Venue: Witham Room - Council Offices, St. Peter's Hill, Grantham. NG31 6PZ. View directions
Contact: Jo Toomey
The Group to be notified of any substitute members.
The PDG was notified that Councillor Adam Stokes would be substituting for Councillor Dobson for this meeting only and that Councillor Morgan would be substituting for Councillor Forman until the next Annual General Meeting.
An apology for absence was received from Councillor Nick Craft, the Healthy Environment Portfolio Holder.
Disclosure of interests
Members are asked to disclose any interests in matters for consideration at the meeting.
No interests were disclosed.
The action notes from the meeting held on 17 September 2015 were noted.
Updates from previous meeting
Court Closure Consultation
Members were informed that their discussions regarding the proposed closure of Grantham Magistrates’ Court had informed the Council’s response, which was submitted by the Portfolio Holder for Governance and Communication. A copy of the response had been circulated to PDG members for information.
Feedback from the Executive
PDG members were reminded that they could access a small funding pot that was available to enable them to commission any additional work in support of their work programme.
Report LDS162 by Executive Manager, Corporate (Enclosure)
The Executive Manager, Corporate presented report number LDS162 which proposed a number of changes to the Executive function to emphasise the strategic function of the Cabinet and its members, the Council’s growth agenda, the liaison arrangements between the PDGs and Executive Members and involving an increased number of members of the Council.
The proposed changes were:
· Re-naming the ‘Cabinet’ the ‘Executive’
· Re-naming the Portfolios
· Changing the Engagement PDG to the Growth PDG
· Aligning the remit of the PDGs with the overarching priorities for the Council rather than Portfolios
· Incorporating PDG/Executive Liaison within Executive Member briefings
· Increasing the number of PDG members from seven to nine
Members of the PDG supported the principle behind the proposals, particularly the proposed increase in the number of members. Reference was also made to a potential increase in the use of workshops to do in-depth analysis of topics, broadening representation on working groups and ensuring openness and transparency.
Additional briefing sessions would also be made available to all Councillors in lieu of items being put onto PDG agendas for noting. This would help information reach a wider audience. Members were reassured that they would not be disadvantaged if they were unable to attend briefing sessions, with information being supplied to them electronically.
Members agreed that they were happy for the recommendations to proceed and passed on their thanks to the officers that had worked on the project.
Report ENV632 by Business Manager, Environmental Health (Enclosure)
The Business Manager, Environmental Health summarised report number ENV632 on the Empty Homes Review, through which work was undertaken with a view to bringing long-term empty homes back into use. A number of tools had been deployed including: a council tax premium for properties that had been empty for more than two years, use of Capacity Grid to identify empty homes that were now occupied, ensuring up-to-date council tax information, empty homes assistance grants of up to £5,000 per property to bring long-term empty homes back into use, one-to-one advice for owners and general advice through the landlords forum and using enforcement powers where negotiation had failed.
Since 2009, the number of long-term empty homes had reached a plateau at approximately 470 a year. The Council benefit from New Homes Bonus from properties brought back into use.
Members noted that any enforcement action could only be taken when other avenues had been exhausted and the action taken had to be proportionate to the harm caused. Under the most extreme circumstances the Council could seek to compulsorily purchase a property.
The report also gave a breakdown of the percentage of long-term empty properties per Ward. The higher prevalence of long-term empty properties in the town centre wards was attributed to higher churn of property, with many being rental and including accommodation above businesses. It was suggested that some of the long-term empty properties required significant investment to bring them to a liveable standard which landlords might not have, while other properties could be being held as assets. A number of Ward-specific cases were cited.
Discussion ensued on the Council Tax premium, which had proved an effective incentive. If there was discretion to raise the premium above 150%, members indicated that they would support its increase in principle. Members asked whether there was flexibility for owner-occupiers who were actively trying to sell their properties but in which there was no interest; there was not.
Reference was also made to the point at which council tax had to be paid on empty properties (empty, unfurnished properties would be eligible for 100% discount for the first month, 25% discount for the following five months and no discount when the property had been empty for six months). One member expressed concerns that 100% discount was only available for one month, suggesting that the time might not be sufficient to enable the full completion of a sale. This concern could be raised through Resources PDG when it received the update report at its meeting on 26 November 2015.
Members asked about the level of take-up for the £5,000 assistance grants for landlords; an average of 15 grants was made each year. Conditions attached to the grant required that properties were brought up to decent homes standard and rented out at Local Housing Allowance rate for a period of three years. A five-year land charge was also attached to the property requiring full repayment of the grant if the property was sold or transferred within that period. ... view the full minutes text for item 32.
Report BMH103 and supporting presentation by the Business Manager, Housing (Enclosure)
A presentation was given by the Business Manager, Housing on the Allocations Policy, which was under review. The key policy issues on which the PDG was asked to have input were also listed in report number BMH103.
