Meeting documents

Scrutiny Streets, Environment & Homes Sub-Committee
Tuesday, 20th September, 2016

Streets, Environment and Homes Scrutiny Sub-Committee Minutes

Date:
Tuesday 20th September 2016
Time:
6:30 p.m.
Place:
Council Chamber, the Town Hall, Katharine Street, Croydon, CR0 1NX
 

Attendance Details

Present:

Councillor J Buttinger, Councillor S Fitzsimons, Councillor P Hay-Justice, Councillor O Lewis, Councillor S Mann, Councillor D Speakman, Councillor A Stranack

Also present:
Councillor Alison Butler, Cabinet Member for Homes, Regeneration and Planning
Leonard Asamoah, Head of Housing Solutions
Colm Lacey, Director of Development
Apologies for absence:
Councillor Mike Selva

Item Item/Resolution
MINUTES - PART A
A26/16 MINUTES OF THE LAST MEETING

The minutes of the meeting held on 22 June 2016 were approved as a correct record of the meeting.

A27/16 DISCLOSURE OF INTEREST

There were no declarations of interest.

A28/16 URGENT BUSINESS (IF ANY)

There were no items of urgent business.

A29/16 EXEMPT ITEMS

RESOLVED: To confirm the allocation of business between Part A and Part B of the agenda.

A30/16 QUESTION TIME: CABINET MEMBER FOR HOMES, REGENERATION AND PLANNING

Councillor Alison Butler, Cabinet Member for Homes, Regeneration and Planning, gave a presentation to the Committee which outlined the work that was being undertaken within her portfolio. Delivering affordable housing and making Croydon a great place to live, work and study were stated to be at the heart of the work.

 

The Cabinet Member noted that a recent success had been the consultation on the Local Plan which had received over 8,000 responses, and that between 5 September and 17 October 2016 residents could submit final comments on the Plan which would be included as part of the submission submitted to the Planning Inspectorate.

 

A Place Review Panel would be launched with experts who would give independent advice on improving the quality of the built environment within the borough. The Cabinet Member informed the Committee that projects were progressing, such as the Fairfield Halls, the Old Convent in Ashburton Park and that the New Addington pool had received planning permission. A 250 year lease had been agreed with Hub for the Taberner House site for 500 units, 30% which would be affordable, and for increased green space. It was anticipated that a planning application would be submitted in February 2017 and for works to start in summer 2017.

 

The Committee were informed that priorities for the portfolio were for the Local Plan to be approved as it was the overarching planning document which impacted jobs, housing, leisure, and district and town centres in the borough. Furthermore, it was a priority for the Growth Zone to continue to develop to deliver 39 projects to increase the supply of affordable housing.

 

The Cabinet Member stated that the pressures that were experienced within the portfolio included:
retaining high quality staff;

  • budget constraints as a consequence of austerity;
  • managing the increased expectations of residents and businesses;
  • the possible impact of the Housing and Planning Bill;
  • managing the impact of a 1% rent cut in the Housing Revenue Account;
  • managing the impact of other borough placing their residents in temporary accommodation within Croydon; and
  • ensuring that residents did not go into rent arrears with the introduction of the Universal Credit which saw money going straight to residents rather than the council.

The Committee were informed that it was felt that the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill would lead to a loss of local accountability. The Planning Department were managing 1,170 planning applications and it was expected that this figure would increase.

 

The Cabinet Member further stated that Right to Buy figures were increasing again, with 143 completions in 2015/16 which increased the pressure on providing housing. However, the council had been successful in bringing 108 empty properties back into use.

 

In response to Member questions the Cabinet Member for Homes, Regeneration and Planning stated that housing standards were improving and that the authority was responsible for ensuring that council housing was up to standard and that stock was being maintained. The Cabinet Member felt confident that the council was meeting the decent homes standard. For private rented properties the Landlord Licensing Scheme was ensuring that private properties were being inspected and notices were served where necessary.

 

The Committee noted that the size of some properties being built in recent years had been relatively small and were informed that the London Plan outlined the London room standards which had to be followed. The council, however did not have any control on who lived in properties once built and for a property to be deemed as being overcrowded a very large number needed to be living in the same property.

