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We Can’t Tell You Much ….

At the District Council meeting earlier this month , there were a number of decisions taken in private and confidential. The public minutes are here but there is an appendix to the minutes for councillors only .

One of the items was about a “transfer of engagements” from Rochford Housing Association to Sanctuary. We aren’t allowed to add much more than that, except that a number of councillors voted against teh decision, in particular Chris Black and Chris Stanley.

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Fancy Building Or Designing Your Own Home?

The District Council website has a page on building your own home- or having a custom design:

“What is Self Build and Custom Build?

Self-build housing normally means that you manage the design and construction of your own home, and may undertake some of the building work as well. Custom build usually means that you work with a specialist developer who will organise the design and construction to help you deliver your new home to your specifications.
What is the register?

The Self-Build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 requires the Council to keep and have regard to a register of those who are interested in self build or custom build housing projects in their area. The purpose of this register is inform the Council of how much demand there is for self build and custom build plots in the District.
How do I add my details to the register?

To register your interest and add your details to the Council’s register, please complete the online registration form by clicking on the link below.

How will my information be used?

The information from the Self Build and Custom Build Register will be used to gain a greater understanding of the demand for self build and custom build projects in the District….”

For inspiration , have a look at this article and watch the video from the Denver Post  featuring a lovely home built from something a bit different….

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Did Your MP Vote For Houses That Are Fit For Human Habitation?

The Independent has the following report:

On Tuesday MPs voted down an amendment which would have seen landlords forced to ensure their properties were fit for humans to live in.

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

… shadow housing minister Teresa Pearce called for the new rules to be added to the housing bill, rules which would require private landlords to ensure their properties were in a fit state…

So how did our local MPs vote on somethihg that would have required landlords to keep their houses and flats fit for human habitation? The Independent has this interactive map to tell us:

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) voted AGAINST this proposal.
Rebecca Harris (Castle Point ) voted AGAINST this proposal.
Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford) DIDN’T vote.

housing map independent

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An Extra Meeting Of The Development Committee!

There’s an extra meeting of the Development Committee next Tuesday. It concerns the big housing application passed a couple of years back off Hall Road, Rochford. In particular it concerns the amount of affordable rented housing to be provided.

The original plan was for 97 affordable homes in the first phase – about 77 rented and 20 shared ownership. But the Chelmer Housing Partnership can no longer afford to do this, because of a change in central government policy:

hall road

So the developer wants to change the a planning condition to allow 67 rented and 30 shared ownership. You can download the full report here.

On the positive side, its good that the council is bringing this application for a change in conditions to the full committee. (Is that down to the chair, Cllr Seagers?) . On the negative side, the government don’t seem to be doing housing associations any favours at the moment.

As it happens Tim Farron has a very sensible article this week in the New Statesman about defending social housing from the Conservatives’ policies:

… selling off housing association homes does nothing to address the national emergency in housing. The huge shortage of affordable homes in the UK causes millions of people to suffer on a daily basis, with 1.6 million people on social housing waiting lists, unable to get on with their lives. The government’s plans still mean giving huge cash handouts to a tiny minority, while making things worse for many others.

Part of  photo by Julian Ware Lane

“Mr A told me that there were six staying in these garages.”

Recommended reading of the week is this sensitively-written piece by Southend Labour Councillor Julian Ware Lane:

“I first came across the derelict garages described as a ‘shanty town’ a month or two back. I was out with some councillors and a council officer looking at fly-tipping and dumping problems. I took them down one alley that I knew was normally full of rubbish, then wandered off down another when I came across a part of Milton ward that I had not previously encountered. This was an area, flanked by housing, that contained garages that had clearly not been used to house cars for some time. I could immediately see that some of the garages had been in use, a view substantiated by a resident who told me that it was frequented by the homeless and drug users.

Because this site has been in the local newspapers this week I decided to revisit. I was going to take photographs and do some investigating. I expected a flying visit – I stayed an hour and a half…..”

Read the full article here.

A Warning From Cambridgeshire

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This is an example of how developers often get their way.From the Guardian today:

“A company owned by a major Conservative donor is embroiled in an acrimonious battle over its plan to build 1,500 homes in a new town near Cambridge without fulfilling the minimum room sizes wanted by the council.

Gallagher Estates, which is owned by the property developer Tony Gallagher, who is also a member of the Tory party’s Leader’s Group for major donors, is in dispute with local councillors over a development being supported by £30m of public money.

The developer was originally granted planning permission to build 1,500 homes at Northstowe, eight miles north-west of the university city – with the council insisting on “minimum room sizes and minimum gross internal floor areas”. But Gallagher Estates appealed successfully in March to the Planning Inspectorate, part of central government, to have that requirement removed, bypassing the Tory-majority council after officials missed a deadline to address the issue.

