Agenda item

Lead Councillor Question Session

A question session with Councillor Angela Goodwin, the Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness.

 

Councillor Goodwin’s areas of responsibility: To cover policies on and support for: Housing & Council tax benefits, Monitoring & enforcing housing standards, the implementation of Universal credit, internal Housing services, Housing strategy development: North Downs Housing, Assessment of housing need, council housing & tenant services, housing advice and homelessness.

 

Includes working with these stakeholders: Private rented sector, private sector delivery, registered social landlords, housing association liaison, homeless support providers.

Minutes:

The Chairman welcomed the Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness and the Director of Service Delivery.

 

A number of question areas were provided to the Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness in advance of the meeting: improving accessibility for disabled people; homelessness; Council and social housing; social rent housing; and North Downs Housing Limited (NDH).  In addressing these issues and other questions, a number of clarifications and responses were offered:

 

·        The Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness was asked about the Council’s activities to improve accessibility for disabled people across the Borough, particularly in town or village centres.  In reply, the Committee was advised of the need to comply with disability legislation when delivering services or projects and the inclusion of equalities on the Council’s committee reports, supported by an equalities impact assessment where required.  In addition, the Committee was advised of examples of services that support disabled people, such as assisted waste collection, and accessible parks and playgrounds.  The Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness indicated that the Guildford town centre public realm project and the replacement of Walnut Bridge were examples of projects featuring accessibility.

 

·        The Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness referred to the Guildford Access Group and the Mayor’s Awards for Access, and indicated that the Council helped fund the first Changing Places toilet in the Borough and that a second one was planned.  The Committee was advised that the availability of accessible car parking spaces was being added to the GEOMII Guildford Parking app.  In addition, the Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness referred to the local home improvement agency. 

 

·        In response to a question about the achievements of NDH since its establishment in 2016, the Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness explained the objectives of the company and outlined its cumulative acquisition and development targets for the five-year period up to 2026.  She suggested that the adoption of the Local Plan would deliver a step change in the pace of development over the next five years, although the rate at which the sites were built out was currently difficult to predict.  The Committee was advised that over the next five-year period it was likely NDH would be heavily reliant on the Council to deliver development opportunities.

 

·        The Committee was advised that forty-eight homes had been delivered by NDH since 2016.

 

·        The Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness advised that a driver for the establishment of NDH was to protect property from Right to Buy.  She suggested that the reputation of NDH in the rental market was improved through its connection to the Council.

 

·        In reply to a question, the Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness indicated that the Council’s aim was to build 3,000 new houses by 2029 and that, in light of central government changes, how to achieve this target was being considered.  The Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness indicated that the Council had a focus on providing social housing, the target of building 3,000 new Council houses was made before the adoption of the Local Plan, the October 2019 interest rate increase by the Public Works Loan Board could not have been anticipated, and government policy was not assisting local authorities that aimed to increase social and affordable housing. 

 

·        In response to a question about a pre-election pledge to build 3,000 Council houses, the Lead Councillor for Planning, Regeneration, and Housing Delivery indicated his support for a social rent option with properties not owned by the Council. 

 

·        The Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness advised the meeting that Housing First was a two-year pilot project rather than a strategy.  She informed the Committee that Housing First would work with up to seven individuals who had multiple support needs and chaotic lifestyles.  The Committee was advised that the Housing First worker had been in post since early February 2020 and was about to complete her induction and begin working with identified clients.  The Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness stated that the Council intended to recommission services for rough sleepers in 2021 and that this would be done in partnership with Surrey County Council.  She stated that learning from the Housing First pilot would inform these future commissioning plans.

 

·        In addition, the Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness indicated that Housing First would be payment by results based on the time for which individuals held on to their tenancy.

 

·        The Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness alluded to information, provided to Councillors in advance of the meeting, on the number of people known to be rough sleeping and those at risk of rough sleeping in the Borough. 

 

·        In reply to a question about identifying ways to build more housing for social rent, the Committee was informed that all sites and schemes were assessed for provision of social rents within the overall development costs.  The Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness indicated these assessments had shown social rents would have meant delivering projects at a loss.  She advised the Committee that a mix of social and affordable housing was necessary to meet housing needs in the Borough.

 

·        In relation to a question about the housing costs element of Universal Credit, the Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness advised the Committee that people migrating on to Universal Credit would not be worse off than under the benefits being replaced by it.  She indicated that new claims for Universal Credit might find their Universal Credit entitlement was less than they would have received under the benefits it replaced.  She indicated that she had been advised that the housing costs elements of Universal Credit were not at lower levels than the Housing Benefit it replaced.

 

·        In response to a question about the delivery of social homes, the Lead Councillor for Planning, Regeneration, and Housing Delivery, confirmed that the Council’s aim was the provision of both social and affordable homes in the Borough to reduce the housing waiting list. 

 

·        The Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness, indicated that the Bright Hill site in Guildford town centre was in the process of being developed.

 

·        The Lead Councillor for Planning, Regeneration, and Housing Delivery confirmed that there was scope for NDH to be involved in the Weyside Urban Village development.

 

·        With reference to plans for further Council enforcement standards in the private rented housing sector, the Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness indicated that a workshop with councillors would be arranged before any decision was taken.

 

·        In reply to a question from a Committee member, the Director of Resources confirmed that the Council could borrow to fund social housing.  In addition, she advised the meeting that the Council’s Housing Revenue Account had significant reserves.

 

·        The Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness indicated that she hoped the number of rough sleepers in the Borough could be reduced by over half within the next five-year period.

 

The Chairman thanked both the Lead Councillor for Housing, Access and Disability, Homelessness and the Lead Councillor for Planning, Regeneration, and Housing Delivery for attending the meeting and answering questions.