Agenda item

Questions from citizens


Student Accommodation and Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs)


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


1. The December 2004 'Jubilee Campus Development Brief' created an agreed framework between the council and the University of Nottingham for the expansion of the Jubilee Campus. This included the building of a 'Student Village' at the Northern end of Triumph Road where the Player's warehouses have recently been demolished. Does the Portfolio Holder for Housing and Planning believe the University should comply with the Brief by building a student village on the site of the former warehouses to help return houses in areas like Lenton to family occupation? If so, what actions can the council take to ensure the student village progresses?


2. According to the February 2018, Arboretum, Dunkirk and Lenton, Radford and Park Area Committee meeting minutes "NCH Enterprises Ltd are intending to buy and build homes for market rent under the name ‘LiviNG’ which will provide well-managed and well maintained properties for citizens as an alternative to some disreputable and private landlords." Does the PH for Housing and Planning believe the issue of high concentration of HMOs could be resolved by asking NCH to buy targeted houses in areas which suffer from the strains of too many HMOs and return them to family use?


3. Does the Portfolio Holder for Housing and Planning believe the University of Nottingham should buy HMOs in the area affected by high concentration of students to return them to family use for mature students or for use by visiting academics?


Councillor Jane Urquhart replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor, and thank you to the questioner for bringing the question. As it is in three parts, as the Chief Executive explained, I’m going to reply in those three sections. So in terms of part one: The Jubilee Campus Development Brief, as the question says, was adopted in December 2004, so quite some number of years ago now, almost 15 years old. It is therefore in planning policy terms very dated, and so the weight that could be applied to it in any planning decisions is quite limited. However, the site of the former bonded warehouses is safeguarded in the Local Plan for the expansion of the Jubilee Campus, and those policies say that permission will be granted for Higher Education, Research & Development, Information & Communication Technology facilities, and ancillary uses such as accommodation and catering facilities for staff or students. So there is some potential for the suggestion that the questioner makes.


The University has not yet shared their development proposals for the site of those former bonded warehouses but I would certainly encourage them to do so at the earliest opportunity and to work with us to meet the wholesale needs of the city and the communities in which the University is situated.


I think that the use of the site for a well-designed student village could provide much needed purpose built accommodation and could assist with our existing efforts to achieve balanced and sustainable communities in more traditional housing areas. And so therefore I would very much welcome closer joint working with the University of Nottingham to develop this kind of scheme and to focus more on helping return HMO houses in areas of high student concentration to family use.


On to part two of the question. The questioner is right that NCH Enterprises Ltd are looking to build and purchase properties for market rent in order to create a high quality, well-managed private rented offer within the City. For NCH Enterprises Ltd this is part of an overall strategy from the Council to help raise the quality of housing provision across all sectors and to expand the choice of quality homes available to the increasing number of Nottingham people who need to rely on the private rented sector to meet their housing needs.


So, applying a purchasing strategy in areas of high concentration, such as LiviNG is seeking to do, is right, and it does have the additional benefit of helping redress the balance in a particular area and so it is a useful tool towards meeting the aims of a rebalanced community. Of course though, NCH Enterprises Ltd need to ensure that any particular purchases are within their own viability and value for money parameters and are within available budgets. So therefore purchase decisions are taken on a case by case basis, and properties are very carefully selected. This means that that project is one possible tool in tackling excessive concentrations of poor quality HMOs, rather than the only tool that balances specific neighbourhoods.


And of course, we at Nottingham Labour and in this Council have actively employed a whole range of strategies to seek to mitigate the impact of over concentration of HMOs, and those include the Article 4 Directions requiring planning permission for conversion to HMO status, the Regulation 7 restrictions on the display of letting boards, the Additional Licencing Scheme that we’ve introduced and that we are seeking at the moment to come to the end of the period of decision making as to whether we should renew that Additional Licensing, and of course the encouragement through our existing planning policy of purpose built accommodation for students.


So in terms of part three of the question. Yes, I agree that this is an excellent idea. Our policies to try to achieve balanced and sustainable communities in our traditional housing areas definitely require a joint effort and the direct purchase of HMOs in this way would have significant benefits in terms of restoring mix to neighbourhoods. So as a key stakeholder to many of the areas affected by HMO concentration, I would welcome ideas from and collaboration with the Universities about direct interventions of this kind that they could make, particularly interventions which could meet multiple aims.


Loan facility to Robin Hood Energy


WS asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Energy and Environment:


As recorded in minutes of Full Council, Councillor Chapman stated that the “Executive Board on 17 March agreed a loan facility of UP TO £11,000,000 for Robin Hood Energy, to fund the set up and early running costs.” He further stated that in addition to interest on commercial terms, the loan “would mean repayments of £407,000 in 2016/17, and £1,630,000 per annum in subsequent years.”


As the accounts of both Robin Hood Energy and the City Council show that instead of the schedule of repayments, the amount owed to the City by RHE has in fact increased to over £20,000,000.