 

The Cabinet Member informed the Committee that an extensive search for appropriate sites for a gypsy and traveller site had been conducted and the proposed site was for the Purley Oaks depot, not the recycling centre. When the council initially consulted on the site there had been no objections lodged, however a second phase of consultation was ongoing and any objections would be within the submission to the Inspectorate.

 

In response to Member questions the Cabinet Member informed the Committee that under permitted development the council had no control over the size of units being developed as space standards did not need to be met. However, the council had been successful in being awarded an Article 4 for Croydon town centre.

 

The Cabinet Member stated that they felt that Croydon could play its part in delivering the housing target set in the Local Plan and the London Plan, however it was important that surrounding boroughs, including those outside London, also delivered more housing. For this to be successful, and not lead to the development of all Metropolitan Open Land, sensitive intensification would be required. The Committee were informed that the London Living Rent was being reviewed and it was thought that it may be possible to deliver a similar scheme through Brick by Brick.

 

It was confirmed that Transport for London land was being held for future possible transport schemes, however where this was not viable the Committee were informed the land would be reviewed for development.

 

The Committee queried why there were a number of empty properties in the borough and what work was being done to bring the properties into use. The Cabinet Member for Homes, Regeneration and Planning stated that there were various reasons for properties to be left empty, including financial, being bought for investments purposes and being left to family members. Officers worked to negotiate bringing the property into use, with Compulsory Purchase Orders being a last resort. Where it is agreed to bring the property back into use, the council would bring the property up to living standards and would have a lease for normally around five years. These properties were normally used for emergency housing.

 

The Cabinet Member informed the Committee that the target for B&Bs had been reduced, however the number of people presenting as homeless was continuing and it was important to increase the supply of properties and work on prevention.

 

In response to Member questions the Committee were informed that the Westfield application was progressing, with two pre-applications having been submitted to Planning Committee. Officers were continuing to work with the developers to ensure that the best possible outcomes were achieved.

 

The Director of Development informed the Committee that officers were working with residents to develop plans for the future use of the New Addington pool. Members were assured that the new pool was on track with main works to begin in 2017 and an opening in the summer of 2018.

 

The Committee noted that the National Trust events in Croydon had been a success in celebrating the built environment of the area, and were informed that it was hoped that it would be involved in future works on Fairfield Halls and other projects.

 

The Cabinet Member confirmed that development work would require infrastructure projects and that the council was working with the relevant partners, including Transport for London, National Rail, the Greater London Authority and utility companies. There was a Five Year Integrated Delivery Plan which enabled the council to have oversight and monitor all the works which were ongoing.

 

It was noted that while the cost of emergency accommodation was rising in the borough, it was still lower than other parts of London which was causing pressure in the borough. The Cabinet Member stated that this needed to be resolved across London with a maximum price to be paid by all boroughs to be agreed. The Head of Housing Solutions confirmed that work was ongoing and that the Mayor of London had suggested that a procurement vehicle be created to ensure there was less competition.

 

The Cabinet Member stated that the council was looking at modular accommodation on particular sites, however this would be to produce temporary accommodation only.

 

In response to Member questions it was noted that Improvement Notices through the Landlord Licensing Scheme were for providing housing that was not fit for purpose or healthy, such as for draughts and poor lighting. However, the scheme had provided opportunities to discuss other issues and led to improvements, such as refuse collection and ensuring that gas safe certificates were being completed.

 

The opening of Boxpark would be a two day festival and Members were assured that food would be available from across the world that would celebrate the ethnic mix of the borough, alongside a variety of music from local musicians.

 

In response to Member questions the Cabinet Member assured the Committee that the allocation of £1million for works to the old convent in Ashburton would go to Scrutiny Overview Committee and that Members would be able to see where the money was coming from.

 

The Cabinet Member discussed that issues of anti-social behaviour had been experienced in Queens Gardens and that officers were working to establish the cause of anti-social behaviour. It had been found that many of the people did have homes, and that the issue was that the area had become a gathering place with a small number causing upset to others. The council was also working with organisations to address the homelessness issue, with a survey conducted to gather data on street homelessness in the area. The Cabinet Member felt that it was an exciting project and the Homes First scheme was being trialled to work with partners and volunteers.

 

RESOLVED: To note the report of the Cabinet Member for Homes, Regeneration and Planning.

