Agenda item - Public Involvement

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Agenda item

Public Involvement

To consider the following matters raised by members of the public:

 

(a)       Petitions: to receive any petitions presented to the full council or at the meeting itself;

 

(b)       Written Questions: to receive any questions submitted by the due date of 12 noon on the 8 November 2018;

 

(c)   Deputations: to receive any deputations submitted by the due date of 12 noon on the 8 November 2018.

 

Minutes:

(a)  Petitions        

 

38.1     There were no petitions.

 

(b)  Questions

 

38.2     Charles Harrison asked the following question:

 

Transition Plan – Post Mears

 “The Committee’s decision on 26 Sept 2018 seems to strike a sensible balance between a single contract and direct works and should create great opportunities for using local resources.

However, changes will be needed to transition from the Council’s current “light touch” construction management approach to manage this strategy efficiently, consistently and transparently.

What are the Council’s priorities and plans for developing:

·          Organisation chart(s), job specifications, and divisions of responsibility

·        Recruitment and training policies and processes

·        Procurement and contract strategies for each work category

·        Processes for scoping, instructing, authorisation, monitoring and payment

·        Systems for managing and communicating asset information"

38.3     Councillor Mears stressed that Mr Harrison’s letter referred to a “light touch” construction management approach. As a point of clarity she stressed that the current approach had never been a “light touch” contract. Councillor Mears quoted a letter signed by the Head of Housing and Legal Services that stated that “it was never let as a light touch contract. The problem which the council has experienced over the life of the contract has been due to management of the contract not the form of contract”. 

 

38.4     The Chair replied as follows: 

       

“Thank you for your question.  Following detailed discussion at a Special Housing & New Homes Committee in September, Policy, Resources & Growth Committee agreed the recommendations for the delivery of future repairs services at its meeting on October 11th.  The recommendations seek to build on the feedback of tenants, leaseholders, councillors, staff and all stakeholders to deliver services in the future.

 

Whilst you are right there will be opportunities and changes around how we deliver these services in the future we should also reflect the large number of discussions that this committee has had around the existing contract arrangements both in terms of the positive aspects of the current service, the successes achieved and that council officers have been clear that the current contract was not a light touch contract but that there is a need to ensure robust contract management is in place.

 

Following the committee meetings officers have been working to ensure that all stakeholders are aware of the decisions that have been made. This has included:

 

·                 Presenting at all four Area Panels to share the decisions with residents.

·                 Presenting at the Citywide Conference on October 19th and answering questions from residents

·                 Producing a briefing document detailing the decisions reached, the objectives for the future service and a set of frequently asked questions. This was shared with members of the committee and residents.

·                 Staff working for the council and Mears have also been given a briefing document and have had the opportunity to meet with officers and ask any questions they may have.

          We have a programme board which meets regularly and is developing work streams for the areas you have mentioned in your question. This group works with staff, councillors and trade unions to ensure that all stakeholders are involved.”

 

38.5     Mr Harrison stated that he wanted to clarify the reference to “light touch”. This was not his expression but one he had read from the report in September on which the decision was based.

 

38.6     RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

38.7     Jane Thorp asked the following question:

 

“Leaseholders in Hove are being billed for major works to their block of over £100,000 per leaseholder. Leaseholders all over the city are being ruined by these huge bills. By definition, owner-occupiers of council flats are on low incomes. The council has failed to repoint external brickwork or to do concrete repairs for decades, which they are legally required to do. How can they now expect the working poor and pensioners to pay for this neglect?”

 

38.8     The Chair replied as follows: 

 

“Thank you for your question. However I can confirm that there are no leaseholders anywhere in the city facing bills of £100,000 and since the start of the Mears partnership, the highest service charge contribution passed on for major works has been £30,500. We understand that this is a lot of money; however the council has a legal obligation under the lease to keep the buildings in its portfolio in repair. We do not neglect our buildings and undertake responsive repairs & carry out planned maintenance where required.

