Proposals by Cllr Whyte to disempower residents on planning

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24 March 2021

You have probably never heard of Bucks Council’s draft Statement of Community Involvement (currently out for consultation). Not exactly the sort of title to get anyone excited. In fact, it sounds pretty innocuous.

But the proposals in this draft could affect everyone of us, depriving us of the opportunity to comment on planning applications which directly affect us.

At present, when an application is submitted to BC for a development, all the residents adjoining the property are informed immediately and automatically about the application by post. Residents can then respond by post or online as they wish.

The Council also uses other means to ensure residents know about planning applications which might directly affect them, for example by posting public notices near the proposed development.

Under the proposals in the draft statement, BC only commits to the minimum the law requires. This bare minimum would be for planning applications and the supporting documentation to be made available to view on its website.

BC says it “may” take other steps such as posting letters to neighbours adjoining the application site or notifying town or parish council or publicising a weekly list of planning applications via public channels. However, these other means would become discretionary under the proposals.

I responded to these proposals, pointing out that residents simply do not monitor BC’s planning website on a regular basis on the off chance that a planning application is submitted which might directly affect them.

At best, residents only have 8 weeks to respond to normal applications. Under the proposals in the draft Statement, residents are likely to find out about new developments which affect them when it is too late to comment. Indeed, they may find out only when the work begins on the development.

I have also pointed out that some residents do not have computers or internet access. These residents may be disproportionately elderly, disabled, or disadvantaged. Such residents are, by these proposals, excluded from having the opportunity to comment on developments which directly affect them. These proposals are therefore discriminatory.

There are similar proposals to deprive residents, community groups and parish councils of the opportunity to comment on local plans. For example, there would be no requirement for BC to publish a draft plan for public consultation. There would be no requirement to even inform the public that supplementary planning documents were being prepared.

Now you might ask why BC is proposing to disempower residents, community groups and parish councils from the planning process and discriminate against vulnerable groups.

Well, the draft Statement says BC aims “to make consultation and involvement in planning transparent, accessible, collaborative, inclusive and consistent”.

But the proposals in the draft Statement do precisely the opposite; the proposals would make consultation and involvement in planning more closed, inaccessible, exclusive and undemocratic.

It is a case of BC saying one thing and doing another.

Perhaps I should mention that the consultation period for these disempowering and discriminatory proposals was a scant five weeks. This meant many community groups and parish councils had no time to comment. After protests, the deadline has been extended for another 2 weeks.

The Cabinet member responsible for this consultation is Cllr Warren Whyte. Cllr Whyte is famous – or perhaps infamous – for having to be taken to court to compel him to comply with the law in carrying out the consultation on closing Bucks Children’s Centres.

Cllr Whyte is consulting on proposals which would do the opposite of what he says is intended. Now with any other councillor I would assume that this was deliberate.

I would assume BC was deliberately trying to mislead residents into thinking the proposals were designed to improve community involvement rather than disempower residents and discriminate against vulnerable groups. BC is after all advised by professional and highly qualified officers.

Cllr Whyte is also consulting just before the elections with tight deadlines. With any other councillor in charge, I would assume BC was deliberately trying to slip the proposals under the radar.

But with Cllr Warren Whyte you never know. Perhaps he didn’t know what he was doing and didn’t understand what his proposals would do. Perhaps, like last time, he will have another go?

I leave you to decide whether it is a case of deliberately misleading or simple incompetence.

P.S. I’m happy to send a copy of my comments if anyone asks and the proposals are at Statement of Community Involvement Consultation - Your Voice Bucks - Citizen Space

 

BC fails to stand up for Bucks against the Government on planning

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31 October 2020

Last week, Bucks Council (BC) debated a motion put down by the Labour Party. The full motion is below. In brief, it proposes that BC should object, strongly, to the Government’s White Paper on Planning for the Future.

Cllrs Stuchbury and Hussain, the motion’s proposer and seconder, explained why they thought BC should object. Amazingly, Cllr Martin Tett, the Conservative Leader of the Council, said there was a lot in what they said that he agreed with.

Gosh, I thought, perhaps the Conservatives on BC are going to vote with the opposition parties and object to proposals from the Conservative Government.

Martin Tett went on to say that the White Paper proposed the most fundamental changes to the planning system since 1947; it would have a major impact for 10 or maybe 30 years.

However, he added, there were substantial flaws in the White Paper:

- It would reduce the efficiency of preparing local plans;

- It would introduce a major reduction in democratic accountability, including removing residents’ rights to appear at planning meetings and speak about planning changes;

- It could cause the density of housing to increase in urban areas;

- Housing targets would be imposed by Government taking no account of the constraints of the Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty;

- Infrastructure for new developments would no longer be funded by developers in line with the size of the development but on the basis of the viability of the development which developers could easily manipulate to their advantage;

- Developers would only need to contribute to infrastructure when they built more than 40 homes – and local authorities would have to provide any infrastructure needed for development below the 40 homes threshold;

- Councils would have to fund the necessary infrastructure for any development in advance of the development and, if developers decided not to go ahead with the development, councils would be left with unnecessary infrastructure and the debt of building it.

Well, Martin Tett’s interpretation of the White Paper seemed pretty damning to me. I had great hopes that BC would be in there fighting publicly for Bucks residents and objecting to the White Paper.

But no – instead Martin Tett and Cllr Warren Whyte put down an amendment to the motion. (Actually not so much an amendment as a completely different motion). It said:-

“Buckinghamshire Council will be responding to Planning for the Future published on the 6th of August 2020 by its endorsement of the strong, logical and well-reasoned response agreed by its Cabinet on 13th October 2020.

Council also requests that the Cabinet Member make the Council’s final, official response known to the Buckinghamshire Members of Parliament and that he ask for their support in lobbying Government to change or substantially modify its proposals in the White Paper”.

Now I don’t know about you but I can’t see anything in this motion about objecting to the White Paper’s damaging proposals, nor about protecting residents’ democratic rights. All that is says is that BC will respond to the White Paper, copy the response to its local MPs and ask them for their support. Completely anodyne.

Martin Tett did try to explain why he couldn’t object to the White Paper (and couldn’t therefore agree to the Labour motion).

First he said the motion was “out- of- date” as it had been put down on 24 August. I just wondered which bits were out-of-date – and why hadn’t the motion been debated earlier.

Then, inexplicably, he said the motion didn’t “go far enough”. So why didn’t his amendment go further - perhaps proposing direct and public representations to Ministers from BC?

Then Martin Tett said BC couldn’t object to the White Paper because the White Paper included some good bits. Those good bits seemed to be the idea that we should build “beautiful homes” and use new technology.

So just remember when the Government implements its plans to build millions of homes in Bucks, when developers make vast profits and the taxpayer has to pay for the infrastructure – BC decided not to object.

Just remember BC wouldn’t object to this appalling White Paper because the Government had ideas to make all those millions of homes beautiful – and ideas to do it all with new technology.

Just to cap it all, Martin Tett said it was reprehensible for anyone to question BC’s commitment to its residents. Quite indignant he was.

So let’s be clear – I question BC’s commitment to its residents. I think BC should be objecting to the White Paper loudly, publicly and repeatedly. So perhaps that makes me reprehensible. I think I can live with that.

