This matter is the responsibility of Executive Councillor Member
Councillor Francesca Smith
Report Author: Chris Brown, Assistant Director Development & Regeneration, Ian Shoemark, Project Manager
The Community Scrutiny Committee is asked to consider a number of recommendations as listed in 2.1 of the report, prior to progression on to the Executive Committee.
The Portfolio Holder for Housing introduced the report:
· The report concerned twelve flats at Wordsworth Drive and Coleridge Crescent which were in poor condition. A decision on their future was needed and the report highlighted a way forward.
The Assistant Director for Development and Regeneration provided a further introduction to the report:
· Had hoped to carry out decarbonisation activity on these properties to make them more environmentally friendly and bring up the standard of the properties. However, surveys had identified that the structure of these properties was poor. The properties were beyond economic repair and had reached the end of their life so it was recommended that they be decanted and demolished. The funds for decarbonisation and improvements would instead be spent on other properties. All customers currently living in the properties had been spoken to and were generally supportive, as was the one leaseholder who lived in the property. The shops had been more surprised and talks with them were ongoing as their lease would end.
· The report recommended that customers from the properties be given a Gold level banding in Homefinder. It was believed there was sufficient turnover via Homefinder for the customers to obtain suitable alternative residence within the planned timeframe for decanting the buildings. Customers in Wordsworth drive would be given Gold banding first and then a year later customers in Coleridge Crescent would be given Gold banding.
· Permission to purchase the property from the leaseholder was sought as part of the report. Before the report progresses to the Executive the intention is also to add to the report an option that if the owner occupier could not afford to purchase a market like-for-like property at the time as selling their property to the Council then the Council would provide an equity loan.
· The report detailed that compensation would need to be paid to the shop leasees.
· The buildings would be demolished once decanted.
· The report did not include options for future use of the site after demolition but a report on this would be produced on this at a later date. The land could be left fallow for a while as it would likely allow more grant funding to be obtained.
· Ongoing tests would be undertaken on the properties until the decant took place to ensure the building and area remained safe throughout the process.
During the debate the following points were raised:
· It was asked how the equity scheme would work and whether it would be paid directly paid from the Council. It was responded by officers that this would be direct through the HRA and use HRA funds. The scheme had been used successfully previously on the North Taunton site.
· Concern was raised about leaving the land fallow for a period of time. Officers responded that leaving the land fallow for 3 to 7 years would enable significant grant funding to be obtained and that building new affordable homes would continue elsewhere in the district in the meantime.
· It was suggested that it would be worthwhile making representations to the relevant bodies regarding the issue of land needing to be kept fallow to obtain grant funding as it hindered homes being built.
· It was asked why customers needed to be put through Homefinder and why they could not just be moved from one property to another as if they had to bid for properties then they may lose the bidding process. It was responded by officers that Homefinder was a fair system for people looking for housing. It allowed customers to have choice between available properties. The customers would have Gold banding which would mean that their bid would be competing against fewer other bids and their bids would be more likely to be successful. The target was to rehouse everyone within a year of them receiving Gold banding. If there was a customer with particular needs it may be possible to directly transfer them to a suitable property, but this was not common and Homefinder was used where possible.
· It was asked if the equity loan was a lifed loan and what interest had to be paid on it. Officers responded that the equity loan was an interest free loan. Instead, the Council would receive a proportion of the growth of the property value the customer had used the equity loan to buy when they either came to sell the property or decided to buy the Council out.
· It was asked whether if the site was sold to a housing association they would be able to obtain grant funding to build homes sooner than the Council would be able to and whether this could be done to avoid leaving the land fallow. Officers responded that they would provide a written response as to whetehr this would be possible. Valuations for the site were currently being sought.
· If was asked if an equity loan was made, if it was 10% of the value of a property that was bought, as the property appreciated, the 10% would be a stake which would increase in value as the property increased in value. Officers responded that was correct.
· It was raised that if the properties were demolished then there would be fewer properties to bid for on Homefinder. Concerns were also raised about customers being able to move to local properties and stay within their local area. Officers responded that most customers had been supportive of the plans, with only two instances of customers being disappointed. Work had begun with Homefinder to look at where housing would be available. Housing needs assessments for each customer had also begun to be undertaken. It could also provide an opportunity for customers to move to properties which better suited their needs. They may also be able to move to more energy efficient properties.
· Exploring and considering other uses relating to housing for the land if left fallow was encouraged.
The Committee resolved to note the recommendations in the report:
2.1 The Community Scrutiny Committee is asked to consider the following recommendations prior to the report’s progression to the Executive Committee:
(a) To approve the decanting of tenants from Wordsworth Drive Flats with the awarding of gold band status in April 2022. Gold band status will support tenants secure alternative suitable accommodation.
(b) To approve the decanting of tenants from Coleridge Crescent Flats with the awarding of gold band status at a time to be determined by the Director of Housing and Communities in conjunction with the portfolio holder for Housing.
(c) To approve the purchase through mutual consent one leasehold property at Wordsworth Drive flats and compensate the owner in line with statutory compensation requirements.
(d) To note officers will agree the closure date and compensation with the shop lessee to ensure Wordsworth block is available for demolition.
(e) To approve the demolition of Wordsworth Drive and Coleridge Crescent Flats at a time to be determined by the Director of Housing and Communities in conjunction with the portfolio holder for Housing.
(f) Officers to return to the Council with options for the future use of the site.
(g) To approve a supplementary budget of £1,111,700 and to delegate the funding of the scheme to the Section 151 Officer.