 

Councillor Stephen Mann arrived at 6.55pm.
 

A31/16 HOUSING ALLOCATION STRATEGY

Leonard Asamoah, Head of Housing Solutions, introduced the report outlining that three changes to the Housing Allocation Strategy were being proposed to help the council to manage demand of housing in the borough.

 

It was proposed that the residency requirement be increased from 12 months to three years as it would enable applicants to truly demonstrate a connection to the local area. The suggested time frame was in line with the government recommended length of at least two years. It was stated that exceptions would be made for specific groups, including armed forces personnel, homeless households, existing social housing tenants and applicants who had worked with the Gateway Service.

 

The introduction of choice based lettings was felt to be beneficial as applicants would have expressed an interest in the property, and thus wanted the property. With this change it was thought that less officer time would be spent managing allocation refusals.

 

In response to Members questions the Head of Housing Solutions stated that the current waiting list for housing in the borough was around 5,000, and that the information on the website would be checked and updated as necessary.

 

The Head of Housing Solutions stated that the consultation process had taken place over two stages, with the first stage being an online survey which was intended to "sound out" stakeholder thoughts. The second stage was to consult on the proposals and included leaflets being sent to residents outlining how they could respond. Officers noted that it would not be possible for all of those on the housing list to respond online and provided alternative options to responding to the consultation.

 

The Cabinet Member for Homes, Regeneration and Planning noted that choice based lettings was a more open and transparent method to allocating properties as applicants could see how many properties were available, where and of what type. Furthermore, information would be published after bids for properties were taken which would outline the circumstance of the applicant that was successful. It was felt that this would enable applicants to assess whether they would be successful in bidding for similar properties in the future.

 

Members queried whether intervention would be undertaken if applicants continued to hold out for particular properties, and were informed that if officers noticed this taking place that they would work with the residents to find a solution.

 

The Head of Housing Solutions stated that when other authorities had moved to choice based lettings it had been at the same time as other changes, and so made it difficult to assess the impact of the change and possible fall off from the housing register. However, officers did not anticipate a large number of people dropping off the housing register and would work with the private rental sector and voluntary organisations, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, to mitigate any impact. Where necessary, adjustments to the criteria would be recommended to Cabinet and a report would be brought to the Streets, Environment and Homes Scrutiny Sub-Committee for consideration.

 

The Committee were informed that university students often returned to their parent's homes and so it was not felt that a five year residency requirement would be necessary. Members further noted that students rarely qualified to be on the housing register as they were considered to be of low vulnerability.

 

The Committee came to the following conclusions:

  • The residency requirement of three years was a reasonable compromise within London as it ensured applicants were able to demonstrate a connection to the local area;
  • That choice based lettings had been successful in other authorities and had created a more open and transparent method for allocating properties; and
  • That choice based lettings would empower residents as they were required to make expressions of interest in properties.

 

RESOLVED: To note the report and endorse the proposed changes to the Housing Allocation Strategy.
 

A32/16 BRICK BY BRICK DEVELOPMENT COMPANY

Colm Lacey, Director of Development, introduced the report which outlined the key issues for the company, work to date and the monitoring work by the council.

 

In response to Members questions the Cabinet Member for Homes, Regeneration and Planning stated that the main difference between Brick by Brick and CCURV was that the council was the sole shareholder of Brick by Brick, and so would benefit from 100% of profits once properties were sold. It was felt that this would achieve the best outcome for Croydon as the council would be driving it and would not be impacted by a private partner.

 

Members noted that with CCURV the council was sharing risks, whereas with Brick by Brick the risks were on the council alone. The Director of Development stated that risks were inherent with all developments and that by taking on all the risk the reward was 100% of the returns. With Brick by Brick the council would be providing the funding and borrowing at a lower rate.

 

The Committee queried the number of sites that were being considered for development as different figures were quoted on different documents. The Director of Development confirmed that the public figures were changing as more sites were verified as being viable sites for development. More sites were being assessed and it was anticipated that another ten sites could be named in the short term. It was stated that the strategic purpose of the company was to provide more housing, and if successful in delivering housing and returns it would be appropriate to consider more viable sites.