Motion to Council on the Planning White Paper, proposed by Councillor Robin Stuchbury and seconded by Majid Hussain

“We the undersigned propose that Buckinghamshire Council makes its objections to the Government White Paper known in the strongest terms and the most determined way possible. Buckinghamshire Council for the first time will be in a position to do joined-up thinking, linking all areas of planning together on behalf of our constituents presently and in the future.

The new Government proposals, Planning for the Future, have no respect for the democratic processes of a local planning authority and will make drafting probably the first ever Buckinghamshire Development Plan in the future both unwieldy and unsustainable.

On ecological, environmental, social and economic grounds therefore we seek Buckinghamshire Council to give strong objection to the proposals within the White Paper published on the 6th of August 2020.

Our grounds for objection are that it bears no relation to the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, the 1968 Town and Country Planning Act or the 1990 Amendment to the Town and Country Planning Act which was amended in 1991, putting local plans as the ultimate way local authorities would be delivering development plans, while encouraging parishes and communities to write local plans in a joined-up, workable, fully accountable and democratic planning system.

The Planning for the Future White Paper is not an evolution, it’s a devolution of powers from Buckinghamshire Council to Central Government and should be contested at every possible avenue open to Buckinghamshire Council https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the

I was right – it was a £1.6 billion rip-off by WDC

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9 November 2018

I received no response from Wycombe District Council about my blog on the sale of WDC’s council houses (see blog of 26 October below). However, I did get a response from Trevor Morrow, the Chief Executive of Red Kite (see bottom of this blog). This is my reply:

“Dear Trevor

Thank you for your very prompt response.

I note you do not dispute my basic premise – that after buying 6000 council home from Wycombe District Council in 2011 for the rock bottom price of £3000 a piece, Red Kite is now sitting on assets of £2 billion which it can dispose of how it wishes. Indeed, you don’t even mention this startling fact.

I am disappointed you have not responded to most of my points, many of which you say are factually wrong. You decided not to do so because you say Red Kite is not a political organisation and my points are politically driven.

I should point out that the transfer of the council houses to Red Kite was carried out by a conservative council and was entirely politically driven. Red Kite’s whole existence was politically driven. Representatives of the conservative district council sat on the Board of Red Kite as a matter of contractual right for five years.

Two conservative councillors – Councillors Ian McEnnnis and Paul Turner – still sit on the Board of Red Kite and there is no representation of any other political party. So it is clear that Red Kite is still politically influenced.

To decline to respond to my points because you think I am politically driven (whatever you think that means) is therefore nonsense. I assume you respond to points made by conservative members of your Board; not to do so to me, because presumably I have different political views, is discriminatory and unprofessional. And, unless you do me the courtesy of pointing out where you think I am factually wrong, I can only assume I am correct.

But let me do you the courtesy of pointing out where you are factually wrong.

You say I have implied that Red Kite can make illicit gains. I have made no such suggestion. On the contrary, as you can see, I checked the legality of what Red Kite is doing and was told by the regulator that it is perfectly legal.

You say that Red Kite is tenant-led. However, according to your website, of the 10 person Board, only one is a tenant. Two are district councillors. The rest are what I would describe as current or retired professionals with experience in economic development, finance, marketing, building, accountancy, housing and law.

Moreover, according to Companies House’s website, there is no tenant on any of Red Kite’s four subsidiary companies - Twenty11, Edenmead, Pennvale and DevCo.

Red Kite might consult tenants but the power lies with the Boards; that is where decisions are made. So how can you possibly describe Red Kite as tenant-led?

You say Red Kite delivered on all its promises. That is not correct. One of the biggest promises (in fact it was a contractual obligation in the contract with WDC) was to redevelop the Star Blocks homes by Dec 2016 at the latest. It was estimated this would cost Red Kite about £10 million. This has still not been done.

You say that “Red Kite and Twenty11 are both charitable purpose organisations. Any surplus generated has to be reinvested in delivering our charitable purpose. There are no shareholders who can take money out of the organisation.”

This is correct; Twenty11 has charitable purposes. However, the other three subsidiary companies are not charitable; they are all commercial companies.

You say Red Kite is the only shareholder of these subsidiary companies. According to Companies House this is correct. However, there is nothing to stop Red Kite selling shares of these subsidiaries to individuals or companies in the future – or indeed selling the companies outright to a private sector company. And of course Red Kite can transfer property to these subsidiary companies before such a sale.

Finally, thank you for the invitation to host a visit. With all due respect to the tenants and the staff, it is the Board I would like to meet. They, after all, now control the company which owns the council houses I used to own as a resident of Wycombe district. I would like to know what they propose to do with the £2 billion of assets they have been effectively gifted by Wycombe District Council.

Kind Regards

Linda"

 

 

"Dear Linda,

The transfer of homes from WDC to Red Kite as a tenant-led Housing Association was something designed and championed by tenants, to ensure they had a big say in the future of their landlord.

Our approach of being tenant-led is embedded in how we operate as an organisation. It’s a shame you don’t feel able to embrace this model, as many of our tenants have done, with hours of commitment. I also hope your article and this one, encourages more tenants to get involved and ultimately join our governing Board.

The transfer process was complex, being driven by a set of government rules, including how homes were valued. We are not a political organisation, so I am not going to respond to many of your points that I see as politically driven and in many cases factually wrong. You are however right to say that part of the Transfer Agreement involved Red Kite delivering on 109 promises, many relating to improvements to our tenants homes. All of these promises were delivered on time and under budget, and we continue to deliver improvement programmes, spending millions of pounds each year.

You are wrong to say we are not developing new homes. We have an ambitious development programme to build 375 homes by 2023, providing a range of different tenure types of homes that meet people’s individual affordability. In this area, the affordability of homes is one of the most critical issues that impacts on the prosperity of the community, not only for people who need social housing, but also for other types of tenure. For this reason, we are trying to fill this void and become the housing provider of choice for all local people, building new homes for both social and flexible rent, building homes for shared ownership and for purchase, as well as more affordable market rent for those who need it. Homes that we build to sell will help subsidise homes for social and flexible rent - in that way, not only are we helping the whole community, but we are still able to build truly affordable homes for those that need them, incidentally the only housing provider in this region who is able to still do this.

We have applied for planning permission on a number of sites, with some having already been granted and work started on a number of sites across the district. We have also contracted to purchase new homes from developers that form their affordable homes commitment on their sites. Our first homes purchased via this route are due for occupation later in 2019.

You are also wrong to imply that we have the ability to sell homes and somehow make an illicit gain. Red Kite and Twenty11 are both charitable purpose organisations. Any surplus generated has to be reinvested in delivering our charitable purpose. There are no shareholders who can take money out of the organisation.

The two subsidiary companies you refer to are wholly owned by Red Kite. They are a tax efficient means of ensuring we can return any surplus generated to one of the charitable companies to use for its charitable purpose. If we are to develop new homes at rents local people can afford, we need to subsidies the build cost with profit from these companies. Without doing so, our ability to build these much needed homes is adversely impacted.

Our new charitable company Twenty11 has been set up to be flexible and charge rents based on what individual households can afford, rather than a rent set on the property, which may not be affordable, given their circumstances. This approach has many supporters and is seen as fairer and ensuring a tenant can sustain their home.

