Agenda and minutes

Vibrant and Sustainable City Scrutiny Panel
Thursday, 20th June, 2019 6.00 pm

Venue: Committee Room 3 - Civic Centre

Contact: Martin Stevens  Email: martin.stevens@wolverhampton.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies

[To receive any apologies for absence]. 

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Cllr Bhupinder Gakhal and Cllr Martin Waite. 

2.

Declarations of interest

[To receive any declarations of interest].

Minutes:

Cllr Gurmukh Singh declared a non-pecuniary interest on item 7 -  Draft Private Homes Strategy 2019-2024, as a private landlord. 

3.

Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 305 KB

[To approve the minutes of the meeting held on 11 April 2019 as a correct record].

Minutes:

The minutes of the previous meeting were confirmed as a correct record subject to the comment by a Member having a concern about development on brownfield sites, being changed to having a concern about development on greenfield sites on the border with Staffordshire and generally within Wolverhampton. 

4.

Matters arising

[To consider any matter arising from the minutes].

Minutes:

Cllr Brackenridge asked for an update on fire safety matters in relation to housing, as he had made reference to this subject at the last meeting when the overall housing strategy for the City had been discussed.  The online consultation survey did make reference to fire safety in relation to high rise blocks.  He had responded to the survey on the housing strategy and raised the point that it was important to address the issue of fire safety in all houses across the City and not just high rise.  He was the Chair of the Council’s, Fire Safety Scrutiny Group and had been trying to persuade the British Government to pass legislation for England to have the same requirement as in Scotland and Wales, where new build houses were required to have sprinklers fitted.  Whilst England did not yet have the legislation, the Council was able to set its own high standards in relation to sprinklers, automatic fire detection systems and general fire safety matters. The Contractors which the Council owned company WV Living used, had actually already fitted sprinklers in new build properties in Milton Keynes.  He wanted to make it clear that it was important to factor in the vulnerability of individuals when assessing fire risk.  This was because 80% of people who died or were injured in fires were vulnerable people. 

 

The Director for City Housing responded that she was pleased the Councillor had officially responded to the consultation on the Housing Strategy and his response along with all others received would be taken into account.  She took the issue of fire safety very seriously and agreed that fire safety was important across all housing and not just within tower blocks.  The Council were issuing improvement notices on privately owned high rise blocks and taking enforcement action where appropriate. 

 

The Director for City Housing commented that the Council had already pledged to implement approximately £20 million of sprinkler infrastructure into the public sector owned high rise stock in Wolverhampton.  A further £11 million was being invested in electrical works and other critical maintenance into the public sector stock.  The Better Homes Board, which included Wolverhampton Homes as a partner, would be addressing how they approached fire safety in their new build programmes.  They would report back to the Fire Safety Scrutiny Group with the decisions reached.  WV Living would also be considering how they embedded fire safety strategy into their new build programmes and would be reporting back to the Council’s Fire Safety Scrutiny Group.  The Council were also having conversations as part of the Community Build Programme with the Tenant Management and Co-operative organisations.  In addition, they were discussing fire safety with Housing Association partners who managed housing stock.  A report had recently been taken to Cabinet on enforcement practices for smoke and carbon monoxide homes in the private rental sector.  The Council were working closely with the Fire Service on the issue.  They were also making improvements to the Rent with Confidence Scheme.              

 

The Director  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.

5.

Portfolio Holder for City of Environment - Statement / Questions and Answer Session

[Portfolio Holder for City Environment (Cllr Steve Evans) - Statement and Questions and Answers Session].

Minutes:

The Portfolio Holder for City Environment gave a statement on his Portfolio.  He opened by thanking the Scrutiny Panel for the opportunity to talk about his Portfolio.  There were four main sections to his statement, the remit of his Portfolio, some key achievements over the last twelve months, his priorities over the next twelve months and areas which he felt the Scrutiny Panel could assist in ensuring the success of his Portfolio.  He identified the main areas that fell within his remit which included: -

 

 

·       Environmental Services including street cleansing, ground maintenance and country parks

·       Waste Collection and Disposal

·       Energy (including the energy from waste facilities) and Sustainability

·       Fleet Management and Workshop

·       Coroner Services

·       Public Protection often referred to as Trading Standards

·       Consumer Protection / Environmental Health

·       Licensing including taxi licensing

·       Customer Services

·       WV Active

 

With reference to the taxi licensing service he praised the efficiency of the department.  Wolverhampton was one of the first Councils to offer a digital application service.  The service still had stringent checks, these checks were more rigorous than many Councils and the processes could be completed more quickly.  As the process was less expensive, convenient and quicker than many Councils it was not surprising that many more people now applied for their license in Wolverhampton. 