 

Members stated that residents were concerned by the consultation exercise that had been undertaken and requested that ward councillors be given the feedback from the consultation undertaken in their areas. The Director of Development confirmed that he would ask for the data to be shared with ward councillors. The Committee were informed that a lot of work had been done with the consultation partners to ensure a sensible approach was taken. Different types of meetings were held, during evenings, weekends and at different locations to attempt to engage residents with the process. Members were assured that lessons had been learnt from previous consultation exercises and that further consultation would be undertaken during the pre-application process for the developments.

 

The Committee emphasised the importance of keeping residents and ward Members updated on progress and for effective consultation to take place. It was suggested that officers advise ward councillors of which sites would not be progressed so councillors could provide reassurance to residents.

 

The Director of Development informed the Committee that it was not the intention for Brick by Brick to undertake large scale redevelopments, as had been done in Southwark and Lambeth, as the company would focus on infill and fast delivery projects.

 

In response to a Members question the Director of Development stated that with all developments the sale offsets the costs, and that Brick by Brick was a more efficient way of delivering property as all profit could be reinvested in future phases. With the council delivering housing it was felt that it was statement of support in the development market in Croydon.

 

The Cabinet Member for Homes, Regeneration and Planning stated that the aim of the scheme was not only to generate profit, but to deliver 50% affordable housing which would bring about benefits for the council as the costs of temporary and emergency housing increasing.

 

Members queried whether private landowners had been approached to provide further land for development and were informed that private landowners had been approached, particularly where the land abutted council owned land that would be developed.

 

The Committee were informed that as the council owned Brick by Brick there would be oversight of which contractors were used and it was intended that best practice would be followed with the use of local workforce. It was stated that the Statement of Community Involvement would be available to view.

 

The Director of Development assured the Committee that the company would not sit on land in anticipation of land values increasing as it was important to deliver the developments and receive the returns to enable reinvestment in future phases. However, if it was commercially beneficial mixed tenancy would be considered with some sites being rented out.

 

In response to a question the Cabinet Member for Homes, Regeneration and Planning stated that the majority of housing that would be developed would be for Croydon residents as there would be local letting plans, and local sales and shared ownership plans were being considered. It was important that the developments had good quality design and improved the areas in which they were built. The Director of Development confirmed that he would be happy to provide a report at a future meeting on how local housing would be delivered through Brick by Brick.

 

Members noted that design was important, however the technical specification and materials used were very important. It was suggested that it was important to ensure that the right materials were used and that they could be easily replaced or repaired, when necessary. The Director of Development confirmed that officers were taking this into consideration and that the architects had been carefully chosen for this reason, furthermore they were working with the Housing Repairs team to gain an understanding of what works currently.

 

The Committee came to the following conclusions:

  • That it was important to have active and meaningful engagement with residents and councillors throughout the process;
  • That it was important that the developments were not only designed well, but would be practical and maintainable in the future;

 

RESOLVED: That

  1. The report be noted;
  2. The Committee continue to review progress of the work of Brick by Brick at key milestones, including holding a site visit as projects are being built; and
  3. The Committee receive a report at a future meeting on how Brick by Brick will deliver housing for the local community.

 

Councillor Donald Speakman left the meeting at 9.19pm.
 

A33/16 WORK PROGRAMME

The Chair stated that it was intended that in 2017 the Committee conduct some pre-decision scrutiny and that the work programme would be updated to reflect possible items. 

 

Members suggested that the Tramlink 2030 strategy be reviewed in light of possible extensions to the network, and that air quality also be considered. The Chair noted that the Mayor of London was consulting air quality strategies and the council would respond to the consultation. 

 

The Committee noted the continued problems experienced by Southern commuters, however it was noted that other councils had looked at the issue and performance had not improved. The Chair stated that Govia Thameslink was consulting on proposed timetable changes and suggested that Members respond to the consultation. 

 

RESOLVED: To agree the Scrutiny Work Programme 2016/17.
 

A34/16 [THE FOLLOWING MOTION IS TO BE MOVED AND SECONDED AS THE "CAMERA RESOLUTION" WHERE IT IS PROPOSED TO MOVE INTO PART B OF A MEETING]

The Chair informed the Committee that there was no business to be conducted in Part B of the agenda, in accordance with the Council's openness and transparency agenda.

MINUTES - PART B
  None
The meeting ended at 9.24pm