With local data demonstrating that in order to afford to purchase a home, a household needs to be earning at least £90,000, our role as a housing provider is even more important.

I am always open to hosting a visit to introduce you to some of our involved tenants, great Board and staff. The community will shortly see our developments of new homes appearing over the local area. This is an exciting and positive time to celebrate our tenant-led organisation, with our ambition to help as many local people as we can, with a new home. We are investing every penny we earn/borrow in homes and services for our community.

Trevor Morrow

Group Chief Executive"

The biggest rip-off of Wycombe taxpayers ever - £1.6 billion

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26 October 2018

This is the story of the biggest rip-off of Wycombe taxpayers ever.

£1.6 billion – yes, billion – of assets were sold by Wycombe District Council (WDC) to Red Kite Community Housing in 2011 for £54 million.

Now Red Kite sits on £2 billion of assets which it can – and is – disposing of as it wishes. 6000 social homes, playgrounds and other land can be sold off to whoever Red Kite wishes or transferred to private commercial companies set up by Red Kite itself.

And very few people know.

This is the story

In December 2011, Wycombe District (WDC) sold virtually all its council homes to Red Kite Community Housing. It sold 6000 homes and associated land for £18 million. That is an average price of £3000 per home (ignoring the value of the land).

The sale was covered by a 5 year contract. Among other things, this required Red Kite to renovate the homes and bring them up to a decent standard – something WDC said would cost £190 million and it couldn’t afford to do.

The contract also allowed WDC to be represented on the board of Red Kite. It allowed WDC to nominate 50 tenants to Red Kite properties every year as the properties became vacant. It also allowed WDC to claim further money, for example to claw back 50% of the receipts to WDC if homes were sold under the Government’s right-to-buy scheme.

The contract has now ended and WDC has received a grand total of £54 million, an average of £9000 per home.

I’m going to make some assumptions. I’m going to assume that the average council home sold to Red Kite was a 3 bedroom terraced house. The average selling price of such a house in Wycombe is currently £344,000. I’m going to assume that prices have gone up 30% since 2011. So the price of a three-bedroom terraced house in 2011 was £265,000.

The total value of these 6000 council homes on the market in 2011 was therefore £1,590 million – or just under £1.6 billion.

And remember WDC received £54 million – that’s just 3% of their market value.

By now, you might be wondering why WDC virtually gave away £1.6 billion of social housing and associated land.

Well no-one really knows.

At the time, Councillor Vicky Groulef, then the Leader of the Labour Group on WDC, wrote a substantive letter to Councillor David Carroll, then the Cabinet member responsible for Housing.

She pointed out that councillors did not have sufficient and proper information on which to make well- informed and sound decisions on this transfer. She said tenants had insufficient information and advice when they were asked to vote on the transfer. She added that, in some respects, the information they did receive was misleading.

She gave specific and detailed examples. For example, the options appraisal used by WDC was 7 years old and relied on data that were 10 years old.

The reply from Councillor Carroll said the sale would have “a positive financial impact on Wycombe”. He added that tenants should be applauded for their good sense for choosing transfer rather than having to wait for years for WDC to bring their homes up to standard.

He concluded by saying “It is difficult for anyone of a balanced and independent outlook to ignore this stark dichotomy of outcomes and argue against transfer.”

So WDC rushed ahead with a hasty sale to meet Government deadlines.

But that you may say is water under the bridge. Red Kite has renovated its social housing stock, it is completely independent of WDC, and WDC is considering building social housing itself (because Red Kite isn’t building any).

But that’s not the end of the story

In 2011, Wycombe Labour also asked what would happen once Red Kite was free of the constraints of the five year contract. What would happen when it was free to engage with the commercial market?

And now we are beginning to find out.

Red Kite is a housing association and therefore required to comply with legislation which sets the level of social rents. However it has set up three companies which are not housing associations. They can therefore act as commercial companies (see link below).

I understand that Red Kite has transferred 50 of its homes to one of these companies which is called Twenty11. These homes appear to be vacant and some of the better quality properties. The intention is to attract more prosperous tenants to these properties and charge them what they can afford i.e. anything up to the going market rate.

Another of the companies set up is called Edenmead. It will offer new build for outright sale. Red Kite was required to redevelop a block of flats under the contract with WDC but failed to so. I understand Red kite now proposes to redevelop these flats (the Star Black flats) by demolishing them, building affordable and commercial homes, and selling them through Edenmead.

I asked the Regulator for Social Housing if there were any constraints on Red Kite doing this. The reply was clear. Not only can Red Kite do this but it can dispose of all its assets - homes and land - as it wishes. Subject to consultation with sitting tenants, Red Kite could dispose of all of its assets to private commercial companies or individuals and the homes would cease to be social housing.

In sum

Red Kite now sits on assets of over £2 billion previously owned by WDC, renovated using loans at low rates as a housing association, and which it can now dispose of as it wishes (and make a colossal profit).

In return, WDC got £54 million which it spent on other things and is now faced with a homelessness crisis.

It is the biggest rip-off of Wycombe ratepayers ever.

https://redkitehousing.org.uk/latest-news/2018/february/we-are-setting-up-three-new-companies

Good news - Katrina Wood says WDC considering how it could build social housing

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18 Oct 2018

A couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister announced the scrapping of the cap on council borrowing. This means that councils can borrow money to build social housing.

So I asked Katrina Wood, the Leader of Wycombe District Council, if she agreed it was now time for WDC to build social housing?

Her reply is encouraging:

“We support the Prime Minister's recent announcement with regard to the scrapping of the cap on council borrowing. This announcement applies to councils which have a Housing Revenue Account (HRA) - since the Red Kite housing transfer Wycombe District Council (WDC) no longer has an HRA and thus the announcement does not necessarily apply to WDC at this time.

However, prior to the Prime Minister's announcement, WDC was planning to review the possibility of setting up a Housing Development Company (DevCo) in order to provide social and other tenure housing as part of its Major Projects plan for the coming years - this would require sufficient capital funding to be found from within the council's existing resources - the social homes built by a DevCo would not be subject to right to buy legislation.

Alternatively the council could, if it is so minded, explore reinstating its HRA subject to government approval and return to building council housing but such properties would then be funded by borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board and also subject to right to buy legislation.

No decisions have been made at this time stage but should the necessary capital funding be available then the council's preference would be to opt for a Housing Development Company.”

In 2011, WDC sold nearly 6000 social homes to Red Kite for about £54 million. None of this money has been used by WDC to build more social housing. Neither has Red Kite built more social homes – in fact Red Kite’s stock of social housing is gradually decreasing.

And the demand for social housing is increasing.

So it is good news that WDC plans to review the possibility of building social housing either via a Development Company or in house.

It will be even better if and when WDC starts building.

More gold stars for Councillor Langley and WDC’s housing team but will WDC now build social housing?

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4 October 2018

A month or so ago, I asked whether Wycombe District Council’s housing team was ready to cope with Universal Credit (UC). UC was being rolled out in Wycombe from last month (see blog of 23 August below).

Brian Daly, WDC’s Housing Service Manager, invited me to discuss my concerns with him and Julia Langley, the Councillor responsible for housing.