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Tim Wotherspoon, South Cambridgeshire district council’s Conservative cabinet member with responsibility for the Northstowe development, said he felt “very strongly” about the move by Gallagher Estates to eliminate the need for adhering to minimum room sizes and that locals were “sore about it”.

Officials said they believed that they were in a dialogue with the developers about room sizes, before Gallagher Estates went over their head to the inspectorate.

Commenting on developers seeking to build homes smaller than the recommendations, Wotherspoon said: “I feel that it is quite appalling that, in the 21st century, we should put up houses where, in some cases, the kitchens aren’t big enough to store fresh vegetables and where you can’t have the whole family sitting down to have a meal together or the children can’t have friends over to sleep over because the bedrooms are too small.”

Full article here.

 

 

A Nice Little Earner

million-pounds cash

The Daily Mirror has been looking at the private landlord companies that, overall, receive billions of pounds of housing benefit payments from the government each year. In particular they focused on UKIP’s housing spokesman, whom they state receives £800,000 of housing benefit money each year from Haringey council.

However the Mirror also has a nifty interactive page where you can find out which companies receive housing benefit money, council by council – including Rochford, Castle Point and Southend.

The amounts in Rochford are relatively small – we don’t have much privately rented housing. The biggest recipient is in Castle Point.

This is the situation at the moment. If the Conservatives win a majority of seats and are able to sell-off housing association homes, things will go from bad to worse (unless you are a landlord).

Riding Roughshod Over Some Else’s Property….

houses2The Conservative Party’s proposal to allow the sell-off of housing association homes has been criticised from the left – and from the right.

Lib Dem Nick Barlow writes on his blog:

Back in 2010, the Tories made a big play of how they would transform the country through localism and the Big Society. Localism would free communities from the dead hand of Whitehall controlling everything, while the Big Society would encourage a new era of civic involvement, getting people involved in community organisations, allowing them to really make a difference.

If the first leaks from their 2015 manifesto are anything to go by, both those ideas have been thrown into the bin, which has then been set on fire and the ashes scattered to the four winds to prevent any prospect of them ever coming back together again. Community-based organisations are to be ripped apart by Government policy, while councils will have to follow diktats from the centre in order to raise the money to fund this dismemberment.
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Housing associations are private non-profit organisations, generally run by members of the community they’re based in and providing a valuable service in providing social housing. The proposed Tory policy will declare them to be nothing more than another arm of the state, in order to compel them to sell off their housing at below the market rate. Yes, because we’re not suffering enough problems in the housing market thanks to forcing councils to sell their stock off cheaply, they’ll go on to compound the error by doing the same to housing associations. Remember, these aren’t government-owned organisations, and yet the Tories – the usual champions of property rights – seem to see no problem in riding roughshod over someone else’s in pursuit of their policy.

(Of course, this policy won’t apply to other private landlords, and tenants in the private rented sector won’t get any right to buy their homes no matter how long they’ve lived there. Perhaps if Housing Associations were allowed to donate to the Tories, they’d have been exempted from this policy too?)

Even the most barking policy to sell assets off at below market price has a cost, and in order to fund this, they’ve decided to show how much they’ve decided localism was a bad idea by committing to a true policy of anti-localism…..

Meanwhile in the Daily Telegraph, Julia Hartley-Brewer describes the idea as “dumb, economically illiterate and – even worse – morally wrong.”

…by helping those 1.3 million lucky souls in housing association homes, Mr Cameron won’t do anything to help the many more unlucky ones who aren’t and, indeed, will actually make life that little bit harder for everyone else who wants to share in his property-owning dream.

Selling off social housing at a discount is great for those individual families who benefit, but are these really the families that are most in need of the state’s help?

Why should people who have already enjoyed the benefits of secure tenancies in affordable social housing now be granted extra help worth up to £102,000 (and, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of pounds more when they later sell their property) while millions of others get absolutely nothing?
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First of all, many of those 1.3 million tenants – the poorest – won’t be in any position to get a mortgage to buy their home, regardless of the generous discounts, while those who are able to take advantage of the scheme are unlikely to be those in the direst need.

Indeed, there are many people living in housing association homes who are not in any need at all and are more than capable of renting in the private sector or buying their own home but are understandably reluctant to relinquish a home with a subsidised rent.
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This, then, is a policy which (almost by definition) will help people who are in a better position to help themselves than many others.

It’s all very well rewarding hard work but what about all the many millions of other families who also work hard on low incomes but who are stuck paying sky-high private sector rents? What about their dreams of home ownership?

