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Apologies for Absence and Declarations of Interest
To receive any apologies for absence and declarations of interest.
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Armstrong and Foley.
To consider the minutes of the previous meeting.
The minutes of the meeting held on 30 June 2020 were agreed and would be signed by the Chair as an accurate record at the next opportunity.
To receive an update on housing rent and service charges for 2021-2022.
The Assistant Director - Housing and Environmental Services said that this was an Annual Report and that the proposed increases had been made in line with Government guidance. She said that the proposed increases to the Garden Welfare charges had been newly added and that the Tenant and Leaseholder Panel had accepted the proposed increases.
In response to various questions from Members, officers confirmed that the proposed increases had been calculated against the correct price indexes and that the Garden Welfare charges take up had been not that high and had been between 20 and 25 tenants.
The Assistant Director – Housing and Environmental Services outlined the arrangements in place for communications and liaison with tenants. She explained the significant role played by the Tenant Support Officer in communications with tenants.
Both representatives of the Tenant and Leaseholder Panel said that they had no complaints in respect of communications with the Council.
RESOLVED: That the Housing Board recommends to Cabinet the proposed increases as detailed in recommendations 4 and 5.
To receive an update on the proposed development by the HRA across the District.
The Housing Strategy and Operations Manager provided a summary of the report that detailed the progress made on the sites/schemes identified as having potential for the development of new council owned homes. She outlined the current positions in respect of developments at:
· The Moors, Little Easton
· Thaxted Road, Saffron Walden
· Bartholomew Close, Great Chesterford
· Parkside, Saffron Walden
· Gold Close, Elsenham
· Auton Croft, Saffron Walden
· St Mary’s Close, White Roding
· Alexia House, Great Dunmow
· Walden Place
She said that Planners had identified possible development sites that could potentially deliver a further 70 to 80 council homes. She also said that a further four sites had been identified where outline planning permission could be sought and the sites potentially sold off with funds re-circulated. The deadline for the use of the Right to Buy receipts was the end of December but due to Covid-19, Councils had been lobbying the Government for an extension but to date there had been no response.
The Housing Development Manager provided additional updates in respect of some of the listed sites and indicated that in respect of St Mary’s Close, White Roding there was a possible opportunity to clear land occupied by old garages and replace them with car parking spaces.
Councillor Coote asked for an explanation of the strategy of building homes for older people in Great Dunmow rather than for younger people.
The Housing Strategy and Operations Manager said that the main reason was to encourage property down-sizing for older people that would subsequently free up larger properties for younger people.
In response to questions relating to planned completion dates for development schemes, the Housing Development Manager said that, prior to Covid-19, completion dates had been largely as predicted but there had inevitably been some slippage during the pandemic due to supply chain issues and the necessity for social distancing.
Councillor Coote said that there needed to be vigorous communication arrangements in place to publicise that the Council was delivering on time and to explain any hold-ups in both the public and private sector developments.
Councillor Reeve said that in respect of the Local Plan, the Council should be more ambitious in respect of council house building. He said that he recognised the HRA financial restrictions in respect of borrowing.
The Chair indicated that they could look at changing policies for the Local Plan.
Councillor Dean picked up on the borrowing issue and asked for a short note from officers in respect of how much the Council should borrow and referred to the Strategic Infrastructure Group.
The Chair confirmed that this information had been included within the HRA report.
Officers also responded to questions and updated Members on the latest positions in respect of developments at Stebbing, Hatfield Heath, Takeley Day Centre and Hatherley Court.
The Board noted the contents of the report.
Mrs C Mandy and the Housing Development Manager left the meeting at 11.58 am.
HRA Business Plan Update
To receive a verbal update on the HRA Business Plan.
The Assistant Director – Housing, Health and Communities and the Housing Strategy and Operations Manager provided a verbal update on the HRA Business Plan. They said that Covid-19 and Brexit had delayed Government responses to consultations. There remained uncertainties about how much income could be retained and the agreed timescales. This information should be conveyed by the end of December 2020. There was a need for a new Business Plan to be in place by April 2021. A skeleton had been put in place based on known information but it was not currently possible to include ambition.