Now that’s a good way to respond.

 

Last week I met Mr Daly, Councillor Langley and Nigel Dicker, Head of Housing and Environment. Mr Daly provided written briefing for me and his colleagues at the beginning of the meeting in answer to my concerns.

Now that’s a good way to respond.

 

We discussed all of the issues I wanted to discuss and I had (very nearly) all my questions answered. I was invited to return for further discussion as things progressed.

Now that’s a good way to respond.

 

For my part, I said I thought WDC’s housing team had a good reputation. I was not about criticising the housing team but about scutinising part of the Council’s performance which was of concern to a lot of people. I appreciated the hard work that had been done for the meeting.

 

So what did WDC say in answer to my concerns?

First, I had said we could expect the number of homeless people to rise when UC came to Bucks. Mr Daly suggested there was no direct evidence that homelessness would increase with the coming of Universal Credit. He said Oxfordshire County Council had not seen an increase by early this year – a long while after UC was introduced there. He also pointed out that only new claimants are put on UC so only a small number of claimants will be affected initially. There will therefore be a time lag in seeing any impact of UC.

So I checked online after the meeting and found there is evidence that UC is a contributory cause of homelessness, including among young people. Links to research by Homeless Link, and briefing by four major homeless charities are given below. So I will stick to what I said – though I appreciate it may take a while for the impact to feed through.

No-one queried my assertions that local political decisions, such as selling all WDC’s council homes about 7 years ago, had made the homeless situation worse, nor that people who were not well off struggled to find somewhere affordable to rent in Wycombe.

Mr Daly clarified that the number of people seeking help from Wycombe’ housing team refers to households and explained how different categories were helped.

He also pointed out I had made a mistake in saying only 31% of WDC’s allocation for discretionary payments had been used; the figure was 56% at the end of August and WDC expected to spend the entire budget by the end of the year. I am happy to be corrected and that is good news.

I had pointed out that the cost of housing homeless families in temporary accommodation had gone up fivefold. I have to say I still don’t understand why the costs have shot up. The number of households in temporary accommodation went up by about 25%. For the costs to have gone up fivefold, those households must have been in temporary accommodation five times as long – or the size of the household was five times as large – or the cost of the rent per week was five times as great – or a combination. It still doesn’t seem to add up.

Mr Daly said applications for benefits were processed very quickly – usually within 3 working days – but delays occurred when claimants didn’t provide the correct documents. He also corrected my figures for the amount of homelessness grant WDC receives from Government. This is £234,000 last year, £278,000 this year and £376,000 next. This too is good news.

I suggested it would be helpful if WDC published a scorecard for its performance in managing homelessness and was told WDC was developing one. However, WDC might not want to publish the scorecard as WDC’s good performance might attract more homeless people. I pointed out that if WDC developed a scorecard all anyone had to do was ask for it. I also suspect WDC’s reputation is already well known and a scorecard, published or not, isn’t going to make much difference.

 

Which only left us with the fundamental problem – a lack of social housing in Wycombe and elsewhere.

Red Kite, which bought WDC’s council homes, is losing stock and isn’t building more social homes. I asked if WDC would build more social housing if the Government allowed councils to borrow more or even funded councils to build social housing.

Councillor Langley said that was for the Leader of the Council. So I will ask the Leader as the Prime Minister has just announced the cap on council borrowing will be scrapped.

 

https://www.homeless.org.uk/sites/default/files/site-attachments/Briefing%20on%20Universal%20Credit%20and%20homelessness%20Sept%

202017.pdf https://www.homeless.org.uk/connect/blogs/2018/apr/16/welfare-reforms-are-exacerbating-youth-homelessness-new-research-reveals

Is Wycombe District Council’s housing team ready to cope with Universal Credit?

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23 August 2018

When Universal Credit comes to Bucks next month, we can expect the number of homeless people to rise. 

Homelessness has already increased due to the impact of national Conservative policies – a lack of social and affordable housing, low wages and zero hours contracts, and cuts to benefits.  We also have a largely unregulated private rented sector which is increasingly reluctant to accept tenants on housing benefit; housing benefit now goes to the claimant and not direct to the landlord so landlords no longer have security of payment from the state for its tenants on housing benefit.  

Universal Credit makes matters even worse because new claimants have to wait at least 35 days for payment.   That’s over a month when no money arrives – and the rent still has to be paid.

Local political decisions have made the situation worse.      

For example, Wycombe District Council sold virtually all its council housing, over 6000 properties, to Red Kite Community Housing in 2011.  Since then, Red Kite’s stock of social housing has decreased.  And WDC has not built one unit of social housing with the proceeds of the sale – about £54 million.   

Bucks County Council has also cut the funding to support vulnerable people wishing to stay in their own home.   

BCC received £5 million/year under the Labour Government, ring-fenced to help people with physical disabilities and learning problems, teenage parents, ex-offenders, people with mental health problems, people at risk of domestic abuse, young people at risk, older people and homeless people.  By 2016/7 the ring-fencing had gone and only £2 million was used and then only for the last three groups.   

So much of the preventive help has gone.

What’s the rental position like now in Wycombe as Universal Credit is about to hit?

In brief, pretty bad.  The average rental cost of a 2 bed-roomed home rose by 30 per cent between 2011 and 2017.  Over the same period, average household income fell by one per cent.    The average monthly rent of a two- bedroomed home in Wycombe last year was just over £1000.

Residents in Wycombe have seen rents get less and less affordable.  It is one of 20 authorities which has seen the situation deteriorate the worst.  

Meanwhile, over 1500 properties were left vacant in Wycombe last year, about a third for longer than 6 month.

And how is WDC coping?  

Well it’s difficult to tell.

The good news is that WDC now has a base line for the number of people approaching its housing team for help.   The number was 1294 last year.    What I don’t know is how many people that involved.   Were these families, couples or single people?   

Of the people making the approaches, WDC prevented 46% from becoming homeless.   But what happened to the other 54%?  

WDC acknowledge that it is difficult to assist households into affordable private rented properties due to market rents rising well above local housing allowance levels.  And yet, curiously, WDC only used 31% of its allocation from central government for discretionary payments – payments which are specifically intended to bridge the gap between housing benefit and rent.   Why isn’t WDC making more use of these payments?

Mind you, it looks as though the number of households in temporary accommodation went down last year from 82 to 79.   However, again curiously, the cost of housing homeless families in temporary accommodation in Wycombe last year was nearly five times the cost in the previous year - an increase of £228,000.  

How is it that the number of households has gone down and the costs have shot up?  

It might be because what WDC counts is not the number of households in temporary accommodation throughout the year; it counts the number of households in temporary accommodation on the last day of the year.  Perhaps there was an artificial dip on that day?   How else do we account for the disparity between numbers of households and costs?

It also looks as though WDC is struggling to process new claims for Housing Benefit; claimants have to wait on average 25 days for their application to be handled - more than twice the time laid down by the law.

On top of this, the Government imposed a new statutory duty on local authorities to relieve rough sleeping.    It gave WDC some funding to offset the extra work involved and the extra cost of the use of bed and breakfast.   However, this only seems to amount to £40,000 a year for the next 3 years.  Put against the extra cost last year of temporary accommodation of £228,000, this contribution looks pretty paltry.  (Though I have to say there seems to be a floating £153,000 unaccounted for with this funding).