Some Thoughts After The Review Committee

The District Council’s Review Committee met on Wednesday evening. It’s a bit like a House of Commons Select Committee , it’s there to scrutinise what the council does, and to review things.

The biggest item on Wednesday was to discuss homelessness in our district, and a representative from Rochford Housing Association, plus Cllr Jo Mcpherson (the council’s Portfolio Holder on the subject) were there to answer questions. It was a good meeting where people from 4 political groups worked together. Councillors duly asked lots of questions, though we probably really only scratched the surface, and need to learn more.

What came to mind was that we have , in Jo Mcpherson, a councillor who is really engrossed in her area of responsibility, and wants to communicate with other councillors. We also have councillors who want to learn more. In the ‘good old days’ of the committee system this could happen much more easily. We had a Health and Housing Committee where councillors could learn as they spent years on the committee steadily gaining knowledge….

Another topic was car parking charges. Usage of council car parks has gone up despite the increase in charges last year. Cllr Toby Mountain suggested the council could be a bit more generous now, by for example, stopping charging at 6 pm rather than at 7. Cllr Chris Black backed that and said we could also support traders by adding two more free Saturday mornings to the calendar – the first two Saturdays after Christmas. This would help with the trader’s winter sales. Both these ideas were supported by other members, and we expect some further discussion on this in order to get them agreed by council.

Our Working Adults Still Living With Mum And Dad

There’s some alarming statistics this week from Shelter. To summarise their findings:

  • Almost two million working adults aged between 20 and 34 are living with their parents
  • These are working adults – not students or unemployed
  • Almost half of them say they are still at home because they cannot afford to buy or rent.
  • This map shows how the situation varies around the country
  • Castle Point has the highest percentage in the country – 45 %
  • Rochford has the second highest – 42%
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    There has rightly been a lot of opposition to the proposed housing “North Of London Road” and in Hullbridge. People are justifiably concerned about infrastructure, especially roads and drainage. South East Essex – Rochford District and Castle Point in particular – seemed to have been poorly treated for decades by the county council regarding highways, and our drainage systems have been neglected. We need to carry on fighting for all the infrastructure we need.. We can certainly argue that the housing is being proposed in the wrong locations. But what we can’t do is say there is no local demand… And perhaps we should focus on getting housing suitable for local young people, rather than more 4 bedroom executive homes.

    Why is the situation so difficult for our young adults adults here? Probably the root cause goes back to the 1950s and 1960s when the population soared. The population actually doubled in the fifties. And then development continued , at a slightly lower rate, in following decades. The end result today is that housing has already spread to the edge of Rayleigh. There are very few ‘easy’ sites left to develop.

    Chart of Rayleigh and Rawreth's  population 1931- 1961
    Chart of Rayleigh and Rawreth’s population 1931- 1961

    Empty Properties And The Council Tax

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    There were a few interesting items at last night’s Full District Council Meeting.

    One of them was about the reductions in Council Tax that apply if properties are left empty.

    The government has given councils the freedom to reduce these rebates – so that people concerned have to pay more. This means that councils get more money, and more homes are occupied (which to an extent reduces the need to build new homes). From next April there will be the following changes in Rochford District:

    • Second Homes will no longer get a 10% discount – the full amount will have to be paid instead
    • Vacant properties in need of urgent repair currently get a full 100% discount for the first 12 months – this will be reduced to 50% for 12 months.
    • Empty and unfurnished properties currently have a a full 100 % discount for up to 6 months. This is being reduced to a 100% discount for only one month. This discount will now only apply immediately following a period when the property was occupied for a minimum of 6 weeks. It will also be restricted to a maximum of two awards in any one financial year.
    • Properties that are empty and “substantially unfurnished” for two years or more will now get an extra 50% “premium charge” on top of the normal 100% council tax amount.

    These changes could lead to the district council getting around £195,000 extra council tax per year. Though in reality it is likely to be lower than this because property owners may change their behaviour.

    It would be interesting to know if Southend Borough Council are doing the same thing – because as Julian Ware Lane pointed out here there are certainly plenty of empty properties in Southend.

    Empty Homes In Rochford District


    Michael and Diane Hoy write about empty homes here:

    As she walks around Hullbridge (the Ward she represents) Diane makes a note of all those which appear empty and reports them to the Council.  However she has so far been disappointed in the progress by the council in making those homes available to the public, either to rent or to buy.

    We have obtained the figures for empty homes in the Rochford District.  They are set out below.

    Total no. of empty properties:               1,021
    Properties empty for over 6 months:     575
    Properties empty for over 1 year:            375

     

     

     

    The full article is worth a read, especially with its reference to the core strategy.