Response to Call-in: Central Hill
· Response to call-in by Councillor Tim Briggs of ‘Investing in better neighbourhoods and building the homes we need to house the people of Lambeth – Central Hill’ Cabinet Decision
The Cabinet Member for Planning, Regeneration and Jobs, Councillor Matthew Bennett, responded to questions thusly:
· Cabinet Members and officers had not been provided with the surveys carried out by residents and had instead been told that they would only see this information in court.
· The Council had used an independent market research company, Martin Arnold (Chartered Surveyor and Construction Consultancy) to arrive at the upper estimate figure of £40,000,000 for the potential refurbishment of the site. Furthermore, it was incumbent on Council to try and weigh up and consider the options that the Cabinet itself was looking at.
· On the question of what was being consulted on – the Council had previously been the subject of a successful judicial review application with respect to the Cressingham Gardens estate, which had succeeded on the basis that the Council had consulted on things which it was in no position to deliver. There was therefore a need to consider what was actually doable or achievable in forming consultation.
· Jim Martin (Executive Chairman of Martin Arnold), who had arrived at the upper £40,000,000 estimate for refurbishment of the site was the independent expert who had been appointed by Tenants and Leaseholders Council. When the Council’s initial figures of £18,500,000 as an upper estimate for refurbishment had been questioned, the Council agreed to provide this additional quantity surveyor.
· When the issue of refurbishment had been considered, the issue with spreading the work out was that if the estate was returned to a program for refurbishment there was not adequate funding to provide this at the moment.
· The ASH proposal had been scrutinised by planners and did not hold up to the scrutiny.
The Chair then invited questions from Committee Members. Councillor Matthew Bennett, Cabinet Member for Planning Regeneration and Jobs, Councillor Paul McGlone, Deputy Leader of the Council (Investment and Partnerships), Rachel Sharpe, the Director, Strategy & Commissioning Housing & Communities, Sue Foster, the Strategic Director – Neighbourhoods and Growth, Greg Carson, the Principal Lawyer – Housing Property & Planning, Neil Vokes, the Programme Director – Strategic Capital Programmes and Julian Hart, the Senior Capital Programme Manager; answered:
· The reason that refurbishment as opposed to regeneration had not been considered as part of the resident consultation was because the Council was not in a position to deliver this option.
· Committee Members expressed concern that the language in the survey conducted by residents could potentially make certain questions leading questions. Residents clarified that they had 322 responses to their survey and the information had been inputted by residents into a spreadsheet.
During discussion of the item, the guillotine fell at 21:00.
MOVED: by the Chair, and;
RESOLVED: That the meeting continue for a further period of up to 30 minutes.
Cabinet Members and officers continued to answer questions from the Committee:
· The consultation was not to be considered as a ballot – in certain circumstances, such as stock transfers, ballots are required however for general consultation feedback is sought, but the onus on Cabinet is to consider consultation feedback as opposed to following it directly.
· The decision-making process was long and complex and took into account many factors. Consultation was used to inform a decision but it did not govern it. 55% of the Council’s survey respondents favoured the regeneration.
· The lesson from Cressingham’s successful judicial review application was that the Council should not consult on undeliverable options. This meant that the Council was legally obligated not to present the option to refurbish to residents as part of its consultation.
· Cabinet Members and officers tried to look at all possible options through working out the decision. In building additional homes, the option of infilling was looked at, however it was deemed unfeasible. Refurbishment could be done if the money was available, however the budget was not there. The information regarding other options the Cabinet considered was presented at exhibitions and frequent meetings with residents on the estate.
· The £40,000,000 figure was something of a red herring as the Council had already determined that its own figure of £18,500,000 as proposed refurbishment costs was far too high. The latter figure was arrived at through extrapolating based on what standard LHS works were. There was also consideration that standard LHS works do not always deal with estate-wide issues. Officers also added in response to a question from the Chair that estimates usually work out as being less than what is actually spent.
· An Equalities Impact Assessment had been carried out, however further ones would need to be carried out as the project develops.
· There will be additional support in place to ease residents through the transition, and there would also be a programme of specifically-targeted support to residents in order to help them with relocating.
· Committee Members highlighted the need for residents to remain living near their neighbours in order to preserve communities across the estate. Officers responded that once the decision had been taken there would be a detailed housing needs analysis in order to ascertain residents’ housing needs. Furthermore, the whole estate would not be redeveloped at once, and people moved to another building will generally do so with their neighbours, as well.
· Committee Members further expressed concern around the standard of Equalities Impacts Assessments which had been employed in Myatt’s Field North Estate’s regeneration. The concern was that these EIA mechanisms were not robust enough to mitigate the potential negative impact on the 25% elderly population on Central Hill estate. Cabinet Members responded that proper EIAs were critical and further added that they would respond to committee members directly to assuage their concerns regarding potential negative impacts on vulnerable residents and the mechanisms in place to address this.
The Chair invited Councillor Tim Briggs to indicate whether he considered the reasons for the call-in to have been addressed. Councillor Tim Briggs replied that he did not consider the reasons to have been addressed, nor all his questions answered. He asked that the call-in adopt option 3, “[t]o resolve to refer the decision to the Cabinet for reconsideration with a written explanation setting out the nature of the committee’s concerns” and detailed:
· The evidence provided by residents had not been considered and if members had issues with the survey they should be allowed to do the survey again. The results themselves must create some objective concern amongst members.
· Members seemed concerned with ensuring that the minimum legal requirement for consultation had been undertaken as opposed to what residents actually desired.
· The survey done by Lambeth Council was leading as it stated that the Council already had concluded that it considered regeneration the best option and it was therefore nonsensical to rely on the survey.
· No evidence has been provided to support the allegation that it would cost £40,000,000 or £18,500,000 and it was therefore improper for Cabinet Members to make the decision without this evidence.
· The reasons for such high estimates was a result of Lambeth’s poor record with contractors which resulted in wasted money.
· The Council has not properly considered how to spread out the cost of refurbishment.
· There had not been proper equalities impact assessments and the lessons from Myatt’s Field North estate had not been learned.
The Chair thanked Councillor Tim Briggs and ran through the three options for the call-in. It was:
To not refer the decision back to Cabinet but nonetheless to make such recommendations to cabinet as it sees fit:
1. Phasing plans of estates undergoing regeneration should ensure that the needs of elderly people in particular are taken into account, moved only once wherever possible with appropriate steps to mitigate stress and disruption. This is particularly relevant on Central Hill which has a high proportion of elderly residents.
2. Frequent, robust and responsive Equality Impact Assessments should be established that cover equality, health and environmental issues. Consideration of impacts should begin at an early stage of the process rather than wait until the planning application stage.
3. More detailed information about how the £18.5 million projected cost of refurbishing Central Hill Estate was arrived at are provided to the committee and the Resident Engagement Panel.