 

I accept that for many leaseholders, the cost of capital works are very expensive, however this is why the council has come up with a range of flexible payment options to address any payment difficulties of resident leaseholders.”  

       

38.9     Ms Thorp replied that she considered the Chair’s facts as incorrect and that she had seen bills and other people had seen bills of over £100,000.

 

38.10  RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

           

38.11 Jane Thorp asked the following question on behalf of David Pearce:

 

“Some leaseholders in Hanover are facing bills of £44,000 each. The sale of a flat collapsed because this figure was supplied by the council for a conveyancing search. None of the leaseholders had been told about this cost or what works were planned. The non-resident leaseholders still have not been told. Why are leaseholders treated so contemptuously by this council?”

 

38.12    The Chair replied as follows: 

 

“Thank you for your question. The case you mention followed a conveyancing enquiry in relation to the estimated costs of future works. No one had received a bill and the response was an estimate and we had not met with any leaseholder or tenant to discuss the proposed works.

 

We are meeting with residents of the affected blocks on 21 November when we will engage fully with both tenants and leaseholder. This engagement will inform what works we will specify and in what order we undertake them.

 

We have worked with the Leaseholders Action Group committee & a councillors working group over the past 12 months to look to improve our engagement with leaseholders. A range of measures has been adopted that we are now implementing. One change we made was that we would change our practice in relation to pre-sales enquiries. Instead of not giving any information on future works until a Section 20 consultation notice had been issued, we now identify works planned to take place along with an estimate of the cost.

It is our intention to engage leaseholders at the earliest opportunity. This happened already in our projects at Kemptown high rises, on the Bristol estate, at the Clarendon Road high-rises and at Saxonbury, St John’s Mount & Tyson Place.

 

The fact that this enquiry came in before we had held the meeting with residents is unfortunate; however there is a balance to be struck between giving prospective sellers and purchasers information on possible future spend and engaging with current leaseholders”

 

38.13    Ms Thorp asked the following supplementary question:

 

“If prospective buyers are being given a figure of £44,000 then obviously the sale will collapse or the seller will have to reduce their selling price. If that figure is given for conveyancing purposes then it is a set in stone figure in the mind of the council. How could it be otherwise?”

 

38.14    The Executive Director of Neighbourhoods, Communities and Housing explained that the figure was an estimate on what works the council thought needed to be carried out. Discussion then took place with leaseholders and tenants, as agreed with the Leaseholder Action Group, around the exact works, and the nature of the works that should be carried out and more importantly the timing of those works. Leaseholders had expressed concern to officers that new leaseholders were receiving bills and did not have enough advanced notice. Following work with leaseholders this had been changed. The most important thing was the council’s commitment to give as much information as it could very early on. 

 

38.15  RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

38.16 Ms Thorp asked the following question on behalf of Dave Spafford:

 

“Independent surveyors employed by leaseholders on different estates consistently report that the works costs are hugely overpriced and that many works can be better met by repairs. They consistently say that the measurements used to cost a job are not precise or adequate because a proper “measured survey” has not been carried out. Their recommendations are never considered by the council during the consultation period. Why not?”

 

38.17    The Chair replied as follows: 

       

“Thank you for your question - Any independent surveyors employed by leaseholders whose structural surveying reports are received by the council before the end of the consultation period, and before a final decision is made on the proposal for works, will have those reports scrutinised by our own surveyors and we will issue a full response whether we agree or disagree with their conclusions.

 

It is the case that a job may be estimated without a full measure, but estimated based on sampling. However, the final cost to the council is calculated on a full measure of what was actually carried out, so the final cost may vary from the estimate. The council is protected because there is an Agreed Maximum Price - a cost above which the council will not incur further costs. This is agreed before the works commence. So the council is paying for works actually done – not those estimated.

 

In the recent Bristol estate tribunal case, the council asked an independent RICS structural surveyor to prepare an expert witness report which was included in its evidence. The expert witness report showed that an independent analysis of how much those specific works should cost came within 1% of those incurred by the council.”

