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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 03/03/2003
Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future



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APPENDIX E

WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL
COMMUNITY OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE – 3RD MARCH 2003


Title:
SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES: BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE

[Wards Affected : All]

Summary and Purpose

This report advises Members about the Deputy Prime Minister’s announcement on 5th February 2003 following the Comprehensive Spending Review in 2002. The ‘Communities Plan’, as it has been called, outlines the Government’s priorities in relation to housing and related expenditure for the coming years. Copies of the relevant document are being ordered for Members.

The resource implications for Waverley are unclear at this stage.

Introduction

1. On Wednesday, 5th February 2003, the Deputy Prime Minister announced the Government's ‘Communities Plan’. This takes forward policies needed to secure better quality housing in England. For the first time it brings together programmes needed to revive poor neighbourhoods and build sustainable communities.

2. Some of the initiatives announced are set out in the following paragraphs:

Decent Homes

3. The Government has reaffirmed and strengthened its commitment to bring all public sector housing up to the ‘Decent Homes’ standard by 2010. It is recognized that local housing authorities will face financial challenges in meeting the Decent Homes standards in this time frame. In order to focus local housing authorities’ attention on this priority, the Government is requiring all local authorities with housing stock to develop and present a strategy statement as to how they will deliver the Decent Homes standard in their stock by 2010.

4. The Government requires the Decent Homes strategy statement by July 2005 and it will need to include an assessment of the routes through which it can best secure funding to meet the target. This should include a consideration of what the Government considers to be local authorities’ three major routes to achieving additional investment in their homes: stock transfer, Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMO) and Private Finance Initiative.

5. Stock transfer will be made more attractive to councils, with help to meet the costs of early loan redemption, extending financial help with partial stock transfers and options for gap funding of negative value stock.

This is not relevant to Waverley because the Council’s housing stock has a positive value and the Council is debt free.

6. Government intends to consult on allowing Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs), that have achieved three stars for their services through the Best Value regime, to borrow prudentially and become financially self-sufficient. The Government has allocated 1.96m to existing and future ALMOs. Bids for ALMO Round 3 will be invited shortly.

This is not relevant to Waverley at present as it has not chosen to pursue the ALMO route for its housing stock. This route involves the awarding of credit approvals, i.e. is only beneficial to an authority in debt. It is likely that a number of local housing authorities that do not wish to pursue LSVT will want to set up 'Arms Length Management Organisations' and the Government's spending plans will not provide enough resources to meet the demand for ALMOs.

7. The Government is promising 685million by way of new Private Finance Initiative credits for the improvement of local authority housing, together with Government help with the technical complexities of this mechanism.

The Council has previously received reports on the Private Finance Initiative for Housing Revenue Accounts. Previously, this Council has not had schemes of a large enough value to be able to pursue the PFI route and again it does involve credit approvals. The proposals to reduce the complexities are to be welcomed and may give rise to this being an option that this Council can seriously pursue.

Liveability

8. A new fund of 89m will be launched in April to allow local authorities to improve parks and open spaces, and there will be support for improved standards of design and management of urban environments.

It is likely that these funds will be directed to areas that demonstrate higher levels of social disadvantage than are evidenced in Waverley.

Low demand and abandonment

9. The forthcoming Housing Bill will propose a mandatory licensing scheme for Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) and powers to license private landlords in low demand areas.

The proposal to License HMOs is expected and will increase the work of the Environmental Health Private Sector Housing unit. As Waverley is not an area of low housing demand, it is presumed that the powers to license private landlords will not apply.

10. There will be 500m in a market renewal fund for investment over the next three years in the nine market renewal pathfinder areas already established, which cover about half of the homes affected by low demand and abandonment.

This is not relevant to Waverley.
11. Other measures to address low demand and abandonment of homes are contained in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, published late last year.

Housing shortage

12. A number of initiatives are promised to increase the powers of councils to tackle long-term empty properties, including consultation on compulsory leasing powers.