Would the relevant Portfolio Holder please state what action has been taken or is proposed to remedy this clear failure to meet its publicly stated objectives?


Councillor Graham Chapman opted to answer the question. He replied as follows:


Thank you. Robin Hood Energy is a rapidly expanding business. Expanding businesses have changing needs, especially in the energy market, which is extremely fluid. So the situation for Robin Hood Energy has been fluid, and the expectation that everything will remain the same, as it was at a particular report several months ago is unrealistic.


The current position is that there was a loan facility of £11,000,000 taken out on 17 March 2015 for the setup costs. This was subsequently supported by a further £4,000,000, bringing it up to £15,000,000 initially. This has since been converted into a £7,500,000 loan and £7,500,000 shares owned by Nottingham City Council.


Moreover, there was a delegated decision in July 2017 to create a £5,000,000 hedging loan capacity. Now that is a capacity, it may or may not be drawn down, but hedging is absolutely necessary in the energy market in order to stabilise the purchasing power against fluctuations in the oil cost, particularly with regard to the dollar. And we know that recently the dollar has increased in value, and therefore the more we can give them a hedging facility, the more stable it will be.


The consequence is that loan one is scheduled for repayment on 31 March 2027. It is being charged at interest of 11%, which at the time was a reflection of the risk of Robin Hood Energy. The more recent loan which is due by 31 December 2024 is at a lower rate of 7.56%, which again reflects the risk, but I would please note that it is a reducing risk which means that the company is stabilising. The interest is charged quarterly, and the first principle repayment of the loan is due by the end of this month. Thank you.


Temporary accommodation of families at the Stage Hotel


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


Nottingham City Council recently closed the Stage Hotel, reportedly for serious criminal incidents – including child sexual exploitation – that date back to November 2015. Before its closure, the hotel was used as temporary accommodation for homeless families and individuals. This accommodation was clearly unsafe and inadequate. Children have been placed in extreme danger.


Who is responsible for sending mothers and children to the Stage Hotel over the past three years? How was this possible under the Children Act 1989? Who will be held responsible for these actions?


Councillor Jane Urquhart replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor, and thank you to the member of the public who raised this important question. Prior to 2015, Nottingham City Council did not use bed and breakfast at all to provide temporary accommodation for homeless households in the City. However, since 2015 a national crisis of homelessness has put significant pressure on accommodation, both in Nottingham and throughout the country.


When concerns were raised about the Stage Hotel, the City Council led multi-agency meetings to address these issues, and closely monitored performance and standards at the property. Children’s Services did not use the hotel from 2015 at all. However, during the period of time where conditions and standards had seemed to improve, other services did continue to use the hotel. Once further concerns were identified the Council stopped all use of the hotel. The responsibility for ensuring temporary accommodation for homelessness has recently moved within the Council to the Children’s Services department. This move will provide further protection to ensure that when families need to be placed in temporary accommodation the children are properly safeguarded.


Homelessness is an issue which Nottingham takes incredibly seriously, and one which frankly we’re appalled by. I share a sense of outrage that in our city, people should have to be accommodated in unsuitable bed and breakfast accommodation. Councils up and down the country are working hard to deal with increasing levels of homelessness, and in Nottingham we are working hard too. We are not alone in using temporary accommodation for households who present with nowhere to stay, but it remains an unacceptable form of accommodation. The use of temporary accommodation such as bed and breakfasts is never a good solution, either for the individuals or families housed, or for the councils making those difficult decisions. That’s why in January this year, we stood in this chamber and shared our commitment to not use bed and breakfasts by the end of the year, and we continue to be committed to achieving this aim.


Expansion of Nottingham City boundaries


AM asked the following question of the Leader:


Nottingham is not taken seriously on the national or international scene and is often overshadowed by other core cities such as Birmingham, Leeds and even Leicester.


The city was recently ignored by Channel 4 and the East Midlands Airport is not as influential or popular as other airports and all this is because the Nottingham city boundary is too small with a population just over 300,000 making it below average for a city in the UK.


Couldn't Nottingham do what other cities are doing and change their boundaries to include those areas that rely on the direct Healthcare that Nottingham does provide for them by taking Rushcliffe, Broxtowe, Gedling and Hucknall to be a part of the City, as those residents enjoy the events and parks that Nottingham has, they will go to QMC for emergency treatment and seek education and policing help from the Nottingham City. If Nottingham did that then the popularity will spread across the UK, and with a post-Brexit looking more and more depressing for the cities of the UK, this move would ensure that Nottingham could not only survive but prosper if they were united with the other boroughs rather than seek it alone with Leicester, Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham becoming more increasingly popular?


Councillor Jon Collins replied as follows:


Thank you Lord Mayor, and can I thank whoever is responsible for the question for submitting it. Whilst I think the case may be overstated, I think the questioner is correct in suggesting that Nottingham is an under-bounded city, and faces challenges as a result. The City can be described as under-bounded because while the population covered by the Council is around 320,000 the population of the built up area that people would normally recognise as being Nottingham is closer to 550,000. However, let’s be clear that despite being under-bounded, Nottingham is taken seriously regionally and nationally as a City and is increasingly popular, not just with families and individuals looking to relocate but with inward investors too.