 

The Portfolio Holder remarked that the Bilston Indoor Market footfall had significantly increased and was a critical part of community life in Bilston.  At the outdoor Bilston market, the uptake in people taking a stall had also increased.  Last year had seen the successful launch of the City Centre Market.  This had involved significant land remediation work which included removing buildings and the re-burial of human remains dating back from the 1850s.  He thought that Markets was an area which the Panel might wish to consider as part of its Work Programme in the future. 

 

The Portfolio Holder stated that located at the Council was the UTC (Urban Traffic Control) system.  A team of experts ensured that the traffic flowed efficiently across the Backcountry.  The Minister of Transport had visited last year and had been very impressed by the work of the team, the Portfolio Holder encouraged Members of the Panel to visit the UTC team.  As part of the Highways maintenance function, street lighting and winter gritting were included as part of this function.  He believed in Winter, Wolverhampton and Sandwell Council areas were the best gritted roads in the West Midlands.  The Highways Capital programme was £14 million based on prudential borrowing and a number of grants that the Council had received following successful bids.  This money had to be used in areas across the whole network such as, projects, cycle routes, safety, footways, crossings and resurfacing.  Clearly it was not enough money, the Government had calculated that £9 billion of maintenance funding was required to bring the road network in the UK up to a good standard.  It would cost £24 million to bring all the roads in Wolverhampton up to a state of good repair.  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Scrutiny Work Programme pdf icon PDF 276 KB

[To consider the Scrutiny Work Programme]. 

Minutes:

The Scrutiny Work Programme was agreed. 

7.

Draft Private Homes Strategy 2019- 2024 pdf icon PDF 387 KB

[Pre-Decision Scrutiny on the Draft Private Homes Strategy]. 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Director for City Housing and the Service Manager for Private Sector Housing gave a presentation on the draft Private Homes Strategy 2019-2024. 

 

The Service Manager for Private Sector Housing commented that the draft strategy had not yet been received by Cabinet and it was therefore a pre-decision scrutiny item.  She wanted the Panel’s input to help shape the policy.  In Wolverhampton there were 108,000 dwellings, 56% were owner occupied and 27% social rented.  In 2001 the Census had shown 7,000 private rented houses which had nearly doubled by 2011.  A recent BRE Stock condition survey of the private rented sector had shown the figure was now at 18,000.  By 2020, if not before, it was expected that the private rented sector would have more dwellings than in any other rented housing sector.  As the private sector was now significantly larger than previously and on an upward trajectory, it was important for it to have its own strategy. 

 

The Service Manager for Private Sector Housing stated that under the new Homeless Reduction Act, the Council was having to discharge its duties by using the private sector, as social housing was depleted.  There had been an increase in houses in multiple occupation (HMO).  This was down to migration into the City, welfare reform, single person allowance and universal credit.  Properly managed and regulated HMOs was crucial.  Fire Safety was very important which included ensuring the safety of people in high rise private homes. There was a mandate to improvement safety following Grenfell and guidance was continuing to be issued by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).  Much of the guidance was regarding the Local Authority ensuing high rises in the private sector were safe.  Fire risk assessments were completed in HMOs when employees from the Council visited, as fire was the biggest risk to the safety of the occupants. 

 

The Service Manager for Private Sector Housing remarked that each year, they brought approximately 200 empty homes back into use in the Wolverhampton area.  The £500 incentive scheme which had operated for the last three years had proved very successful in engaging people.  Sometimes compulsory purchase orders were undertaken.  They targeted houses that had not been in use for over ten years but were also being proactive targeting housing that had not been in use for a short-time to help prevent them falling into long-term disuse.  Wolverhampton Homes administered housing assistance for the City, providing disabled facilities grants, affordable warm grants and small works assistance grants.  These initiatives helped to keep people living well and independently in their own homes for longer.  A scrutiny review on fuel poverty was planned in the future. 

 

The Service Manager for Private Sector Housing said that the Council had to follow national policy.  There was nationally mandated HMO licensing and the definition had changed last October.  Since October there had been an additional 100 HMO license applications which had all been inspected. There were now 230 licensed HMOs in Wolverhampton.  Instead of just  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.