So all in all, it looks as though WDC faces a pretty daunting challenge with the coming of UC and is not exactly poised ready for action. 

But it’s worth remembering that WDC is a Conservative-dominated Council.   These policies come from the Conservative Party to which they all belong.  The impact will fall on the poor and vulnerable.  So if they care at all, it is about time they spoke out against these policies.

 

 

Does anyone know if BCC has retained or cut funding for housing related support?

23 April 2018

Follow me @LindaDerrick1

Some of the impact of the cuts in Bucks are pretty self-evident.  We can all see – and feel – the potholes; many of us have had to wait at A&E and a lot of parents have seen teachers disappearing from schools.    

But there are lots of cuts that go unnoticed by most of us because they affect the vulnerable in our society and no-one is shouting out on their behalf.  These cuts also go unnoticed because no-one makes it easy for residents to find out what is happening.     

For example, how many people know about the death of the Supporting People programme? 

This programme was set up in 2003 to help vulnerable people live independently and remain in their homes.  £1.6 billion/year was allocated to the programme.  An evaluation in 2009 calculated that it made the Government a net saving of £3.4 billon/year by reducing the need for expensive healthcare and institutional accommodation.

The central government funding went to local authorities who contracted most of the work to charities.

When the coalition government came to power in 2010, it continued with the programme allocating £ 6.5 billion between 2011 and 2015.  By this time the funding had ceased to be ring-fenced and councils were able to spend the money on what they thought best.

Then, in 2015, the Government decided to rename the programme “housing related support services” and the funding become “part of the wider settlement to local councils”.  

In effect, after 12 years the programme was dead. 

However, some councils continued to fund some work which used to be funded under the programme.   I wanted to find out if Bucks County Council has continued to fund this work.   

However, I found it impossible to answer this question from BCC’s website.  There’s lots of words, lots of charities doing work and lots of links to other websites but there seems to be no simple list setting out what BCC is funding, with whom and for how much under housing related support services.  And no historical data to compare the current funding with.

Yes, there is a contracts register for BCC.  If you want to try to answer my question from the register, the link is below and you can have a go yourself.

I could only see two contracts in the register which I guess fall under housing related support services.   Both contracts are for 2017/8 and with Connection Floating Support.

One is for “Autism Support” for about £713 K, the other is for “HIT” for £36K. 

According to Connection Support‘s website, its Autism Service supports adults with autism to be independent, to know their options and to use their talents and skills so they can live as independently as possible.

Its HIT service provides support and accommodation to young people aged 16-25 who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.  It offer free confidential support to prevent homelessness, repair family relations, access suitable accommodation and assist young people in their homes.

I believe the funding from BCC for the Autism Service has been cut but I could find no mention of this on BCC’s or Connection Support’s websites.  I don’t know about the HIT service.  And BCC must be funding more housing –related services than these two contracts.

So I’m going to have to ask BCC.  I will possibly get an answer in 4 weeks.  I will report back.

https://www.buckscc.gov.uk/media/4508931/cma-contracts-2017.pdf

 

This is what a response should look like – thank you Councillor Julia Langley, WDC

11 January 2018   

At the end of my blog below (on 21 November 2016) I said I would ask Wycombe District Council if and when it intended to extend the Mandatory scheme for Houses in Multi-Occupation – something Labour Councillors on Wycombe District Council pressed for over 2 years ago.  

The response from Councillor Julia Langley, the Cabinet member for Housing on WDC, is below.     

I am setting it out in full because it is a shining example of what a response from a Councillor should look like.   It is friendly, informative and offers me a meeting. 

Other Conservative Councillors might note that in political terms such a response is very effective – it is much more difficult to criticise what Councillor Langley is proposing when she explains the reasoning and offers a meeting.     

“Dear Linda

A Happy New Year to you. Firstly I would like to apologise to you, for some reason I missed your email (I had problems with IT but thought they had been resolved) Brian very kindly bought your email to my attention.

As you are no doubt aware, DCLG made an announcement on the extension of HMO licences on the 29/12/2017, and have provided details of how they intend to extend the current scheme. This will be subject to Parliamentary approval and will be enacted in due course.

We had been planning to introduce additional licencing of HMO's in line with the consultation carried out by DCLG, but sensibly waited for Central Government to confirm intentions, and parameters prior to setting our own.

As the New Legislation is due this year, we will continue to prepare for the extension with the added comfort of knowing the details proposed to aid our approach.

Aware you have an interest in housing in general, as well as the actions, and plans of the District Council, if you would consider a meeting useful, with myself and Brian Daly our Housing Service Manager, then please let me know.

Kind regards

Julia .L.”

 

Do landlords on Wycombe District Council have a conflict of interest?

21 November 2017

It’s the budget tomorrow and it’s likely the Chancellor will prioritise housing. 

However, as the Guardian pointed out today, Councils can already do more to help tenants in the private rented market.  Councils can extend the national Mandatory scheme for licensing Houses in Multi-Occupancy (HMOs).

The Mandatory scheme requires landlords to get a licence for large HMOs i.e. where the property is rented by at least 5 people who form more than 1 household and is at least 3 storeys high and tenants share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities.    In order to get a licence, the landlord has to provide evidence that the property is safe and in good condition.

Councils can extend the requirement for a licence to HMOs where the property is rented to at least 3 people and with no exclusion for one and 2 storey properties.   This is known as an Additional licensing scheme.

Back in February 2015, Conservative-dominated Wycombe District Council considered introducing an Additional licensing scheme. 

This would have increased the number of properties in Wycombe requiring a licence from a couple of hundred to about 2000.   

Many HMOs are overcrowded, in poor repair, unsafe with dangerous gas and electricity systems and plagued by vermin.   They are a danger to their tenants and to their neighbours.     Poorly maintained and unsafe properties are also bad news for residential areas causing neighbourhoods to go into decline. 

So the scheme would have ensured thousands of properties were safe and in good condition.

However, the Cabinet decided to “defer” the Additional licensing scheme and instead to carry out a survey of properties.

Who knows whether it carried out the survey but the Additional licensing seems to have sunk without a trace.   

Meanwhile, Aylesbury Vale District Council (also Conservative–dominated) introduced the Additional licensing scheme; virtually all HMOs in Aylesbury Vale must now be licensed. 

You have to wonder why AVDC thought it worth doing and WDC didn’t. 

The Guardian suggested that Councils deciding not to introduce Additional licensing might have been overly influenced by Councillors who are also landlords and might have a conflict of interest.  Could this explain why WDC hasn’t gone for Additional licensing?

There are 60 WDC Councillors.   According to WDC register of interest, 10 Councillors (and/or their spouses) own two or more properties.   3 of these Councillors are Labour and 7 are Conservatives.

Four Councillors own 3 or more properties.  These Councillors (with the number of properties they own in brackets) are Councillors Brown (3), Sarfaraz Raja (6), Hasmi (9) and Arif Hussain (10).   3 of these Councillors are Conservative and one is Labour.

1 Councillor owns one property and rents it out.

So about 18% of Councillors are, or could be, landlords.      