Though not a major issue in Waverley, new powers to compulsorily lease empty homes might assist the Council to encourage a small number of longstanding empty homes in the private sector to be brought back into use.

13. The Housing Corporation is to head a new Task Force to look at ways of making home ownership more affordable, particularly to key public sector workers and young families.

This is an important issue for the Borough. It will be interesting to see what additional proposals for meeting the need for affordable housing in the south-east will be brought forward by the Task Force.

14. Powers to seek affordable housing through the planning process may be extended to smaller sites where justified.

This might give rise to opportunities for more affordable housing in Waverley and Members have previously expressed the view that the thresholds above which there should be an affordable housing element should be further reduced.

The Countryside

15. The target of 60% of new development on brown field sites is retained, and there is a guarantee to maintain or increase green belt land in every region in England. Planning applications for large developments of low density homes will be subject to public inquiry.

16. The Housing Corporation's target for affordable homes in rural settlements will be increased.

Over recent years, rural housing has been one of the Housing Corporation’s regional priorities. Waverley has particularly benefited from investment through the Housing Corporation for rural housing schemes. This is an area where the Council should be making full use of promoting rural housing schemes to meet local housing need and to secure funding through the Housing Corporation.

Growth areas

17. 610 million has been allocated over the next three years for site assembly, site preparation, additional affordable housing and essential local infrastructure in the four growth areas identified for London and the South East:

Thames Gateway
Milton Keynes/South Midlands
Ashford
London - Stansted - Cambridge

18. The aim is to deliver an extra 200,000 homes over the next 15 to 20 years. English Partnerships will work with Regional Development Agencies to support development and regeneration across growth areas.

19. A new Cabinet Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, will consider how far and to what timescale the Thames Gateway should be developed. The overall scheme could accommodate some 300,000 new jobs by 2031.

A concern is that whilst the Government is making additional funding available for housing purposes, the Government’s priorities will mean that Waverley will not necessarily feature highly in spending plans of the various funding bodies.

Regional arrangements

20. Regional Housing Boards will be established in each region to ensure delivery of policies set out in the Plan. Co-ordinated by the Government Offices, the Boards will include the Housing Corporation, Regional Chamber, Regional Development Agency, English Partnerships and other relevant bodies.

21. The boards will be responsible for drawing up regional housing plans. From April 2004 there will be a new single pot for housing investment taking the place of Housing Corporation ADP and local authority HIP.

This proposal promotes the Regional agenda and gives Regional bodies a greater influence in determining priorities and funding. It remains to be seen what impact this will have on Waverley, though officers are not optimistic that this is helpful to the Borough.

Officer Comment

22. This report provides the ‘headlines’ from the Deputy Prime Minister’s announcement following the spending review in 2002. As time moves on, there will be further information and more detailed announcements as to how this plan will be put into practice and the implications arising for Waverley.

23. What is clear is that the Government is determined to implement its policies and expects local authorities to adhere to its plans – particularly in relation to Decent Homes.

Resource Implications

24. It is difficult to see that Waverley will be in a position in the immediate future to benefit financially from many of the Government’s new housing-related initiatives. Whilst remaining debt-free, the Council is not in a position to benefit from PFI schemes and currently cannot pursue the ALMO route as an alternative means of managing the housing stock.

25. The level of usable resources remaining to Waverley is likely to diminish in view of the previously announced Government proposals for capital receipts pooling and proposed abolition of LA SHG. Officers are not optimistic about the level of funding Waverley is likely to receive under the regional system.


26. It therefore seems likely that Waverley will be expected to deliver the decent homes standard and continue to support social housing with a diminishing level of resources. There will be a need to re-examine priorities carefully when revising the Housing Strategy statement and in the Housing Business Plan.

Recommendation

It is recommended that the Committee notes the contents of the Deputy Prime Minister’s Communities Plan and makes any comments to the Executive.


Background Papers (DoH)

Website: http://www.odpm.gov.uk/communities/plan/index.htm



Contact Officer:

Name: Mr J Swanton Telephone: 01483-523375
Email: jswanton@waverley.gov.uk
































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