 

38.18  RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

38.19    Ms Thorp asked the following question on behalf of Izabella Rogalska:

 

“The Housing Revenue Account draws its funds from rents and service charges. What is the amount and percentage of the Housing Revenue Account used in this financial year to date to fund legal cases taken by the council against their leaseholders, such as the recent case against Bristol Estate?”

 

38.20    The Chair replied as follows: 

 

Thank you for your question.  The council’s total legal costs for legal arrears recovery, for advice, and for litigation, including tribunal costs, and expert witness costs, for 2018/19 to date are £83,875. This will include a range of work, including, but not limited to, the Bristol Estate Phase 2 tribunal. This represents 0.14% of the 2018/19 HRA budget.

  

  In terms of the specific costs for the Bristol Estate Phase 2 tribunal case the total cost of legal work on this was £126,996. This includes solicitors, counsel & expert witness. There were no internal charges. These costs were incurred over a number of financial years and not just in 2018/19.

 

38.21    Ms Thorp asked the following supplementary question:

 

            “ If the council costs were £126,996 and the leaseholder who had to defend their corners costs were £25,000, do we not think that that there is a slight imbalance going on here in terms of power?”   

 

38.22    The Chair replied as follows:

 

“No. The council has a legal duty and responsibility to cover costs from people who had had work carried out on their properties.”   

 

38.23    RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

38.24    Ms Thorp asked the following question on behalf of Tony Worsfold:

 

“Repayment options for major works include a charge put on the property against its eventual sale. This is delightfully called the Non-Repayment Equity Loan. The charge rises proportionately with the market value of the property. This could very well be seen as the council clawing their property back. How can the council demonstrate that this is not its intention?”

 

38.25    The Chair replied as follows: 

 

“Thank you for your question – the council offers many flexible payment options to leaseholders who have bills as a result of capital works.  One of the payment options the council agreed to offer back in 2012 was an equity loan.

 

This has been taken up by leaseholders who have limited income but have sufficient equity in their flat. The benefits of this option are

 

·              There are no monthly repayments.

 

·             You only need to pay the council back when the property is sold or transferred.

 

The equity loan can be provided as a percentage of the loan amount to the value of the property or at a variable interest rate.

 

In a rising housing market – a cap based on the council’s actual borrowing rate over the period acts as a double-lock for leaseholder in terms of protection in any periods of rampant property prices.

 

The council is not seeking a profit on these loans; we are simply seeking a method of keeping resident leaseholders who have payment difficulties in their homes.

 

The council is literally not clawing their property back.”

 

38.26    Ms Thorp asked the following supplementary question: 

 

            “Why is it called a Non-Repayment Equity Loan, because this does actually mislead people”?

 

38.27    The Executive Director of Neighbourhoods, Communities and Housing explained that the reason it was called a Non-Repayment Equity Loan was due to there being no monthly repayments.  When the council offered that option and people took it up, the council provided written information as well as talking it through with the people. People were very well aware of what were the terms of the equity loan were.

38.28  RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

38.29    Ms Thorp asked the following question on behalf of Amanda Lane:

 

“BHCC has consistently blocked the Leaseholders Action Group from reaching other leaseholders by refusing to pass on information via their email database. The council claims that their IT system is not up to the task. How can such a large organisation lack the skills to overcome this, or is it simply that the council does not want leaseholders to have a voice?”

 

38.30    The Chair replied as follows: 

 

“Thank you for your question. The council works with the Leaseholders Action Group & what we have committed to is to publish the contact details of the Leaseholders Action Group in regular newsletters and on our website to signpost any leaseholder in the city who wishes to provide their name to the group to be able to do so.

         

We also support any group of leaseholders to set up a Tenants Association in their building, with administrative support and advice. We will also contact all leaseholders in the block on their behalf. We will also recognise the tenants association if it meets the legal criteria.

