To consider the independent report into issues around repairs to the heating system at Riverside Flats in Grantham
The Chairman advised that due to the Appendix for this item being exempt should this be referenced then the meeting would go to closed session. Julie Picken, an independent consultant was welcomed by the Chairman to the meeting.
A statement was read to all present by the Chairman as a ward member:
I was horrified to read in the local Grantham Journal a headline: “Lied to and let down” as my colleague, Councillor Smith and I had both responded immediately to every call we had had of lack of water or heating from the Riverside complex.
The whole sorry saga has been a catalogue of errors and like the residents we too have been let down as we escalated the complaints to the housing department in blind faith that positive steps had been taken.
I believe many residents had reported their complaints to Customer Services and then contacted councillors in desperation and frustration when things did not improve.
Let me make it clear, the residents and the community are my priority and this must never, ever, happen again as it is a total disgrace to the residents and some elderly and vulnerable people in such distress.
Hopefully lessons have been learned.
However I fully understand the distress all this has caused and I was pleased to hear from a couple of residents last year that they were happy with the repairs that had taken place and to quote one gentleman he said to me he was “as warm as toast” which was good news.
We also have a new Chief Executive who, along with the Leader, is totally committed to putting in place the proper management within a housing portfolio; supported by Councillor Robert Reid the Cabinet Member for Housing.
I look forward to having a single point of contact for residents and further updates at meetings.
The Chairman invited ward Councillor Jacky Smith to make a statement however she was not able to due to technical difficulties.
The Leader of the Council reported that he had visited Riverside with the Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning and would continue to do so on a regular basis. The commissioned report had identified failures for which he unreservedly apologised on behalf of the District Council to the residents for the inconvenience and trauma. The Chief Executive added her sincere apologies and expressed disappointment that the Health and Safety Executive report had not yet been received to also present at this meeting.
The Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning reported that he had not been satisfied with the heating system being provided to tenants. There was a 5-year life span remaining for the boilers which he would be looking to replace with allocated budget already in place.
A report was presented by the independent consultant, Julie Picken, in the form of slides which were circulated with the agenda. The consultant was appointed on 20 January 2020 to conduct an independent inquiry.
A further presentation by the Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning providing an update on works performed to date including a recommendation to the committee to create a Tenants Liaison Panel which would be made up of himself as the Cabinet Member and two nominated Councillors.
It was recommended that the Tenants Liaison Panel include a councillor from each of Stamford, Bourne and The Deepings. The Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning stipulated the need for the Panel to be localised with representatives of other areas separately.
A Member requested dedicated members of staff to support requests by elderly residents due to their specific needs. She also requested any works avoid the winter months at elderly households and where work was unavoidable to offer alternative temporary accommodation while work was undertaken.
The meeting having reached the scheduled 3-hour limit the Chairman proposed an extension of 30 minutes which was seconded and AGREED by all present.
Appreciation was expressed to the private consultant for her presentation. Tribute was also paid to Mr Gadd for his persistence in raising issues at Riverside.
The Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning informed councillors that the repairs/servicing of the heating and hot water system was complete with an upgrade commencing 23 November 2020.
Members were advised that until receipt of the report by the Health and Safety Executive, it was not known whether any action may be taken against the Council.
Councillor Jacky Smith, having overcome earlier technical difficulties, made a statement as a ward member, providing a short account of her efforts on behalf of residents at Riverside, and relaying her frustration at having been informed by officers at the time that everything repairs were proceeding.
A member queried whether the two tenants referred to by the Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning now had access to hot water and heating and whether this would need to be turned off during the upgrade: In response the Cabinet Member informed that the loss of hot water was a result of the units silting up and assured members that the two residents would be the first to receive upgrades. He was not aware that the residents in question were currently without hot water.
The Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning did not have sight of the report until September 2020. The independent consultant confirmed that she had sent the report to the Council in March 2020; it had been received by a person who was no longer in the employment of the Council. Different options for environmentally friendly heating were being explored.
On being put to the vote it was AGREED to recommend:
1. To note the recommendations contained in the attached Independent Consultants Report, and requests that officers be required to update the Committee on progress to achieve full implementation of the recommendations on a quarterly basis.
2. To note that the Health and Safety Executive’s report dealing with potential breaches relating to the management of asbestos during the carrying out of the Riverside hot water and heating repairs would be submitted to the Committee once received.
The Chief Executive confirmed receipt of the report provided by the independent inspector and explained that it had been intended to present the report alongside that of the Health and Safety Executive, however the impact of the pandemic had delayed this report. She further advised members that any councillor can request copies of exempt papers.
Councillors opted not to go into closed session, as they did not wish to discuss any matters contained solely within the exempt appendix.