As background to the discussion, the PDG was given a brief explanation of the purpose of an allocations policy: to select a person to be a secure or introductory tenant of the council or accommodation held by another housing authority or to become an assured tenant of accommodation held by a registered provider. The Council had a statutory duty under Part 6 of the Housing Act to have an allocations policy. An allocations policy provided a framework for deciding who should live in vacant properties based on priority need.
Local authorities could set their own scheme but reasonable preference had to be given under the homelessness duty, where housing was overcrowded or unsatisfactory, there was a need to move on medical/welfare grounds or where people needed to move to a particular part of the district and failure to meet that need would cause hardship.
The existing allocations policy, which introduced a banding system, had been in operation since September 2013. As well as incorporating legislative changes and good practice, the new policy needed to address a number of omissions and be more explicit in conveying to customers and other partner agencies the criteria that against which individuals/households were prioritised.
The principles behind the allocations policy were:
· Reduction of voids
· Making best use of stock
· Taking account of need across the district
· Enabling those in the most need to have priority
· Facilitating sustainable communities
· Enabling mobility
· Acknowledging behaviours
Officers explained that the current policy did not give priority to households seeking to move as a result of under-occupation or overcrowding. Instead it was proposed that some priority should be attached to enable chain letting within the housing stock. During discussion, members stated that they did not think that appropriate for officers to undertake proactive work, encouraging tenants who were living in properties that were under-occupied, to move.
Members agreed with the proposal that overcrowded properties lacking two bedrooms should be given band 1 priority while those lacking one bedroom should fall within band 2 and in cases of under-occupancy, households should be put into band 3. There was some concern about managing expectations of tenants that although they had gone up in their priority band, a move was still dependent on the availability of suitable properties following offers to households with higher housing need.
A suggestion was made that going forward the PDG might look to consider whether tenants were entitled to a tenancy for life.
Members’ attention was brought to a current disparity between the way the council dealt with applicants who were on introductory and demoted council tenancies and housing association tenants. While on an introductory or demoted council tenancy, tenants were not eligible to go back onto the housing register while housing association tenants could go straight ... view the full minutes text for item 33.
Updates from Working Groups
· Car Parking Strategy
· Local Authority Controlled Company
· Waste Collection Policy Review
Car parking strategy
Early work had been undertaken by the car parking strategy working group to agree the scope of its work. Some concern was raised about the number of attendees at meetings. Further meetings of the working group would be held between January and March 2016, which members were encouraged to attend.
Local Authority Controlled Company (LACC)
A copy of the recommendations made by the LACC working group that had looked at the creation of a local authority controlled company was circulated to members. Brief explanation was given as to the background behind the working group: to find ways of generating income to offset the loss of Revenue Support Grant. Members were reassured that under a company limited by shares, the Council would be the shareholder. Operating as a controlled company would provide the opportunity for the Council to be active in areas of commercial trade where it could not otherwise have operated, for example, private sector housing.
Members of the PDG supported the recommendations of the working group.
Detailed discussion ensued on the recommendations made by the waste working group:
Issue: Different sizes of bin
Comments: Providing smaller bins could support residents currently reliant on the assisted collection scheme.
Recommendation: To provide smaller bins free of charge on request
Issue: Clarification regarding bags
Comments: To introduce a maximum of 4-bags per collection; capacity would then match available capacity within a wheeled bin.
Recommendation: Capacity of bags should match capacity of a wheeled bin
Issue: Collection points
Comments: Pictorial guides should show the point at which waste would be collected, providing a simple visual representation of the policy currently in place
Recommendation: To provide pictorial information regarding collection points for the avoidance of doubt
Issue: Missed bins
Comments: That the three strikes policy, where a crew would return to empty a missed bin would be removed; returning to empty missed bins was resource-intensive. Instead any missed bin would only be emptied as part of the next collection for that type of bin. If there was another reason why a bin has not been emptied, the crew would tag the bin to explain why. Some concerns were expressed about the impact on neighbouring properties if crews did not return for missed bins. Officers explained that where this was a problem an intensive education campaign would be run in the area. Members were given assurance that, if necessary, action could be taken on a case-by-case basis however the focus of the policy was setting the framework and tone. Where bin collection was affected by highways disruptions (e.g. utilities works), there would be a cut-off point at which crews would not attempt to go back and collect bins.
Recommendation: To remove the three strikes policy and for crews to tag bins when they were not emptied for a specific reason
Issue: Payments for replacement bins
Comments: Provision for making payments for replacement bins was already within the Waste Policy. The working group recommended that a clear framework for charging arrangements should ... view the full minutes text for item 34.
· Communal Facilities in Sheltered Housing
Members agreed to review and sign-off the scope related to Communal Facilities in Sheltered Housing virtually.
Close of meeting
The meeting was closed at 17:55.