Whether this has influenced WDC in its decision-making is anyone’s guess.

I’ll ask if WDC has any plans for introducing the Additional licensing scheme. 

 

Whatever happened to the £54 million Wycombe District Council got from the sale of its Council homes?

9 October 2017  

In December 2011, Wycombe District Council (WDC) sold virtually all its Council homes to Red Kite Community Housing, then a brand new housing association. 

In order to do this, WDC had to get approval from the Government.   On its application form submitted in 2009 WDC said it would aim “to utilise the receipt [from the sale] for housing or community related housing projects”.  

Over 5 years on, WDC has now received £44 million from the sale of the council homes to Red Kite plus another £10 million from the sale of homes by Red Kite under the “Right to Buy” scheme.  A total of £54 million.

That’s a lot of money.  So where did it go? 

Because I can’t see £54 million worth of WDC spending on “housing and community related housing projects” in Wycombe.   On the Handy Cross hub – maybe.  But on “housing and community related housing” – not a chance.  

What I do know, because I asked, is that WDC has not built one social housing unit over this time for those who are desperately in need.   WDC has not spent one penny of the £54 million on social housing.

So if WDC aren’t building social housing, is Red Kite?  Unfortunately the answer seems to be no.    

WDC promised tenants that 97 flats in Chairborough and Pettifer way in Castlefield, known as the Castlefield Star Blocks, would be redeveloped.  Red Kite was meant to have finished the re-development by December 2016 at a cost of around £10.5 million.  WDC monitored this promise for years.

But now – nothing.  No re-development.   Not even a planning application for a re-development.  Just consultation on redeveloping the Star Blocks. Moreover, the proposals are not for new social housing but for new affordable housing – some for rent and some for sale.    So that is minus 97 social housing units.  And remember that affordable housing is roughly 80% of the market price – in Wycombe, affordable housing is unaffordable for many of the residents.

150 social homes have been lost by Red Kite under the “Right to Buy” scheme and, by my calculation, it has lost about another 100 social units.  Meanwhile it hasn’t built one social housing unit. 

So that’s about minus 350 social housing units.  (I may be wrong as Red Kite doesn’t make it easy to do the calculations).

Labour WDC Councillor Sebert Graham is asking about this at Full Council tonight.  I will amend this blog if he gets a clear answer.

 

Grenfell Tower and Dominic Grieve

24 June 2017 (revised 10 July 2017)

Text of letter published in the Bucks Free Press on 3 July - except the last paragraph was omitted.    

Dear Editor

There was an article in the BFP last week with a long quote from Dominic Grieve, Conservative MP for Beaconsfield, defending his decision to vote against a Labour amendment to a housing bill.  The amendment would have required landlords to make accommodation safe for people to live in.  

Dominic Grieve argued that there was no “causal connection” between the defeat of the amendment and the cause of the Grenfell fire.    However, that is not the point. 

There are a quarter of a million properties in the private rented sector assessed by local authorities as having a serious hazard such as fire.  This amendment would have tackled this problem.  However, the Conservative local government minister, Marcus Jones, said the amendment would result in “unnecessary regulation and cost to landlords” that would deter further investment and push up rents for tenants.  

All four Bucks Conservative MPs - Steve Baker, Dominic Grieve, Cheryl Gillan, David Lidington -  voted against the amendment.

The point is that here is a Conservative government and our four Bucks Conservative MPs putting the profits of landlords and builders before the safety of tenants.   And one of these MPs – Dominic Grieve- is a landlord who derives a substantial income (over £10,000 a year) from his properties.  He might therefore have a conflict of interest in voting. 

There was also a letter in the BFP from Cheryl Gillan, Conservative MP from Chesham and Amersham, thanking everyone who helped to elect her for a seventh time.   Yes, seven times.  And this an MP who said we face a bright future with Brexit and HS2 is on the “right line, with the right mitigation”. 

And finally there was an article by Steve Baker, Conservative MP for Wycombe, entitled “I look forward to delivering a successful Brexit for everyone”.   I have to admit I just didn’t bother to read this.  “A successful Brexit for everyone” delivered by the most hard- line Brexiteer around?    Is he for real?

The only outcome so far in the Brexit negotiations is agreement on the agenda.  The EU27 won that negotiation hands down.  So its 1-0 to them so far.   

If anyone would like to see what an alternative view from the left looks like (which is very different from the BFP’s) I’m at lindaderrick.simplesite.com or you can follow me @LindaDerrick1

Linda Derrick

 

Grenfell Tower and Bucks

17 June 2017

On 12 January 2016, the Labour Shadow housing minister, Teresa Pearce, proposed an amendment to the government’s housing and planning bill. 

She pointed out that there were a quarter of a million properties in the private rented sector assessed by local authorities with a serious hazard such as fire.   The amendment was designed to ensure that all rented accommodation was safe for people to live in.

The Conservative local government minister, Marcus Jones, said Teresa Pearce’s amendment would result in “unnecessary regulation and cost to landlords” that would deter further investment and push up rents for tenants.

The amendment was defeated by 312 votes to 219, a majority of 93.

All four Bucks Conservative MPs – Steve Baker, Dominic Grieve, Cheryl Gillan, David Lidington - voted against the amendment.

According to Parliament’s register of interests, 72 MPs who voted against the amendment derived income of over £10,000 a year from property.  Those 72 MPs had a vested interest in voting against the amendment. 

One of these MPs was Dominic Grieve.  When Dominic Grieve was appointed to the Cabinet in 2010, the Daily Mail said he owned rental property in London (as well as a £1.3million home in Hammersmith and Fulham and shareholdings worth nearly £1 million including in the Royal Bank of Scotland).

None of the Bucks MPs appears to have said anything publicly about the tragedy at Grenfell Tower.

Bucks Fire and Rescue Service has issued advice to people living in high rise buildings in response to the fire in Grenfell Tower.  The local newspapers put the advice on line 3 days ago.  We do not know if the Service has adequate resources to do its job.   But I doubt it.

The Conservative district councils in Bucks have put nothing about Grenfell Tower on their websites as far as I could see, not even the advice of the Fire and Rescue Services.  So we do not know for example if any buildings in Bucks – high rise or not – have the type of cladding used on Grenfell Tower.    If they do, we do not know what, if anything, the councils propose to do.  Nor do we know if the district councils have adequate resources to enforce housing requirements.   But I doubt it.

 

More congratulations to Bucks district councils – if only everyone could know why

17 April 2017

Chiltern and South Bucks district councils sent their draft response on the Government’s White Paper “Fixing our Broken Housing Market” to all their parish councils a week or so ago.  

The response is classified as “Official – Sensitive” so unfortunately I can’t tell you what’s in it - even though presumably hundreds of parish councillors will have read it and, as suggested by CDC and SBDC, will use it to draft their own responses.    

Nor can I tell you what’s in it even though CDC and SBDC do not anticipate any major changes to the final version which has to be with the Government by 2 May.  Presumably I could then get a copy under the Freedom of Information Act.

Nor can I tell you what’s in it even though it looks to me to be well considered and thorough. 

Indeed the only sensitivity I can see about the response is that someone like me – a Labour Party activist – agrees with what the Tory-led district councils are saying. 

