To receive questions from Members of the Council to the relevant Portfolio Holders for this Scrutiny Committee. The Portfolio Holders reporting to this Scrutiny Committee are:-
Councillor Bialyk - Leader
Councillor Sutton - Portfolio Holder for Net Zero Exeter 2030
Councillor Foale - Portfolio Holder for Transformation and Environment
Councillor Morse - Portfolio Holder for City Development
Councillor Pearson - Portfolio Holder for City Centre & Corporate Services
Councillor Wood - Portfolio Holder for Leisure & Physical Activity
Advance questions from Members relating to the Portfolio Holders above should be notified to the Corporate Manager Democratic and Civic Support.
In accordance with Standing Order No 20 the following questions, which had been circulated in advance to Members of the Committee, were submitted by Councillors J Moore and Vizard respectively.
1) Can the Portfolio Holder please update us on the progress of the Exeter City Living Clifton Hill Development?
· Please can we be informed of the reasons for the delays to the planned timescale.
· In particular, when is it likely that the removal of the sports centre will now commence.
· The presence of the building which is now dilapidated and covered in graffiti, is creating a hidden area which is being utilised for drug use, drug dealing and other anti-social behaviour. There’s also a very real risk of someone coming to harm with reports from residents that people are entering the building and climbing up on to the roof.
Councillor Bialyk, Leader and Portfolio Holder Exeter City Living responded to Councillor Moore’s question and advised that the programme for Clifton Hill indicates an anticipated start on site in December 2021 / January 2022 which is when the demolition works will commence. Our development programme for the site has slipped as a consequence of a number of factors predominantly as a result of the delayed planning application for the development. The original timeline for development indicated the application going to Planning Committee in September 2020 but this was not possible until December 2020 due to last minute consultation issues and amendments to the application drawings to reflect this. This included providing access from the rear gardens of Portland Street onto the new development, securing as many existing trees on site for retention and increasing the garden sizes on some of the new homes and as a consequence reducing the number of overall homes on the site from 43 to 41.
We had hoped to have started demolition works last autumn 2020 but this was not possible due to planning and the consequential impact this had on our procurement timetable for appointing a contractor. Whilst we are currently in the process of tendering the works, this has been delayed due to the impact of Covid 19 and in any case we would not be able to commence development until outside the bird nesting period (post September). We are procuring the works through a two stage tender which means that our preferred contractor will be determined by July 2021 and they will have four months to reach an acceptable contract sum ahead of entering into contract. Current price uncertainties and the lack of available materials in the UK as a consequence of Brexit and Covid 19 is causing a challenge for all new development in the UK at the present time and this places further pressure on project timelines. Exeter City Living (ECL) are taking all the measures they can to mitigate these challenges but there are limitations to what ECL can do given that this is an industry problem.
Once we commence on site, the former leisure centre will be demolished and construction work will start in earnest. Our current programme indicates that the development will be completed by summer 2024. It was appreciated that it was not ideal that development is delayed, as this impacts many stakeholders including the local community. We have checked the site security and the current temporary fencing arrangement as arranged by the Council, gives adequate security, however, should any residents witness unauthorised entry to the Sports Centre we hope they will report the incident to the Police. The Council do have a private security company engaged to patrol the site on a regular basis and it is hoped that this will act as a deterrent to prevent ongoing unlawful entry to the site. He assured the Member that he, too was concerned about the delay and he had been discussing such matters with the Directors on a regular basis.
Councillor Moore thanked Councillor Bialyk and asked whether there was anything that could be done to make the site look less inhospitable, as it did not make the community of Newtown feel a welcoming safe place. She suggested some hoarding or something similar to improve the outlook. In reply Councillor Bialyk confirmed that he would discuss this with Directors and the team responsible to improve the appearance of the site in this interim period. He reminded Members that the Council had forgone a large capital receipt in order to make the most of the space at the rear of the site for the use of the community and their enjoyment. The last thing he wanted to see was that it was not being used so he assured Councillor Moore that we would do whatever we could within our power to make some improvements.
Councillor Morse, the Portfolio Holder City Development responded to Councillor Vizard’s following two questions:-
1) Please could the appropriate portfolio holder, director or officer provide some information on how regularly the council identifies cases and applies the Article 4 direction which restricts permitted development rights to convert properties into Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in areas that fall within this zone?
Councillor Morse stated that for clarity; she understood the question to be asking how often the Council identifies cases where the necessary permissions have not been secured in order to permit conversion to a HMO within the Article 4 area. Owing to limited resources, the Council was not able to undertake regular or proactive compliance monitoring in relation with the Article 4 Directive area. However, the Council has historically received enquiries from members of the public regarding HMO’s within the Article 4 area – including situations where members of the public suspect that a property is being used as a HMO without the necessary permissions. The number of such complaints was however very low – there being two in 2017, one in 2018 and none since then. Such complaints would then be investigated.
Councillor Vizard asked if there was any public information available on our web site or if there was an option to report such concerns. In reply Councillor Morse said that officers were are already looking into that suggestion.
2) What is the likelihood of HMO conversions in the Article 4 area ‘slipping through the net’, and how is the success of this restriction being measured in terms of preventing a further loss of residential character and of family homes to HMOs?
Councillor Morse advised that
we measure the success of the Article 4 Direction based on the
number of HMOs within the Article 4 area
. Specifically, we
look at changes to the overall number and percentage of HMO’s
in the Article 4 Area since it was last amended in 2013. However,
due to our reliance on complaints to know about breaches of the
restrictive policy and the limited capacity for additional
monitoring and enforcement of the Article 4 restrictions, we do not
have any data on the impact on residential character. Further work
is underway on this at the moment and more information will be
available in due course.