Agenda item

Questions from citizens


Temporary homelessness accommodation


BW asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Housing and Planning:


On 5 March 2018, Councillor Jane Urquhart told the Nottingham Post that the Council has "set aside £32,000,000 over the next nine years to tackle homelessness, including reducing the use of bed and breakfast accommodation." This is, in fact, a reduction of around £430,000 a year from current spending.


What is Councillor Urquhart's position on the use of private landlords to provide temporary accommodation to often vulnerable families and individuals? Would it be true to say that the City Council is relying increasingly on the private sector to discharge its S188 duties with regard to the 1996 Housing Act? Has there been a reduction in temporary accommodation owned by Nottingham City Council in the last five years?


Lastly, we hear Nottingham City Council has loaned around £10,700,000 to Nottingham City Homes to reduce the use of bed and breakfast accommodation. This is welcome news. We would like to clarify whether this £10,700,000 loan is part of the £32,000,000 to tackle homelessness, or is it in addition?


Councillor Jane Urquhart replied as follows:


Thank you, thank you to the Lord Mayor and to the people who raised this important question, although I would start by pointing out that I think the real direction for questions currently about homelessness ought to be the government, rather than the City Council, and I’ll expand on that further in my answer.


The question raises a number of points, so firstly funding for Homelessness. The crisis in homelessness and rough sleeping is indeed a national one, it has been triggered by a broken housing market and by this government’s welfare reform agenda. The increasing rough sleeping and homelessness is something of which this government should be ashamed. If we look back at rough sleeping figures, it is clear that in the years of a Labour government, there were the right combinations of benefits and housing related support which enabled people to maintain their tenancies. In our city, rough sleeping was in low single figures. Since both the coalition government and at an accelerated pace during the present Tory government, those numbers have increased year on year. At the same time, the money available to Nottingham City Council to deal with our local challenges has fallen massively. People will recall there used to be funding called the Supporting People budget, which government allocated to Councils. This is no longer available to us and has left a multi-million pound hole in our budget, quite apart from the other huge reductions in our general budget which have caused us so many financial difficulties in this city. Despite this however, this City Council continues to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping within our City, working across the public and voluntary sectors. We have commissioned our own Housing Related Support services worth £35,500,000 over a nine year period.In addition to this, we pay for and deliver a Housing Aid service to prevent and relieve homelessness, and we commission a range of social housing through both Nottingham City Homes and other Registered Providers.


In terms of use of private sector accommodation, the private sector has become a significant provider of accommodation all across our city. It is appropriate to use private sector accommodation to prevent or relieve homelessness, provided that the accommodation is of good quality and appropriate for the needs of the person, that the standards of housing management from the landlord or agency are high, and that costs are reasonable. Clearly, improvements in quality of the private rented sector are a priority for this council, and that is why we are introducing our selective licensing scheme due to start on 1 August, and for which landlords are already able to make their applications for a license. And of course, we already have licensing for houses in multiple occupation, a clear commitment then to improving the quality of the private rented sector. We are also committed to ending the use of Bed and Breakfast as a form of temporary accommodation, because it does not meet the conditions that I have outlined above.


The Homelessness Reduction Act envisages utilising that authorities will use the private rented sector to both prevent and relieve homelessness through shorthold tenancies. Whilst we are working with the private sector to provide housing, we do not rely on those private landlords to deal with the support needs of homeless people, and we don’t expect those landlords to be those support providers beyond the requirements to be a good landlord and give decent accommodation. That’s why we have made extensive commissioning arrangements with support providers for the next eight years to ensure that support is in place, and that that support can go to wherever the homeless family is resident. This includes temporary accommodation and once they move on to their own tenancies, including those in the private rented sector. These services are also able to work to prevent homelessness.


Specifically, in terms of our use of the private sector to discharge Section 188 duties, the Homelessness Reduction Act has not fundamentally changed how the Section 188 duty operates in practice for vulnerable households who become actually homeless, rather than those who are threatened with homelessness. Where a household is eligible to apply, and the Council has reason to believe they are homeless and the Council believes they have a priority need, then the Council has a duty to provide them with temporary accommodation. In Nottingham the major part of arrangements for temporary accommodation are with supportive agencies who have extensive experience and skill in supporting homeless people and are accommodation providers, for example Nottingham City Homes (NCH) and Framework.


Which brings me to the issue of the loan to NCH.Loans to NCH to facilitate the purchase of housing to provide additional temporary accommodation in houses is in addition to the £35,500,000 sum previously stated.


Tourism Offer in Nottingham


SH asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Localities:


Following the recent success of the Peel Street Cave tour, it is clear what scale of appeal things like this could have for tourism in Nottingham. I would like to ask:

1)   If the excellent work of Scott Lomax, City Archaeologist, and the volunteers will be acknowledged by the Council?

2)   Would it be possible to make events such as this more permanent and more widespread for the city’s other features?

3)   Would it be possible to make some of the disused railway infrastructure more accessible, for example, the Mansfield Road tunnel?


Councillor Dave Trimble replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor, and can I also thank the citizen for the question. Personally I don’t think that asking questions about individual members of staff in full Council is the right place to do that. Having said that, I am very happy to acknowledge the very good work that Scott Lomax does as a City Archaeologist. Furthermore, the museum service has a very good record of working with large numbers of volunteers right across the service, and they do an absolutely fabulous job, not only for the Museum Service but for the whole of the city too. Given that we’ve suffered from eight years of government austerity cuts, I honestly don’t know where we would be without our volunteers. I also applaud their passion for what they do as volunteers, in doing something that they actually love, and that would include the volunteers that work in the caves.


Lord Mayor, the Museum Service has worked closely with Trent & Peak Archaeology, and both Nottingham universities, to ensure that all of our major caves have been 3D scanned. The first City Cave app has also been produced, symposiums have been run about the city’s caves, and a virtual reality tour of Nottingham Castle caves was created for the successful Heritage Lottery bid for the Castle. In terms of the success of the Peel Street cave tour during the recent Cave Festival, more events have been with two dates in July and three dates in August already confirmed. For public safety, trained volunteers will be absolutely essential for these and future events. We need a number of trained volunteers to support and this work is currently taking place.


As for making disused railway structures such as the Mansfield Road tunnel more accessible, the safety of any escorted parties in to these spaces needs to be carefully considered. Unfortunately I believe buildings have been constructed over the ends, which restricts natural ventilation. Therefore because of poor ventilation, it is important that any entry in to these spaces is carried out in accordance with legislation for entry into confined spaces. Longer term, it may be possible to provide access, but appropriate safeguards would have to be put in place, and budgetary implications would also have to be considered.


Highwood Cemetery


LW asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Localities:


Highwood Cemetery is not currently in the condition that visitors would expect due to damage caused by flooding because of no drainage, and no monitoring of the tributes being left at graves. Could the Council please confirm what they will do to rectify this so that it returns to a decent place for our loved ones to rest? Could the Council also confirm what is happening with the Teletubby house on site, as most visitors think it should be demolished and replaced with something more appropriate for the surroundings as it resembles a wartime bunker.


Councillor Dave Trimble replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor, and can I thank the citizen for the question. With regards to the drainage concerns at Highwood Cemetery, I can confirm that drainage has already been installed to alleviate the surface water run off issues that were encountered during the winter. The situation is being monitored, and further work will be carried out if necessary.


With regards to the family tributes that are placed on graves we do appreciate that there has been an increasing national trend over recent years. We’re aware that these items are placed on the grave by grieving relatives. It does make maintenance much more difficult, if you look on the internet you will see lots of newspaper stories across the country of councils being criticised for removing family memorabilia. We are mindful that this is a real issue, and would therefore like to work with both families and the local community to remove items in order to enable us to improve maintenance standards. We are therefore looking to establish a community action group for both Bulwell and Highwood cemeteries and we hope that this will enable us to start having that conversation with the families about removing items from the graves. The community action group could include the individual that has asked this question.


Finally with regards to the assembly room which is referred to as the “Teletubby House” it was built in this design in order to minimise the visual and environmental impact on the landscape. It was a condition of the planning approval back in 2006. Whilst it may not be to everyone’s taste, we believe that the building provides a good environmental solution with low impact design for this purpose. With this in mind we have no plans to demolish the building. It is used for a number of uses including funeral and other religious ceremonies, it acts as an office space for cemetery staff, it contains public toilets, and it is also available for meetings. Thank you.

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