To receive a presentation from P Pledger, Service Director (Housing and Property).
P Pledger, Service Director (Housing and Property), was in attendance.
In December 2011 the Cabinet had agreed a new Council Housebuilding Programme initially based on 20 homes per year for six years. These were to be allocated to housing applicants on the Council’s housing waiting list at affordable rents. This target was increased to 300 houses over a ten-year timescale. Council housebuilding was restarted after a 35-year gap in 2012 as a result of HRA self-financing and the Government’s improved discounts to tenants of properties under the Right to Buy scheme, the capital of which was ringfenced to be reinvested back into Council housebuilding, i.e. 1-4-1 receipts. However, there were a few conditions, which required 1-4-1 receipts to be reinvested within three years of receipt or they would have to be paid back to the Government with interest, and the 1-4-1 receipts could fund up to 30 per cent of the cost of a new home. The 70 per cent balance would need to be funded by the Council from its own resources through loan provision, Section 106 contributions, grants from the former Homes and Communities Agency (now MHCLG), sale of HRA land and other funding opportunities. Therefore, this had necessitated that the Council act quickly.
East Thames had been appointed the development agent on all aspects of the process from planning and building to handing over the homes. The Council had identified 69 under used garage sites on Council land which had a development potential for 227 new homes to be built. The Council Housebuilding Cabinet Committee was formed in 2013 to undertake all executive decisions with the programme.
This resulted in a phased, three-year development programme for the 69 garage sites. Phase 1 covered four sites in Waltham Abbey that were developed into 23 new homes and was completed in the summer of 2017. However, the contractor (East Thames) had performed poorly and went into liquidation before completion, which led to delays and increased costs. Meanwhile, as Right to Buy sales had increased, this meant that the housebuilding programme needed to correspondingly rise to keep pace with the 1-4-1 receipts. This led to phase 2 in Loughton (Burton Road) where 51 new homes were built and occupied and phase 3 for 34 new homes in Epping, North Weald and Coopersale.Other opportunities included the purchase of eight new affordable homes at a S106 development in Roydon. Six open street properties were also purchased to overcome a rise in Right to Buy sales. Fourteen more sites were still going through the planning application process, which would deliver 48 new homes.
Regarding progress on phases 4, 5 and 6, in 2017 East Thames and London and Quadrant merged, and the development agent exercised its right not to extend its contract agreement with the Council. A rethink of the development management programme led to the setting up of a Strategic Framework Alliance of specialist contractors and consultants. The developments in these phases were repackaged. The first package would be in Loughton with construction due to being this autumn. The packages were broken down and let to meet the capital from the 1-4-1 receipts. If the Council had surplus 1-4-1 receipt monies, the Council Housebuilding Cabinet Committee had already agreed for the Council to purchase more open market street properties. Therefore, 122 new homes were or nearly were completed, 92 new homes were in the pipeline with planning permission, and 48 new homes where planning permission was being sought. This would deliver 214 new homes with planning permission, or a total of 262 new homes in the pipeline including those without planning permission.
Councillor S Neville welcomed the Council housebuilding programme, but asked if the number of Council houses being sold was greater than the number being built? Also, what was the Council’s plan after the current phases had been completed regarding future Council housebuilding and their locations? P Pledger replied that the long term future was still being considered, but phases 4, 5 and 6 would take the Council into 2021/22. The number of Council houses being built in 2018 had been higher than those being sold, but this had not been the case so far in 2019.
Councillor J H Whitehouse was congratulatory of the housebuilding programme but said that there had been a lot of resident opposition to garages going in Epping and the loss of the use of some footpaths. However, the new properties were of a very high standard.
Councillor R Morgan said that parking was very important, and losing garages was not helpful especially in Matching Green. He hoped that adequate parking would be provided for residents of these new homes in this location. P Pledger said that this particular site was going through the planning application stage and he would be meeting the planners and look at the parking provision.
Councillor H Whitbread, Portfolio Holder (Housing and Property Services), thanked P Pledger for this comprehensive presentation, and that having toured the District, a lot of Council housing stock, such as the Burton Road development, was very modern and had incorporated eco-friendly measures, e.g. smart meters and solar panels. The Council should be proud that it was delivering high quality housing stock, especially as this was bucking the national trend of many other local authorities.
Councillor N Bedford applauded the Council’s achievement, but what was the net gain of asset value of converting garages to houses? P Pledger said the he would have to get back on this and was to be reported at a later meeting.
Councillor A Patel asked about lifestyle homes and the specifications adopted that were being incorporated in the new properties. P Pledger replied that the Council had decided on its own standards, and this had included lifetime homes, secure by design, and space standards (generally) that it was able to adopt. The vast majority of new homes were lifetime homes, and were either accessible for wheelchair users or had the potential for wheelchair user access, such that the floor layouts would be able to accommodate, e.g. floor lifts, stair lifts or the installation of hoists. Therefore, this new housing stock would have the potential to be easily adaptable to meet a disabled resident’s needs.