Councillor Dean left the meeting at 12.02 pm.
Councillor Khan asked for an updated position in respect of the Council’s commitment to build 163 Council homes.
The Housing Strategy and Operations Manager referred members to the table that had been circulated following the previous Housing Board meeting. It had
detailed the numbers of properties that had been built or acquired by the HRA since the development programme had started. It also provided an overall figure that takes account of properties that had been demolished. It was agreed that the table below would be circulated within the minutes.
Figures in red are sites that are in the programme but yet to be completed
Figures in blue are sites yet to be identified
In respect of the commitment to build 163 Council homes, the Assistant Director – Housing and Environmental Services said that existing budgets and additional borrowing would be needed to enable these to be funded.
Councillor Coote said they were determined to deliver their ... view the full minutes text for item 5.
To receive an update on Homelessness in the District.
The Housing Strategy and Operations Manager gave a summary of her report. She said that there had been a dramatic increase in homelessness applications over the past two years and that the pandemic had been very challenging, particularly with many staff members having to work from home. Recruitment of two additional staff members had recently been approved, one to focus on finding private sector housing solutions and managing the Council’s temporary accommodation facilities, the other to work on homelessness prevention and homelessness applications.
Members expressed their appreciation and thanked the whole team for their work during these difficult times.
Councillor Khan said that the statements made in paragraph 12 of the report underpinned the clear need for more council homes. He asked if any families were being placed outside of the district and also what the position was relating to rough sleepers.
The Housing Strategy and Operations Manager said that families had not been placed out of district. She said that the use of Bed and Breakfast accommodation had increased and it was not always possible to place in district and that on occasions placements had been made in Harlow and Bishop’s Stortford. She said that those rough sleepers identified had been well managed and that she was currently not aware of any rough sleepers in district.
The Chair praised residents for the support often being provided to homeless people.
In response to various questions about evictions, the Housing Strategy and Operations Manager said that there was currently one case in the pipeline that related to anti-social behaviour and that all other cases were on hold. She also said that her team worked with tenants in rent arrears and that the Citizens Advice Bureau was often utilised.
The report was noted.
To receive letters from Harlow Council, regarding tenants in permitted development accommodation.
Members discussed the letters received from Harlow Council relating to the use of Permitted Development Rights (PDR) properties.
The Housing Strategy and Operations Manager said that the Council had previously made use of these properties but had not used them in the past year and had no intention of using them in the future.
Councillor Khan said that use of these facilities might be appropriate for a few nights but for no longer. There were serious anti-social behaviour issues in these areas.
Members were in agreement that PDRs should not be used and that a reply could be drawn up on behalf of the Board by the Assistant Director – Housing and Environmental Services and the Housing Strategy and Operations Manager that stated that the Council had no ambition to send anyone to this type of accommodation.
Development Programme Update
The Housing Strategy and Operations Manager referred to the report that had been included in the Supplementary Agenda as Agenda Item 4. She said that the report from the Housing Enabling and Development Officer had detailed the number of affordable homes delivered under the 2019/20 affordable housing programme by size and tenure and the projected completions for 2020/21. She corrected the statement in the report that the Council’s target was 100 affordable homes per annum and stated that the figure should be shown as 120 affordable homes.
Members noted the report.
Any Other Business
In response to a question about private roads owned by the Council, the Assistant Director- Housing and Environmental Services said that Norse had surveyed all such private roads and would be undertaking appropriate repairs.
Some discussion took place about Section 106 monies and provision of affordable housing. Assurances were provided that the Planning Committee always unanimously looked to maximise the amount of affordable housing that should be provided in any new planning applications.
S Trimnell thanked Housing Officers for all their work.
Meeting Closed 12:59 pm