The response as you might guess is politely written and broadly supports the Government’s objectives for example to protect the Green Belt and make the planning system more effective.  It then equally politely explains why the Government’s proposals won’t achieve the objectives – quite the reverse. 

Of course, most of the things the Government is doing will achieve the reverse of what they say they want.  The last budget for example springs to mind.  However, it is good to see two Tory-led Councils in the heartland of Tory England saying the same thing.

I can’t tell you what is in the draft response but just as a taster I can tell you one thing that is wrong with the Government’s proposals and on which I and the district councils seem to agree.

Developers are normally required to provide a minimum percentage (say around 40%) of affordable housing in their developments.  Affordable housing is defined as “social rented, affordable rented and intermediate housing, provided to eligible households whose needs are not met by the market.” 

In effect, the developers have to provide a proportion of homes which poorer families in the locality can afford.

The Government’s White Paper proposes that the definition of affordable housing will include Starter Homes.  Starter Homes are for households with an income of up to £80,000 and the Government provides financial help to buyers. Starter Homes are not therefore affordable to those in greatest need. 

Broadening the definition of affordable housing to include Starter Homes means genuinely affordable housing will be squeezed out by developers who can probably make more profit on Starter Homes. 

Well done CDC and SBDC for saying so. 

 

Posted by Linda Derrick.  Promoted by Martin Abel on behalf of Linda Derrick at 5 Spencer Road, Aylesbury HP21 7LR     

 

Congratulations to Wycombe District Council (yes really)

5 April 2017

For six years now, the Tory Government has caused chaos in our local planning system.  It has given developers more and more power to build houses where and when they want, riding roughshod over the wishes of local people and local authorities in order to make the maximum profit.   It has made it well-nigh impossible for local authorities to ensure that homes are built in the right places, to a good standard, and with the proper infrastructure of roads and schools and community facilities. 

So it is a pleasure to congratulate a council (yes a Tory Council) which has had the resolve to refuse planning permission to a poorly planned development, fight the appeal by the developer - and win (mostly).

The blog below explains how Halsbury Homes Ltd appealed to the Planning Inspectorate to build up to 500 homes at Park Mill Farm, Princes Risborough.

Wycombe District Council defended their decision to refuse planning permission at a Public Inquiry at considerable cost.   The Planning Inspector dismissed the appeal and planning permission was refused.   The reasons given were that the development would not be well integrated into Princess Risborough, would not maximise use of local bus services (and other sustainable transport) and would have a severe impact on the local highway network.

It is a pity the Inspector went on to order a partial award of costs against WDC for what he called “unreasonably pursuing a reason for refusal of the application related to the quantum of development and the effect on the appearance and character of the area.”

What this means is that WDC thought too many homes would be built too close together on this site and with too little open space.  It also objected to the use of land affected by the smell from the adjacent sewerage works.    However, the Inspector did not agree and indeed thought WDC’s objections unreasonable.  So it ordered WDC to pay part of the costs of the developer.   

We need more homes in Bucks – but the Tory Government’s policy of putting it all in the hands of the developers is not the way to do it.

It’s a bit odd saying this the day after I become a Labour candidate for the county elections, but well done Wycombe District Council for stopping this development.  Credit where credit is due.

Mind you, we really do need a Labour Government and Labour Councillors to get the power back into the hands of local authorities to do the job properly.

Posted by Linda Derrick.  Promoted by Martin Abel on behalf of Linda Derrick at 5 Spencer Road, Aylesbury HP21 7LR      

 

Getting to know Bucks developers – Halsbury Homes Ltd at Park Mill Farm

4 March 2017

About 2 years ago, Halsbury Homes Ltd put in a planning application to build 500 homes at Park Mill Farm, near Princess Risborough. 

According to its 2015/6 accounts on the Companies House website, Halsbury Homes Ltd had liabilities of £768,000 and £9,000 cash in the bank.

Wycombe District Council did not approve the planning application and Halsbury Homes Ltd appealed. 

WDC gave a number of reasons for their decision including

-          the lack of an adequate Environmental Statement,

-          the severe impact of the proposed development on safety and the free flow of the highway network,

-          the lack of a viable bus service, and

-          the failure to provide an appropriate foot and cycle link along Longwick Road.

Moreover, the developer did not propose to include any social or affordable housing. 

Under the planning system, no account is taken of the financial viability of the developer.   So a planning inquiry was held.  It lasted 8 days and cost WDC £127,000 just for external legal representation and fees to witnesses.   (Yes, I know this sounds farcical but that’s just how it is.)

Three other planning inquires have been held in the past year on applications to WDC by developers,  for the  former Molins site in Saunderton, the former Molins sports ground at Monks Risboough and  the former Glory Mill at Woburn Green. 

Together these four enquires cost WDC nearly half a million pounds in external fees alone.

The Tory Government has radically shifted the balance of power in the planning system in favour of developers.  

Even developers with limited resources can compel the Council to expend large amounts of our money – and time and effort – in order to stop developments which lack the necessary infrastructure and take little heed of environment concerns.  

The Government’s recent proposals to make yet more changes to the planning system will only make matters worse.  Developers will be given even more power while throwing Wycombe’s Local Plan in the air.

 

Won’t it be better if Councils could spend their time and resources planning and building the sort of developments that residents need?

 

Getting to know Bucks developers - Redrow at Terriers

8 February 2017

It’s always useful to learn more about the companies and people who are planning to build on our countryside in Bucks.     

Developers quite often say they cannot make a profit on a development if they have to include affordable housing, or community facilities like playgrounds or open spaces or infrastructure like schools or roads or drains.   

 

Let’s start with one of the larger companies – Redrow plc.   It is one of the housebuilders planning to develop the Terriers reserve site near to where I live north of Wycombe.  

 

Redrow plc was established over 40 years ago in Wales and is now in the FTSE 250. 

 

According to Redrow’s Chairman, Steve Morgan, in a video on its website, Redrow plc had record profits in 2015/6 of £250 million.  It also had a record turnover of £1.38 billion.   Pre-tax profits for the last half year were up 35% to £140m.

 

According to Wales Online, Redrow’s CEO received a total pay package of £1.9m, down from the previous year's £2.35m. The package was made up of £555,000 in salary and an equal amount as an annual bonus, plus £651,000 in share options and other payments.

Mr Morgan was on the Today programme today (8 Feb) rejecting accusations of land hoarding by the industry and calling the government's housing White Paper "disappointing".

 

The housing White Paper proposes forcing housebuilders to surrender land if construction has not started two years after planning permission was granted. The current rule is three years.

 

Mr Morgan said the allegation that housebuilders were sitting on landbanks in order to maximise profits was "completely incorrect".  

 

He added that the planning problem stemmed from difficulties in moving from outline permission - where a council says land is OK for housing - to detailed permission, when the builder can start work.

 

"This can take normally one year, but up to two years," Mr Morgan said.  Redrow has just short of 26,000 plots in its landbank. "At one-third of them, we just can't get on site."

 

Mr Morgan said that if the time was counted from the grant of outline permission, it would make many projects "impossible".

 

You can come to your own views if Redrow says changes to its plans would be unaffordable.