 

The council cannot email leaseholders en masse as we do not have all their email addresses. We seek to use methods that are inclusive.”

 

38.31    Ms Thorp asked the following supplementary question:

 

“You have to have contact details for all leaseholders because you have to send them bills, so why is there no possibility to contact them?” 

           

38.32    The Executive Director replied that the council did send bills out and did send newsletters to leaseholders. However, the council could not give contact details of leaseholders to a separate body without their permission. When the council sent information to leaseholders it put details of the Leaseholder Action Group on all the newsletters that were sent out twice yearly. Meanwhile, the Leaseholder Action Group AGM was advertised on the council website and was supported by council staff. Details of the Leaseholder Action Group was placed in “Homing In.”  

 

38.33    RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

38.34    Julia Greenslade asked the following question:

 

“Can this council ensure that Kendal Court will have, in a timely manner, a working facility by provision of a launderette for the use of residents or that it be allowed for individuals to have a washing machine plumbed into their accommodation?”

 

38.35    The Chair replied as follows:     

 

“Thank you for your question. The specification for short term emergency accommodation which Kendal Court comes under did not include the provision of laundry facilities and so the provider is not obliged to make such provision. However, the provider has looked at the development of laundry facilities but this will involve the building of an extension and associated costs. In terms of individuals being permitted to have a washing machine plumbed in within their accommodation, the kitchen area is compact and has no designated space for a washing machine. Notwithstanding, if an individual made a request we will discuss whether this is possible within their specific unit and explore what could be achieved.” 

 

38.36    Ms Greenslade remarked that she did not know if the council was aware that there was now no launderette facility in Newhaven at all. As a result there was nowhere for people to go.

38.37    The Chair replied that this would be looked at when the council were presented with the report in January. 

 

38.38    RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

38.39    Stephanie Crechriou asked the following question:

 

Hyde/BHCC Contract

“As a result of the Budget announcement regarding the HRA cap and the response by Councillor Meadows to Councillor Mears at the last meeting of full Council could the Chairperson confirm the withdrawal of the Council from this contract?”

 

38.40  The Chair replied as follows: 

 

“Thank you for your question.  Working in partnership with Hyde the joint venture will deliver 1,000 new lower cost homes for rent and sale. The first three sites have been identified to deliver up to 570 new homes. These are Coldean Urban Fringe, the former Belgrave Centre, Portslade and Whitehawk Urban Fringe. Public consultation has taken place on all three sites with planning applications due by the end of this year.

 

Our plans for maximising new housing supply via the Housing Revenue Account are outlined in our Housing Supply report to be considered at today’s meeting.”

 

38.41  RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

38.42 Amanda Bishop asked the following question:

 

“Selective Licensing Scheme

Could the Committee also report at what regularity the Council is checking the database of Rogue Landlords and Property Agents since the Housing and Planning Act 2016 (Banning Order Offences) Regulations 2018 came into force on 6 April 2018 and has the Council made, or considered, use of this legislation?”

 

38.43    The Chair replied as follows:     

“Thank you for question – as you have rightly said, the regulations came into force in April 2018. The council has not yet made any entries on the data base as we have not yet had a landlord or agent convicted of a banning order offence. A number of members of staff have access to the database to assist them in carrying out their duties.”

 

38.44    Ms Bishop asked the following supplementary question:

 

          “Could the Committee also explain why the Housing Minister has decided that our “Incompetent council [is] kicked out of [the] government housing scheme” according to the Argus”.

 

38.45    The Executive Director replied that the Government had not stated that the council was incompetent. The council had received a letter from the Government, as stated in the Chair’s Communications, and the council were currently working with the Government on what needed to happen to enable the scheme to go ahead. The work being carried out with the Government was similar to the work that happened before the council were issued the consent. The change that happened since that time was that the government were threatened with judicial review and that was what made them change their mind. It was not due to anything the council had done. The council were now working with the Government to enable the council to be able to proceed at a later date with the full selective licensing scheme.    