For example, Nottingham has the sixth fastest growing population of any local authority area within the Country, our universities are amongst the most popular nationally and this year we are on track to land 1,000 new jobs through inward investment. Nottingham is also recognised as having a strong voice: in the LEP, through Midland Connect on transport issues, through the Midland Engine on Regional Economic Development issues, and nationally through Core Cities, a grouping of the 10 largest UK cities of which I am vice-chair.


Furthermore, there is also no automatic or direct correlation between Council size and influence. For example, Manchester City Council is probably more under-bounded than Nottingham but might be considered more successful than say Birmingham which is the largest local authority in the Country administering an area that more accurately reflects its boundaries. Where Manchester succeeds however, despite being an under-bounded authority, is in its ability to work closely with its neighbouring authorities. The authorities that make up the conurbation of Manchester have over the last 20 years worked closely together to promote and develop the City. Recently this has been formalized through the creation of a Combined Authority and subsequently a mayoral devolution deal which while short on formal powers has significantly raised the profile and influence of Manchester. Other Core Cities including Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol and Sheffield have followed suit and while the balance of benefits and disbenefits of such deals has varied, there is a growing recognition that conurbations of sub-regional co-operation is actually important for the success of cities.


So where is Nottingham in all of this? Well members might recall our attempts 3 years ago to lead the development of a Combined Authority and to negotiate a devolution deal. We came very close but ultimately the deal was undermined by government’s attempts to dictate boundaries for party political benefit, by two Conservative controlled district councils, and by a number of local MPs. It’s also true that other under-bounded Core Cities benefit from being surrounded by all-purpose unitary authorities and not, as in Nottingham’s case, two tier County and District Councils. This makes sub-regional discussions easier and it’s interesting to note that despite many attempts, the combined authority and mayoral devolution deals that have been negotiated have almost all been for areas covered by unitary authorities.


So having failed to secure sub-regional arrangements similar to other Core Cities, Nottingham has sought to develop the Derby Nottingham Metro as an alternative, building on the complimentary nature of the two City economies and our shared agenda around infrastructure and regeneration. Through the Metro we have been able to engage closely with the private sector, our local universities and with District Councils that want to develop this kind of collaborative working and increasingly its having an impact regionally and nationally. Of course we have some way to go. The challenge for the East Midlands has always been a lack of identity and a diversity of local authority interests that makes it easy for government to overlook the needs and concerns of this part of the country. The decision to dismantle the Regional Development Agency eight years ago compounded that problem and it’s no accident that the region sits at the bottom of most league tables when it comes to government resource allocation.


So fundamentally I believe the answer to the question about how to secure greater influence and recognition for Nottingham is more about working more closely with our neighbours and developing a single simple and settled set of asks from government than about changing the Council Boundaries. For example, we need to be clear about our asks for Toton and the HS2 hub station, for the infrastructure investment needed to fully exploit the economic potential of what should still be called Nottingham East Midlands Airport, for the electrification of the Midland Mainline, for the rail and road interchanges around Newark which for Nottingham would mean easier access to the A1M and the East Coast mainline.


What I’m not saying however is that expanding the City Council boundaries is unimportant. However, our experience in 1998 when Nottingham went from being a District to a Unitary Council tells us that the process is all-consuming, expensive and likely to distract from the real issues that our electorate want us to address. In many ways the debate about boundaries is an exercise in “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic” as local government as a whole sinks under a toxic cocktail of increasing demand and responsibilities, matched with dramatically less funding and fewer powers. Nevertheless, we do know that Nottinghamshire County Council has decided to argue for local government re-organisation and consequently we will need to be a part of that debate too. If the County puts proposals to Ministers for unitary local government outside the City, we will respond with our own views of where Nottingham’s council boundaries should be so that they better reflect the reality of our urban area. In reality we believe those boundaries should include many of the areas mentioned in the question. For example, any neutral observer would take the view that Arnold, Carlton, Beeston, Hucknall, West Bridgford and Stapleford, to name but a few, are all in reality a part of Nottingham and our proposals would seek to reflect that. And as the County develops their business case for the options they wish to put to Government, I can assure Council that similar effort and resources are being put into developing our case for change too.


Lord Mayor, Nottingham is a growing, successful and increasingly influential city and we shouldn’t lose sight of that. Indeed there are plenty of examples where in other cities and in response to the same debate about growth, size and influence, Nottingham has in fact been cited as an example of a city that punches above its weight. However there is more to do. While we’re trying to do that we must continue to be a well-run city, a city that gets basic services right, a city that is good to live and work in, a city that is easy to get around, and a city that understands what being a big city is actually all about and behaves accordingly. But we must also look to how we can continue to develop and grow. Changing our boundaries could be a part of that but I’m afraid it’s not the simple single solution the question seems to suggest it might be.

Supporting documents: