The attendance of concerned and interested parties at the Wandsworth Borough Council Housing and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee of 18 January 2018 were many, in fact, the viewing gallery was almost full.
The below email highlights meeting observations of one individual who emailed all of the Councillors who sit on this Committee.
To: Councillor Aydin Dikerdem; Councillor Charles Lescott; Councillor Claire Clay; Councillor Ian Hart; Councillor Jane Cooper; Councillor Nick Cuff; Councillor Paul White; Councillor Stuart Thom; Councillor Sue McKinney;
Cc: Thayyiba Shaah; Councillor Jeremy Ambache; Councillor Peter Carpenter; Scott Couldridge; Councillor Malcom Grimston;
Sent: Saturday, 20 January 2018, 17:04
Subject: Housing and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee – 18/1/18 – thoughts from the gallery
It must have been a delight to see the gallery so full of interested individuals.
The following are 12 points which are observations (which is hoped may be of some benefit) and queries which I seek clarity on please.
Please note that many residents are ‘bcc’ into this email.
- By the numbers……..
Shambolic, the Councillor that asked how many leaseholders could provide a view at the First Tier Property Tribunal should have known this number, in fact, all Councillors who are on this Committee should have this information to hand. It was within Council Paper 17-269 which was submitted at this very Committee on September 14th 2017. Perhaps it might assist if the numbers were shared with you all, it was within footnote #2 which stated that“Wandsworth Council has 99 blocks of ten storeys or more containing 6,401 residential flats and maisonettes – 4,043 tenanted, 1,315
resident leaseholders and 1,043 away leaseholders”. So, this means that 2,358 leaseholders can provide a view at the First Tier Property Tribunal, not the“1,400” mentioned at this meeting.
Any Councillor with some level of interest may even wish to know per ward – how many buildings are impacted per ward, the split of leaseholders (residents and away leaseholders) along with the number of tenants. Each Councillor would, I’d like to think, have a handle on the numbers within footnote #2 and how this may be of relevance to their ward? Perhaps this is taking too much interest?
Did you know that of the “99 blocks of ten storeys or more” it seems that Allbrook House is included within this 99? Just in case you were not aware this is scheduled for demolition as part of the Alton Estate regeneration so the Council might be saving some pennies?
- First Tier Property Tribunal (FTPT)
One of the outcomes of this meeting was that it seemed that at least two of the Councillors on this Committee appeared to have had little idea of what this FTPT is all about. If true, how can a Councillor make such decisions involving such vast sums of funds without knowing what this FTPT is and the potential challenges the Council could face?
After the planning fiasco of the portacabins (planning application 2016/5912) through which one of the ward Councillors was to provide a representation to the Council Planning Application Committee though did not as it seems that Councillor was not aware of what delegated powers Council planning officers had, it might be prudent that Councillors receive a mandatory welcome pack explaining some aspects of what they need to know, such as what can or may not be submitted to a Planning Application Committee, or that the Council is a freeholder and leaseholders, believe or not, have rights too and what these rights are.
In any event, please find a link which provides some background as to what a FTPT is – https://www.gov.uk/courts-tribunals/first-tier-tribunal-property-chamber
- Costs – lack of faith in Council estimates
Given that in Paper 18-12 the cost of the cladding regarding Sudbury House and Castlemaine went from £6m to £18.286m (this being the additional provision of £12.286m mentioned within this paper) then to what is the degree is there a level of confidence in the Council’s £24m allocation (Section 15, Paper 17-269) for retrofitting water sprinklers? If the costs doubled to £48m or £72m will the Council still be amenable to this endeavour?
On a much lower level, perhaps the recent example of major works for maisonettes on the Alton Estate may provide an example of why leaseholders could be sceptical of the Council’s estimates. A letter dated 20th March 2014 for “Notice of Intention – External Redecoration & Associated Repairs” was for £2,586.92. A letter only seven months later, 13th October 2014, for “External Redecoration & Associated Repairs” was for £4,864.90. That is almost double the cost within seven months. It is hoped that the Council is confident regarding the sums involved.
- Costs – to leaseholders
One of the 99 buildings impacted from the Manresa neighbourhood has paid the princely sum of £12,475.05 for a two bedroom flat within a 13 month period as calculated below;
2016 (paid in October 2016)
£880.00 major works
£1,152.44 for the annual service charge
2017 (paid in October 2017)
£9,446 for major works
£996.61 for the usual annual service charge
Part of the reason for regeneration in this area is due to the levels of deprivation, so how the Council thinks many of the residents in this ward can keep emptying their pockets to pay for these works is a query that has to be posed to you?
In other words, the sum mentioned in the comment “these costs (approximately £3,000 to £4,000) will be imposed upon leaseholders with relatively short notice” (section 17, Paper 17-269) could perhaps double or triple if using the cladding increased costs as a proxy.
Referring again to section 17 within Paper 17-269 the comment “An extension beyond 48 months may draw criticism from other leaseholders facing relatively substantial bills for major works, for example in 2015/16 1,231 leaseholders were billed for major works charges in excess of £3,000” might be worth re-doing with 2016/17 in mind to focus on the costs applied to these 99 impacted buildings. 13 of the 99 impacted buildings which are on the Alton Estate have paid, or are paying, for the installation of double glazing works which means that just with this sample that circa 700 leaseholders would have easily paid over £3,000 (which the example on point 4 highlights) in service charges which stacks up heavily versus the Borough wide figure of 1,231 mentioned earlier.
Section 18 of Paper 17-269 refers to “The Council operates a service charge relief scheme in cases of hardship, with the Director of Resources having delegated authority to grant financial relief on a case by case basis, which could be accessed by a leaseholder with genuine difficulty in meeting the additional costs. This could be through offering extended payment terms to qualifying leaseholders or through a reduction in the overall amount billed as approved in Paper No.15-422”. If not familiar with the detail of this paragraph it might be a suggestion to start looking at it as there is already a lot of concern from residents regarding affording additional major work costs.
- Impact on tenants and leaseholders – time off work
Do not underestimate the impact of this. The very recent double glazing of the same flat referred to in section 4 has gone well beyond the two days of inconvenience that was suggested it would be.
In fact, it might be something for the Council to consider that leaseholders should recharge the Council for time off work which goes beyond the promised timescale.
- No challenge to Councillor Rory O’Broin regarding numbers
It was fascinating that Mr Cameron Young, the gent that provided a deputation on behalf of Edgecombe Hall Residents Association, was grilled on the numbers of leaseholders and tenants that he represented, yet no Councillor asked the same of Councillor O’Brien? It would have been interesting to understand the detail of the numbers that Councillor O’Brien was representing especially as three of the five Resident Associations mentioned in section 7 (Paper 18-12) are from St Mary’s Park.
- Leeds Building Society mention
The mention of Leeds Building Society not providing mortgages to tall buildings without water sprinklers needs to be taken in context. Using figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders, this lender has 1% of the market for the value of mortgages outstanding as of 2016 and ranks 15th. Information on market share can be obtained from the following link – https://www.cml.org.uk/documents/largest-mortgage-lenders-2016/2largest-mortgage-lenders-2016.xlsx
- Leaseholders position understated
Section 7 of Paper 18-12 states the following – “There has been some resistance from leaseholders to date: objections have been lodged by five residents’ associations (Battersea High St RA (St Mary’s Park), Ethelburga Tower RA (St Mary’s Park), Andrew Reed House RA (West Hill), Edgecombe Hall RA (West Hill) and Totteridge House RA (St Mary’s Park)), a small number of individuals from other blocks and one non-resident indicating they were opposed to the Council’s decision to impose the retro-fitting of works and recharge leaseholders”.
It is very surprisingly that the Alton Estate, with 42 of the 99 buildings impacted, is not mentioned. Two Residents Associations have made representations, Cadnam Point and Finchdean House. Many leaseholders have made their views known to both Councillor Cooper and Councillor McKinney. The Alton Leaseholders has started largely as a reaction to retor-fitting water sprinklers, and currently has 60 out of the circa 700 leaseholders impacted with the expectation that this number will grow when more leaseholders become aware that, at present, they are to be charged for this (though first, they need to become aware of the water sprinklers situation as many are not familiar with it).
Furthermore, the Western Area Housing Panel of 11th September 2017 had a challenging debate around the topic.
In any event, thank you to Councillor Grimston for acknowledging the concerns of leaseholders from the Alton Estate during this meeting.
- Fire Risk Assessments
Apologies if I missed this in the various Council documents, though the Fire Risk Assessments of 2016 do not appear to have been mentioned. As Councillors, have any of you taken the time to review one of these reports?
Within them section 2.6.8 asks “Are sprinkler systems present?” and the response in the report is “Not required”. Bearing in mind that section 9 of Paper 17-269 states that “The standard Wandsworth right to buy lease gives the Council the right “to do such things as the Council may decide are necessary to ensure the efficient maintenance administration or security of the Block” and it is considered that this provision enables the Council to retro-fit sprinklers in individual leasehold flats. „Security‟ in this context includes safety, which properly and reasonably includes facilities and equipment to fight and prevent the spread of fire” this view, to a layman, would seem to be contradicted by the Fire Risk Assessment, unless the Council is not standing by the content of the Fire Risk Assessments?
- Borough Resident Forum (BRF) Vice Chair personal views
It is questionable whether the Vice Chair of the BRF is permitted to be providing personal views on topics discussed at this meeting. An answer on this query is requested please.
- BRF paper 18-11
Having taken a hard copy of the Agenda which contains various documents it is noticed that Paper 18-11 was not within it and therefore likely not read by Councillors prior to the meeting? Please confirm if this is the case and whether this should be the case?
If of interest, I have various emails which can be shared with regards to the time lag of placing the BRF papers online.
- Is all the information that is available being shared?
The meeting of this Committee on 14th September 2017 makes no reference to the letter dated 1st August 2017 sent by MP Justine Greening to Alok Sharma, MP for Department for Communities and Local Government, which raises the question about funding for retro-fitting water sprinklers and removal of cladding. The letter seems to have been sent on behalf of Wandsworth Council? MP Sharma responded on 3rd September 2017, which states that when Councils have an idea of what work is deemed essential that the starting position is that they should fund these measures. Perhaps more detail regarding the discussions concerning potential Government funding should be provided?
Given Papers 17-269 and 18-12 have been referred to above a few times, they have been added below for reference.
There may have been more points to add, and more may be added in due course, though it is hoped that the above provides some feedback which is of benefit.
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