COUNCILLORS tried a new way of working last night to get to the heart of two of Bracknell Forest’s most important issues – healthcare and housing.

‘Overview and scrutiny’ meetings typically see elected members quiz directors about council reports, but in a bid to get a wide range of views, this time councillors, officers and members of the public were asked to come together in small groups to workshop through questions put to them.

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Cllr Malcolm Tullett, chair of Bracknell Forest Council’s adult social care, health and housing panel, said: “What we are going to ask you to do is give us instructive responses to some of the questions that have been asked.

“This is the first time we have done this so it would be really interesting to find out how it works.”

Cllr Dale Birch, BFC’s health and housing guru, kickstarted the discussions by giving those involved more information about the Integrated Care System, which aims to combine elements of social care and healthcare for more than 750,000 residents across Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

Tables got talks underway by raising concerns about the need for early intervention and prevention of mental health issues, an ageing, frail population and tackling social isolation among vulnerable adults.

Each issue was rated out of 100, with each score based against categories such as how much support officers would need, the impact of the issue, how much influence the council has, and more.

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After groups submitted their healthcare concerns to meeting leaders the conversation turned to housing, a topic Cllr Birch said was a “no small task”.

He continued: “To understand what types of homes we are going to need in the future, we are going to need some information about our population in ten to fifteen years.

“We must have a housing strategy that reflects the wants and needs of our population.”

Max Baker, BFC’s head of planning, said work was underway to help support the council’s housing approach but stressed the council had limited power to control development with the government imposing housing numbers on the borough.

After Cllr Kathryn Neil suggested there was a need for more affordable homes in the borough, Mr Baker claimed the authority’s requirement for 25 per cent affordable housing was too low and BFC was looking at moving towards demanding a higher rate of cheaper homes from builders.

However, he added: “Developers will only provide the affordable housing they can afford to provide to make the scheme viable.

“There are a number of different facets that you can see we have to deal with.”

Wrapping up the meeting, Cllr Tullett told the News the new format was “70 per cent positive” and said he would like to see “more public involvement” at future workshops, but also praised participants for their “absolutely fantastic” contributions to the discussion.

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Councillors, officers and members of the public met on Tuesday, July 16, and future meetings of the committee which feature these workshops could be promoted via the council’s social media to encourage residents to come along.