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.