         

38.46    RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

38.47    Miriam Binder asked the following question:

 

Council Properties and Social Rents

“Could the Committee confirm that the sale of 499 council properties (previously accommodation at Social Rent levels) since 2011 to Brighton and Hove Seaside Community Homes was on the basis that rents were doubled? Have properties other than those sold to Seaside Homes since 2011 also been sold to Housing Associations or other organisations on the same basis? If yes, how many and to which landlords?”

 

38.48    The Chair replied as follows: 

           

“Thank you for your question. Brighton and Hove Seaside Community Homes was set up by the Council as an investment vehicle to raise finances necessary to bring HRA owned properties up to the decent homes standard. The council had identified a £30m funding gap and this was a way of raising finance. As a result of this investment we have brought all our properties up to decent homes standard. The 499 properties transferred to Seaside Homes on long leases and were also refurbished. The rents did move from HRA social rents to Local Housing Allowance rent levels. These are higher than social housing rents because the landlord was no longer the council and for the financial model to work, rents needed to be at the higher rate. No other properties have been sold to Housing Associations or other organisations.”

 

38.49    Ms Binder asked the following supplementary question:

 

          “You mention that, as a result of this proposal with Brighton & Hove Seaside Community Homes, you have managed to bring all properties up to decent home standards. Are we talking about the fact that you can have either one or the other if you meet both criteria? ”

 

38.50    The Chair replied as follows:

 

          “I understand your confusion, however the decent homes standard is something that the Government outline and we follow that process. I understand the concern about whether you get a kitchen or a bathroom but you can’t have both. That is something we can take away and look at further as a committee. At the moment we follow the regulation Decent Homes Standard.”

38.51    RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

38.52    Daniel Harris asked the following question:

 

Deaths in Emergency and Temporary Accommodation

“Given the lack of information and detail in the report (Agenda item 41) will the Chairperson give a commitment that a future report includes;

·             Life expectancy data covering residents, the wider homeless population & the population as a whole

·             Information on all deaths over the last 2 years in Emergency and Temporary accommodation including details of the properties and those banned or evicted from Emergency and Temporary Accommodation

·             Results of an independent survey of, and consultation with, residents in the properties involved

·             Proposed changes in procedures and protocols to prevent unnecessary deaths in the future”.

38.53    The Chair replied as follows: 

           

 “Thank you for your question. The report on today’s agenda is an interim report focused on Kendal Court as was requested by members in a cross party Notice Of Motion. Given the timescale it wasn’t possible to achieve a robust independent survey. A fuller report relating to Kendal Court containing an independent survey of the support needs of residents will be brought back to a further committee. Although the remit wasn’t to extend this out to incorporate the wider homeless population we will be using the learning across all of our Temporary and Emergency Accommodation.  I would like to add as I said in my Chair’s Communications that we will be bringing forward proposals for a Housing Support Service to assist people living in temporary accommodation in and out of the area. ”

 

38.54    As a supplementary question Mr Harris stated that in relation to temporary accommodation there were 60 Brighton & Hove Seaside Homes residents currently in tower blocks at the top of Whitehawk Hill. They were paying higher rent than they would have been for the proposed living wage. At the last full Council meeting the Chair had confirmed that if the Government scrapped the borrowing cap that council homes would be on council land. Could the Chair confirm that the deal would be scrapped as the Chair’s branch and Ward had signed a motion to scrap it?

 

38.55    The Chair replied that she thought Mr Harris was confusing two things. Councillor Mears had asked the Chair whether she would consider using council housing land first for use of council housing (which she agreed to). The joint venture was another vehicle which the council were using to increase the stock of affordable homes in the city.  Each of those would be considered on their merit.  

 

38.56    RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

38.57    Maria Garrett-Gotch asked the following question:

Buckley Close

“Is it a true representation of Council priorities relating to the environment and the needs of residents with disabilities that this development includes 11 parking bays for 12 properties with one flat that is wheelchair accessible?

Could the Chairperson also explain the absence of any properties at Social Rent?”

