Councillor Worrall, Cabinet Member for Housing, introduced the report which provided an update on the results of the recent consultation regarding high rises in Grays and the progress that was being made on the Council’s other key housing estates.
Councillor Worrall thanked all residents who took part in the consultation and explained that the information gathered had been valuable. She further apologised to residents, as she felt that they had been caught in a political point scoring exercise and emphasised that Councillors should remain balanced and listen to the views of residents.
Councillor Worrall reported that she wished to make an amendment to recommendation 1.1 printed in the report in order to delete the words ‘at this stage’ so that the recommendation would read as follows:
“Cabinet not to award decant status to three Grays high rises – Butler, Davall and Greenwood House, but instead to note that continued consultation should take place with residents to include detailed design on alternative home provision to ensure residents are given a clear unambiguous set of choices.”
Councillor Worrall explained that the amendment was important, as the Council was not planning to award decant status to residents of the Grays high rises but would continue to consult with residents as there were some who wanted to leave and others who wanted to stay.
Councillor Worrall explained that recommendation 1.3 was for Cabinet to note that the Council’s new build development on Seabrooke Rise would be allocated in accordance to the Council’s existing Lettings Policy and existing residents of the Seabrooke Rise high rise towers would not benefit from enhanced priority status at the current time, however added that she wanted to do what she could to assist those residents who wanted to leave by creating a local lettings plan.
In light of this the Cabinet Member informed all those present that officers would consult with residents regarding the local lettings plan and a report would be referred to the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee for consideration, subsequent to which it would be referred to Cabinet for approval.
Councillor Worrall further reported that the government’s recent announcement to impose a 1% reduction on rents over the next four years had a significant impact on the Council’s Housing Revenue Account (HRA) Business Plan and consequently officers were evaluating how this would affect the regeneration programme.
The Cabinet Member briefly summarised the investment on the Flowers Estate in South Ockendon and the Garrison Estate in Purfleet and emphasised that it was important to speak with local ward Councillors and engage with local residents on plans going forward.
Councillor J. Kent, Leader of the Council, invited the three residents to make their statements in the following order:
· Miss Harries, Lead Petitioner of Petition 467 ‘to save our homes being pulled down: Butler; Davall and Greenwood’ explained that the number of people who signed the petition were not used in the overall percentage calculation, rather it was the number of flats on the petition. Miss Harries reported that the percentage of residents who wanted to stay was 64% in Butler, 72% in Davall and 54% in Greenwood which equated to a total average of 63.9% in favour of staying. She added that the flats were resident’s homes, some tenants of which had lived there for up to 30-40 years, and that it was a living community as many residents socialised with each other and made good friendships with others throughout the flats, not just with those who lived on the same floor. The resident explained that to break up the community would devastate a large number of people and the impact on the elderly and disabled would be particularly catastrophic both socially and emotionally. Members were informed that residents of the high rise flats provided a great deal services and care for neighbours, such as cooking, pet care and social visits that prevented social isolation without any expectation of payback that was greater than any Council could expect to afford. Miss Harries further commented on the fact that there were so few Council homes on offer in Grays and questioned where the 174 families could be rehoused in addition to those on the housing waiting list and others who needed support and assistance such as those seeking asylum. She felt that the Council needed to increase its Council housing stock, not reduce it, and it did not make sense to pull down homes that had 40-50 years of life in them, and whilst recognising the blocks required updating this had been set out in the Council’s five-year transforming homes programme. In summarising Miss Harries asked that if a final decision went in favour, whether the Council could provide long-term tenancy agreements for residents so that they could not be threatened with a similar proposal in the near or not too distant future.
· Miss Low, Lead Petitioner of Petition 470 in favour of demolishing Butler, Davall and Greenwood High Rise blocks in Grays, explained that since the beginning of the process the hopes of residents wishing to move had been raised by the possibility of them being able to apply for new properties on The Echoes. She added that discussions had been ongoing for the best part of a year and felt that the Council was prolonging the process. Miss Low reported that she respected the desire of some residents who wanted to stay in the flats but felt that they were not suitable properties to raise young children in as the flats were cold, some windows did not close and during summer months parents were afraid to open other windows for fear of their children’s safety. The resident felt that if the flats stayed residents should be given the choice to move and described that some residents had found the earlier petition misleading and believed they were signing the petition to register their participation in a debate. She advised that her petition only surveyed Butler, Davall and Greenwood Houses as it had been made clear if these three blocks were demolished residents of Lionel Oxley, Arthur Toft and George Crooks would be eligible to move out but would not receive payment. In summary Miss Low observed that many residents felt that this debate had gone on long enough and called upon the Council to make a decision as soon as possible and hoped that Councillors would make the right decision for the future regeneration of Grays.
· Mr Calder, representative of the Seabrooke Rise Steering Group, explained that the group understood that demolition was not the Thurrock default option when estates were not in need of a great deal of repair, as the group considered was the case with the high rise blocks in question. He recognised that the Council needed to be socially hearted but financially minded given the present dictates by Central Government and that estate properties were being brought up to the Decent Homes standard despite the high costs involved. Mr Calder explained that the flats were peoples’ homes and many had been living there for a long time. It was reported that the Steering Groups focus had been brought back to what the community wanted but felt had been lacking, which was full proper participation within any consultations or process that concerned their homes and any regeneration that may affect their lives and neighbourhood. Mr Calder felt that many older long-term residents were against demolition and the upheaval of moving whilst many younger families with children wanted to move, but the consultation process so far had brought worry and anxiety to older people and had raised the hopes and expectations of those who wished to move. Members were informed that the Steering Group wanted to work towards a regeneration plan that included all of the Seabrooke Community with the aspirations of the young and the old being voiced by working in partnership, which supported the Council’s mission statement. He thanked Cabinet for the opportunity to speak but observed that he could not convey the views of all residents and felt that they deserved a better hearing.
Councillor Worrall remarked that it was a sad situation that this matter had become politicised and felt that Elected Members had a responsibility to hear all views fairly and not take one side against the other. She hoped that the amended recommendation’s would go some way to helping both sides of the debate and advised that the Local Lettings Plan would need to be explored by both Housing Overview and Scrutiny and Cabinet again so that it could consider the detail of how residents of the three high rise blocks could benefit from enhanced priority status on the new Echoes estate.
Councillor Worrall assured all residents that she was listening to their concerns but felt that it was unfair to say that there was a split with only the young wanting to move and only the elderly wanting to stay.
The Chamber were advised that the flats over the next 10 years would require over £10 million of investment in order to bring them up to the decent homes standard and that only £4 million was available through the Transforming Homes programme.
Councillor Kent asked the Cabinet Member for clarification regarding the fact that some people felt the opportunity to benefit from enhanced priority status for The Echoes estate had been taken away. In response the Cabinet Member explained that the re-examination of the Local Lettings Plan, which was suggested in the amended recommendation 1.3, would enable residents who wanted to move out of the flats to receive priority for The Echoes, Tops Club and Kings Walk sites.
Councillor Pothecary observed that this process had been difficult for all involved and thanked the residents who wanted their voices heard. She felt that the reported Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) should be addressed through consultation with the Housing team.
Councillor Gerrish remarked that the information which had been presented had divided the community and that opposition Councillors had exacerbated fears. He felt that corporately the Council had put residents in a difficult position and that lessons needed to be learnt from this in future on other estates, such as the Garrison Estate in Purfleet.
Councillor J. Kent recognised this had been a difficult decision to reach and that at his surgeries residents had explained that they felt trapped in the tower blocks, which was also a problem in Chadwell St Mary, Tilbury and Blackshots. He stated that he was heartened by the proposal to re-examine the Local Lettings Plan to enable Seabrooke Rise residents to receive enhanced priority status. In the interim he felt that the housing team needed to explore whether a concierge system was needed in order to address Anti-Social problems and if improvements could be made to cladding, windows and the heating exchange.
Councillor J. Kent further reported that the community was not divided, although there were divided opinions, and in response to the suggestion to create long-term tenancies, assured residents that through the amendment to recommendation 1.1 and the removal of ‘at this stage’ the Council did not have any intention to revisit the decision not to award decant status anytime soon.
In summing up, Councillor Worrall assured all those present that the Local Lettings Plan would be consulted upon with tenants, the residents Steering Group and cross-party through the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee before referral back to Cabinet for a final decision.
Councillor Worrall summarised the recommendations that Cabinet would be approving, subsequent to which Councillor J. Kent proposed an amendment to recommendation 1.3 to confirm that the Council would explore a local lettings plan as a matter of urgency. The new recommendation read as follows:
“Cabinet to note that the Council’s new build development on Seabrooke Rise will be allocated in accordance to the Council’s existing Lettings Policy and existing residents of the Seabrooke Rise high rise towers will not benefit from enhanced priority status at the current time, therefore Council explores a local lettings plan as a matter of urgency.”
Members voted unanimously in favour of the recommendations, including the proposed amendments, whereupon the Chair declared these to be carried.
1. Cabinet not to award decant status to three Grays high rises – Butler, Davall and Greenwood House, but instead to note that continued consultation should take place with residents to include detailed design on alternative home provision to ensure residents are given a clear unambiguous set of choices.
2. Cabinet to agree that officers consider feedback from this consultation as part of the development of the emerging master plan for Grays Town Centre.
3. Cabinet to note that the Council’s new build development on Seabrooke Rise will be allocated in accordance to the Council’s existing Lettings Policy and existing residents of the Seabrooke Rise high rise towers will not benefit from enhanced priority status at the current time, therefore Council explores a local lettings plan as a matter of urgency.
4. Cabinet to note that the Council is currently reviewing the proposed Housing Development Plan and Estate Regeneration Programme in the light of the Government’s imposed reductions in rent. The Council are assessing the implications and options available to ensure that the financial parameters of the HRA are met, whilst retaining an affordable and deliverable programme of housing investment and new build development.
Reason for Decision - as stated in the report
This decision is subject to call-in
The Leader the Council asked the Cabinet Member to clarify the decision made, to which it was re-iterated that decant status would not be awarded to the three Grays high rises – Butler, Davall and Greenwood House – but instead a continued consultation would take place, and that although existing residents of the Seabrooke Rise high rise towers would not benefit from enhanced priority status at the current time, the Council would explore a local lettings plan as a matter of urgency.
At 7.42 pm there was a 3 minute break to allow members of the public gallery to leave the Council Chamber if they wished to do so.