members’ that the Council had started working on COVID-19 contingency plans in February 2020 and that Mr Harwood had been involved in a number of local and national discussions. The first meeting of the Kent Resilience Team Silver, which was a tactical response unit, was scheduled to take place on 10 March 2020 and a further Kent Resilience strategic meeting was also planned. Mrs Holt-Castle informed Members’ that that the response, plans and measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 was led by Public Health but strongly supported by the Emergency Planning Team in terms of business continuity.
(b) In response to a question raised about the effect of Jeye’s fluid when diluted to the avian bird flu strain and whether this would disinfect the communal areas of a livery yard, Mrs Duggal agreed to ascertain further detail on the question raised and respond to the Member directly.
(c) Mrs Duggal confirmed that there had been no advice issued on the use of public swimming pools. The chemicals used within pools helped to eliminate the risk and spread of bacteria.
(d) In response to concerns regarding reduced stock in shops, Mrs Duggal clarified that it was not a Public Health matter, however, the issue would be raised with partner organisations as part of the emergency planning.
(e) Mrs Duggal explained the difference between the delay and contain phase of Government’s approach to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and said that containment involved the identification of those people that had come into contact with the person displaying symptoms of the virus and to instruct those people to self-isolate to stop any further transmission. The delay phase, which would be a decision implemented by members of COBRA (Cabinet Office Briefing Room A), would involve asking all members of the general public to self-isolate. Public Health was in the process of pulling together the necessary plans should the UK enter the contain phase to ensure that front-line service staff could operate safely and provide the best care to those who could potentially contract the virus.
(f) In response to communication methods, Mrs Duggal assured Members’ that the KCC Communications Team utilised all media channels, including Twitter and Facebook to ensure both staff and the general public were kept abreast of the daily changes brought forward by Government officials. Mrs Duggal agreed to feed concerns back to regional partners and the Communications Team to ensure that radio stations provided the same clear message.
(g) Mrs Holt-Castle advised Members’ that KCC already had a number of emergency and continuity plans in place as a result of Brexit and a review of all those plans was taking place over the present week. Mrs Holt-Castle assured Members that all directorates recognised the importance and impact of COVID-19 and the correct measures were in place.
(h) In response to queries relating to flood defence infrastructure, Mrs Cooper (Corporate Director of Growth, Environment and Transport) informed Members that the matter fell within the portfolio of the Cabinet Member for Environment and agreed for a paper to be presented at the next environment and Transport Cabinet Committee on 14 May 2020. A report on the impact of recent flooding events as a result of Storm Kieran and Storm Denise was due to be presented to Cabinet on 23 March 2020.
(i) Mr Harwood addressed concerns relating to flooding and said that KCC undertook a structure debrief on 7 January 2020 in response to the flood events before Christmas. This was attended by the Director of Highways, Transportation and Waste, the highways drainage team and emergency planners. Mr Harwood said that Utilities companies were required to install drainage with 20% headroom to facilitate climate change, however, this did not apply to highways infrastructure. The recommendations from the debrief included the maintenance of ditches on private land and the suggestion that KCC should approach the Department of the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Government to raise its concerns around drainage infrastructure capacity and to offer Kent as a pilot area to trial new models. Mr Harwood referred Members to the Kent Flood Risk Management Committee on Monday 9 March 2020 for further details on the discussions related to flood risk management as a significant amount of work was already underway in recognition of the changes to weather patterns and rainfall.
In response to issues raised in relation to Peel Ports, Mr Harwood agreed to provide a direct response to the Member in relation to issues concerning Swale. Mr Harwood informed Members that an announcement detailing the expected funding on flood defences was expected from Government and that it was crucial for KCC to identify areas which would benefit the most from flood defence interventions. The issues which had been described in relation to sites managed by Peel Ports were being discussed with flood water management colleagues within Environment, Planning and Enforcement. The Kent Flood Risk Management Committee received a presentation from the Environment Agency on the sophisticated management and maintenance of drainage and other infrastructure issues and again, referred Members to the Kent Flood Risk Management Committee on Monday 9 March 2020
(k) With regard to planning applications and the mitigation of new development on floodplains, Mr Whiting (Cabinet Member for Economic Development) said that KCC would undertake further analysis of planning applications under regulation 19 of the local plan.
4. It was RESOLVED that the County Council resilience and emergency planning activity, be noted.