Agenda item

Update from the Portfolio Holder for Council Housing Development and Support Services


Councillor Denning reported on the Council Housing Development and Support Services areas of her Portfolio, detailing the issues relating to achieving the Council’s published priorities, major ongoing programmes of work, issues impacting delivery, financial performance and budget requirements and potential changes being considered.


Councillor Denning responded to an advance question from Councillor Rees as follows:-


1). The Portfolio Holder report refers, to ‘Council owned brownfield housing development sites are unviable, and will remain so without significant government interventions.’ Is that every single site? How many of those did Exeter City Living assess? What is the funding gap between the Council funds and the additional funds required? 


The cost of developing on brownfield land is higher due to the abnormal costs associated with demolition, asbestos removal, contaminated ground, utility upgrades and services diversions. The Housing team has assessed a number of sites, some in more detail than others due to the design development of each scheme, and due to brownfield development costs, tender price inflation and high interest rates all of the sites assessed are showing viability challenges. Each site is unique, and the size of the viability gap is different, but this will be a six-figure sum per property in most cases. Some of this gap can be met by bidding to Homes England for Affordable Housing Grant and that the pressure will reduce significantly if, and when the interest rates return to their previous levels. Exeter City Living have contributed towards the viability assessments carried out on the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) sites as part of their engagement as Development Agent.


Councillor Rees asked a subsequent question, noting the uncertainty of the national position, and queried whether this would this have a significant impact on the Council’s housing building targets.


The Portfolio Holder responded that this should not have an effect and the Council will still attempt to reach the house building targets. She hoped the Government would increase the funding and reduce the cost of borrowing to enable the Council to build more houses.


The Portfolio Holder offered the following responses to Members’ questions:-


·         tenants living in the new passive houses built had adapted well. She had spoken to those tenants and although there was some adjustment, it was a good way to live as well as having cheaper energy bills.

·         in referencing scrutiny under the Consumer Regulation Scheme, arrangements at Exeter City Council included residents’ groups including a Tenants’ Voice, and the Council Housing and Development Advisory Board which all offered the opportunity for dialogue. There was also a Compliance and Complaints Panel. Following a further comment on discussion with residents, the Portfolio Holder undertook to raise the comments in relation to the Residents’ Engagement Terms Strategy at a Portfolio Holders meeting and discuss with the Director.

·         the position in relation to the Laings properties at Newman Road and Merrivale Road, had been raised regularly and was a priority to progress when there was funding to do so. She had spoken to the Assistant Director Housing, as there were a number of other issues associated with the build and she invited the Member to email the Service Lead  - Housing Assets.

·         the funds for the completion of 25 properties as part of Phase 1 of Vaughan Road were available to completion. 

·         achieving the retrofit programme would depend on the funding allocation, but every effort was being made to retrofit as many as possible depending on the outcome of funding bids. The Assistant Director Housing also thanked his colleague, the Service Lead - Housing Assets, who had worked hard to secure funding, winning awards as well as sharing the experience at a number of conferences and events around the country.


The Assistant Director Housing also responded to the following comments in support of the Portfolio Holder:-


·         relating to the mutual exchange scheme and a number of incentives for any resident wishing to downsize, where they may be under occupying any property.  Any resident had the opportunity to work with the Housing Officer to help identify such opportunities.

·         sites can be unlocked by working in partnership and with other housing associations and where land may be owned by the Council that may help result in a site becoming more viable. A fuller response could be offered.

·         the acronym MMC stood for modern methods of construction.

·         in relation to a comment on those tenants seeking Right to Buy who may have benefited from the retrofitting of their property. There had been a reduction of the right to buy applications more recently. He added that in the scheme there is what is termed a ‘cost floor’, if a significant level of work was carried out at the property then the discount would be reduced accordingly and may not be as attractive for the tenant to but under the right to buy incentive but the Council achieves more money to build more homes.


Members noted the report.


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