 

38.58    The Chair replied as follows: 

           

“The New Homes for Neighbourhoods programme has delivered 20 homes that are fully wheelchair accessible (Mobility 1 rated) and over 60 Mobility 2 and 3 rated homes in the programme to date.  The council analyses and understands the range of needs of people on the Housing Register including residents with disabilities. However there is a need for all types of accommodation in the city with the highest need for 1 and 2 bed general needs homes and the council is therefore building a range of sizes and types to meet this broad range of needs. 

 

The end plot at Buckley Close is not suitable for residential development due to a number of issues and it has therefore been decided to use this space for additional parking bays including 2 disabled bays.  This is partly in response to concerns about impact on parking from the new development raised by existing residents. 

 

Rents are agreed by Housing & New Homes Committee in line with the council’s Rent Policy and based on a viability assessment and we will be discussing that later this afternoon. ”

 

38.59    As a supplementary question Ms Garrett-Gotch asked why the council were not “using the facilities grant which was a central government fund which in no way affects your monies; which is supposed to be used to adapt the properties and future properties of disabled residents to their own personal needs.”  Ms Garret-Gotch mentioned a resident who had been trapped in his attic since 2013.

 

38.60    The Chair thanked Ms Garrett-Gotch and explained that the disabled facilities grant was for existing tenants and the council were building for future tenants and were building mostly to lifetime homes standards. 

 

38.61RESOLVED- That the Public question be noted.

 

(c)  Deputations

 

Deputation from the Living Rent Campaign on Living Rent and Social Rent

 

38.62  The Committee considered a deputation which had been submitted by Adrian Hart (presenting), Diane Montgomery, Ian Needham, John Hadman, Carrie Hynds and Sheila Rimmer. The deputation urged the Committee to support the Notice of Motion to provide a ring fenced reserve that enabled the council to provide some new council homes at more truly affordable social and living rents for households on the lowest incomes.

 

38.63    The Chair stated that the committee would normally note the deputation but she was going to allow one speaker from each group to comment on the deputation.

 

38.64    Councillor Mears explained that in 2008, the council housing stock was in a very poor state and there was a £235M deficit for Decent Homes. Hence the 10 year maintenance contract and the work carried out by Seaside Homes as this was the only way of allowing money to go directly to the HRA for council housing. In 2008 the council started on estate regeneration but worked later stalled. There were problems around affordability, as some sites were difficult and expensive to develop. Meanwhile, the council needed to consider whether it was getting best value for money, so that when the Committee came to a final decision on rents they achieved the level required. Councillor Mears had concern about ring fencing money for lower rents. The most serious priority was to develop more housing. Ring fencing money separately, tied money up that could go towards more building. There needed to be a balance on what the council was able to do and what it could afford. 

 

38.65    Councillor Gibson stated that the proposal contained in the Notice of Motion would provide the means of truly affordable housing for the people on the lowest incomes. There had been a drop of social rents in the city and a lack of living rents that would be truly affordable for households on low incomes. The Notice of Motion was not pre-judging how much the funding will be. It was opening up the possibility for officers to make recommendations that were appropriate.

 

38.66    Councillor Hill explained that the New Homes for Neighbourhood programme, as it was in 2015 was either 80% of the market rate or LHA rates modelled over a 40 year period. That had now changed so that it was modelled over a 60 year period and living wage rents were included at 37.5% and 27.5% along with social rents. The council had moved significantly towards what was being suggested in the deputation which was looking at rents in terms of affordability and income rather than setting them in terms of the market.  Councillor Hill stressed that when the council looked at schemes in terms of social rents, the income received even over 60 years did not cover the costs, which meant that they needed to be subsidised. If the council wanted to provide new build at social rents there needed to be an honest conversation about where the money would come from.  

 

38.67    The Chair thanked Mr Hart for his deputation.

 

38.68    RESOLVED:-

 

That the deputation be noted.  

 

Supporting documents:

 


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