 

Households in temporary accommodation in Bucks up 19% on last year

25 January 2017

The Government published statistics today showing that the number of rough sleepers has doubled since 2010.

But homeless is not just about rough sleepers.

It also includes people who have no home but sleep on their friends’ sofas.   And young couples, perhaps with children, still living with their parents but with no room to swing a cat.    And families living in unsafe and unhealthy rooms.  We don’t know the extent of these homeless problems.   

But we do have statistics for the “statutory” homeless. These are households who are homeless, have not made themselves intentionally homeless and are in priority need.  Local authorities have a statutory duty to house this group.    

It is a narrow definition including households with children, women who are pregnant, or someone who is vulnerable.   This group is the tip of the homeless iceberg. 

The figures are below with apologies if I have got them wrong.  Very happy to be corrected.

Comparing the latest data (up to Sept 2016) with the same quarter last year, the number of “statutory“ homeless households in Bucks is down by 14%,  All districts have seen a decrease, except South Bucks where homelessness has gone up by 7%.  

All the districts (except South Bucks) have a lower proportion of homelessness than the average for the rest of England where it has increased slightly.  

This decrease could mean that the problem of homelessness has decreased.  More likely it means that local authorities and charities have worked successfully to prevent households becoming homeless.    

Once a household becomes homeless, the news is not so good.  Although “statutory” homelessness is down in Bucks, the numbers in temporary accommodation (normally B&Bs) have increased, as it has nationally.   That increase (of 19%) is entirely in South Bucks and Wycombe districts, both of which have more households in temporary accommodation than the national average in proportion to their populations.

The main reason for this is a decrease in the stock of social housing and of affordable rented accommodation. 

So the message is one of congratulations to the staff of the district local authorities in Bucks for helping to prevent homelessness.  

But what a pity Councillors in Bucks sold our council homes to the private sector – and at a fraction of their value.  Wouldn’t it be good if local authorities started building social housing again?    

And wouldn’t it be good if we had a planning system that compelled developers to build their fair share of social housing and affordable rented accommodation, not to mention a system for ensuring landlords provide safe and affordable accommodation?  

 

Homeless

July – Sept 2016                     July – Sept 2015        

Wycombe                    22        (0.31)                          24        (0.3)    

South Bucks                 22        (0.79)                           13          (0.5)

Aylesbury Vale            31        (0.41)                           48        (0.7)    

Chiltern                       14        (0.37)                           18        (0.5)

Bucks total                  89                                            103

Rest of England           10,360 (0.53)                          9970     (0.5)

 

In temporary accommodation

July – Sept 2016                     July – Sept 2015

Wycombe                                106      (1.50)                           81        (1.2)    

South Bucks                             65        (2.33)                           55        (2.0)

Aylesbury                                14        (0.18)                           14        (0.2)    

Chiltern                                   37        (0.98)                           37        (1.0)

Bucks total                              222                                          187

Rest of England                       21,260   (1.08)                        18,080  (0.9)

 

Numbers in brackets are numbers per 1000 households. 

 

What makes Aylesbury a garden town? Who knows?

12 January 2017

Last week Aylesbury Vale District Council issued a press release announcing that Aylesbury’s application to be a new Garden Town had been accepted and that Aylesbury would receive half a million pounds of Government funding.    

I assumed that becoming a Garden Town would mean Aylesbury would become greener in some way.  Perhaps Aylesbury might have to have more parks and open spaces, or be more environmentally friendly, have more places to grow food or do more to encourage biodiversity.  Aylesbury might even have to have more gardens.

I sort of assumed that Aylesbury would have to abide by some principles for Garden Towns, perhaps those of the Town and Country Planning Association.  I assumed that Aylesbury would become, in some way, different than other towns which weren’t Garden Towns.    

But no, that is not why Aylesbury was chosen.  Aylesbury was chosen because of its central location, its critical role in delivering growth for the district and the wider area and because Aylesbury Vale has to deliver 27,000 new homes in the next 15 years, of which 15,000 are to be in Aylesbury.      Making Aylesbury greener was not the reason for choosing Aylesbury nor apparently is it a condition of getting the money.

 

The Government’s press release on the Garden Town programme says even less about gardens and the environment.  Indeed its press release is very clear.  Garden Towns are supported with new funding to help deliver thousands of homes for aspiring homeowners.  The 10 Garden Towns together with 17 new Garden Villages have the potential to provide almost 200,000 new homes across the country.

Cllr Neil Blake, Leader of the Tory Group on ADVC, concurs with that objective.  Garden Town status, he said when I asked him, “is recognition that Aylesbury and its surroundings are important growth areas, with development being planned sustainably.  It means we’ll have more financial support to fine-tune and accelerate existing plans, making them even better - such as those for green infrastructure and transport links.”…

I came to the conclusion this programme is not really about creating Garden Towns or making places greener. The Government is not really interested in Garden Towns; it is interested in pumping money to local authorities who have to deliver large numbers of homes. The Garden Town programme is about getting homes built quicker and giving funding to the places where major development is taking place. 

 

This is not necessarily a bad thing.  And congratulations to Aylesbury for doing the work to get more funding. But why pretend the funding is about Garden Towns when it is about quicker delivery of homes?  

 

More rain on Red Kite's parade

18 December 2016

The Red Kite advert (see blog below) states that Red Kite “spent £2.5 million on disabled adaptions”.    This is listed as one of its “achievements”.

I think this £2.5 million is part of the Disabled Facilities Grant.  This is paid out by Wycombe District Council to fulfil its mandatory duty to provide financial aid for adaptations to homes occupied by disabled people.

If I’m right, it is the taxpayer who has spent £2.5 million paying for the adaptations; Red Kite has merely arranged for the adaptations to be carried out in its properties.

In this case, it is not quite such an achievement for Red Kite and it would be good to give credit where credit is due.  

 

Raining on Red Kite’s parade

16 December 2016

Red Kite Community Housing took out a 2-page coloured advertisement today in the Bucks Free Press congratulating itself on its achievements since it was set up by Wycombe District Council 5 years ago.   It details the number of boilers it has upgraded (3000), roofs replaced (650) and kitchens replaced (3800) etc.  All this is good news and I don’t like to pour on Red Kite’s parade. 

But there is no mention of the £10.5 million regeneration of the Starblocks flats in Castlefield.   The contract between Red Kite and WDC requires the development to be finished by the end of 2016.  Not a brick has gone up and the development will be at least 2 years late.   

Nor does it mention that the 69 social housing units at the Starblocks flats will be replaced by 102 affordable units, 12 shared ownership units and 12 outright sale units.  Red Kite has already lost 130 social homes from its books and another 69 will go with the demolition of the Starblock flats.

Nor does it mention the difficult financial problems ahead of it

-          Government instructions to reduce rents by 1% each year for 4 years

-          Government proposals to give tenants in Housing Associations the right to buy and 

-          Government proposals to triple the rent for households with incomes over £30,000.

As well as the increasing risk of rent arrears as tenants see their benefits cut over the coming years.

Watch this space.

And of course Wycombe District Council never tells us that it hasn’t spent a penny of the proceeds it got from the transfer on social housing.    That’s £25 million or so that it received for nearly 6000 homes.   Yes – that’s about £4000 each.