To allow the Panel to question the Portfolio Holder on the reasons for proceeding with the decision, in view of the issues raised during pre-decision scrutiny (report of the Executive Manager Governance (Deputy Monitoring Officer) enclosed.
(Please note that Appendix B to this report is not for publication by virtue of Paragraph 2 (Information which is likely to reveal the identity of an individual) and Paragraph 3 (Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information)) in Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972, and is therefore attached to this agenda as item 13).
Consideration was given to the report of the Executive Manager Governance, which provided members with a summary of issues relating to the recent Portfolio Holder Decision ‘Property acquisition to support the Next Steps Accommodation Programme’.
At a special meeting of the Performance Monitoring Panel held on 9 February 2021, pre-decision scrutiny had been undertaken on a decision to be made by the Portfolio Holder for Assets and Planning relating to ‘Property acquisition to support the Next Steps Accommodation Programme’. The Panel had raised a number of issues, detailed within the report, and had requested that the Portfolio Holder be notified in writing that the property in question should not be purchased, and that he should consider a more suitable property, with no chain, and that did not require so much work.
On 22 February 2021, the Portfolio Holder for Assets and Planning made his decision, as detailed within the report. Attached at Appendix A was the report that had accompanied the decision, and this included a summary of the comments from the Performance Monitoring Panel, together with the Portfolio Holder’s responses to each point, and an assessment of whether there was a justification for proceeding to acquire the property.
The Panel had requested that the Portfolio Holder attend this meeting to provide a fuller response to the objections raised at the meeting on 9 February 2021. The report clarified that, whilst the Panel could question the Portfolio Holder further on the matter, a final decision had been made and was in the process of implementation.
Prior to discussion, the Chairman made it clear that the purpose of the meeting was not to revisit the discussion on this item, as it had been considered at the meeting on 9 February - the Portfolio Holder had been present at that meeting and would have been aware of the strength of feeling expressed, and the overwhelming support for the recommendations. The Chairman continued that, following on from the meeting on 9 February, the Portfolio Holder had received a further report from officers - with the benefit of that report, and taking into account the comments and recommendations of members of the Panel, the Portfolio Holder had proceeded to make his decision in line with the original recommendation.
The following issues were raised:
· Members asked for clarification as to why it had been necessary to take the decision urgently, when it had been stated during the discussion at the meeting in February, and within the report, that an extension period had been requested to provide more time for the decision to be made, and that within 10 days, that extension had been agreed.
· Members stated that when criteria were set in order to deal with a matter, that the criteria should be adhered to. In addition, it was felt that there had been a good reason to wait for the extension before a decision was made, and concern was raised regarding the fact that the property added to the stock was old and that improvements could potentially be costly.
· Members stated that following the meeting of the Panel in February, when it had been resolved by 13 votes to 1 in favour of recommending that the Council was not to purchase a particular property, the Portfolio Holder for Assets and Planning had been reported in the ‘Spalding Voice’ newspaper dated 4 March 2021 as saying that he had had to make a decision as to whether what had been decided at the meeting overruled what housing and homelessness experts at SHDC had said. Members did not feel this was the case. The Panel had not stated that a third property should not be purchased, instead, that a number of considerations should be taken into account, and that a more suitable property be purchased. Concern was expressed that by over-ruling an overwhelming recommendation, the impression given was that the Council was run by Officers, not Members.
· Members were not satisfied with this response and responded that the report in the newspaper had stated that the officer recommendations had been taken into account over the decision of the thirteen members of the Panel. It was felt that this gave the impression to the public and to members that members’ views were discounted.
· Members questioned whether the Portfolio Holder had visited the location of the property.
· The Chairman reported that he had visited the location prior to the meeting and expressed concern over the dismissal of the potential parking issue. He also questioned whether the Portfolio Holder had familiarised himself with the policies within the local plan, relating to houses of this nature, and houses in multiple location.
· The Chairman responded that the property might also be used for people that had been made homeless through no fault of their own, who could own a vehicle.
· Members questioned the suitability of the property for the purpose with regard to issues around party wall considerations, the level of insulation, potential replacement of electrical systems, the windows and the adequacy of the heating, and questioned how the Portfolio Holder had satisfied himself that those concerns had been adequately covered.
· Members suggested that this type of housing could be controversial within wards and that it would be prudent to have the backing of all ward members. Members also questioned whether the views of the ward members had been taken into account following the recommendations from the Panel’s meeting in February
· Members responded that it had been clear that the ward members were not happy at the Panel meeting in February, that it was clear that they were opposed to the property in question, and suggested that the Portfolio Holder should have spoken to them following the meeting, to ensure that their views had been taken into consideration.
· Members suggested that this issue may not have been helped by the fact that pre-decision scrutiny had been undertaken.
o The Chairman clarified that he had been asked to hold the meeting at the appointed time because of the urgency of the decision. He had been assured that, had the Portfolio Holder first made his decision, and the decision had then been called in, it would have been very difficult to achieve the time frame which ended on 31 March 2021.
· Some members reported, that having looked at the report and recalling questions asked at the last meeting, there seemed to be a robust justification for proceeding.
· Members commented that the policy within the Local Plan relating to properties of this nature dealt with a number of issues other than parking. Bearing in mind the issues raised regarding parking, it would have been considered useful had the Portfolio Holder familiarised himself through the Planning Department with any other parking issues that were in the locality, especially the risk of setting a precedent.
· Members questioned why a more modern property had not been considered, particularly as the property was to be retained for thirty years. Although the report stated that many of the costs relating to the property chosen were not specifically in relation to its age, it was suggested that problems and issues were generally common in older properties, and that it would therefore have been better to purchase a newer property.
o The Portfolio Holder advised that when potential properties were being identified, consideration had to be given to the location of the property and the proximity of facilities and amenities such as doctors’ surgeries and shops. He and the other two Portfolio Holders had been presented with 29 properties to consider. If a new property had been purchased, the same costs would have been incurred in converting the property for three people to have their own separate bedroom and bathroom. Money had been saved by purchasing an older property at a lower price.
· Members responded by asking that, as members had felt that better value could have been gained from purchasing a newer property, was the Portfolio Holder satisfied that all aspects of purchasing a newer property been considered?
o The Portfolio Holder replied that he was satisfied that this was the case.
· Members still expressed concern that converting an old property would be more difficult, and fraught with problems.
· Members stated that a substantial extension was being added to the property next door to the one in question – would this have any adverse effect on the value of the house being purchased?
o The Portfolio Holder advised that he could not recall an extension on the next door property being mentioned.
· It was confirmed that the property could house men or women, and no specific decisions had yet been made on who the accommodation would be allocated to.
· Members questioned if it could be confirmed that help had been offered to search for a property and that suggestions of properties had been made with three double bedrooms (one en-suite), separate upstairs bathroom and downstairs shower room, which could have been converted, and was within five years old?
o The Portfolio Holder responded that he was aware that other properties had been suggested, but that these had not been put forward to the Portfolio Holders to make a decision on.
· Members questioned what role the Portfolio Holder saw the Performance Monitoring Panel taking in any future decisions that he had to make.
o The Portfolio Holder responded that all reports and comments would be taken into consideration, and that scrutiny was an important part of the process.
· Members questioned what the Portfolio Holder had learned from this process.
o The Portfolio Holder advised that, in his role, humane considerations had to be taken into account, alongside value for money.
· Members questioned whether the disregard of the Panel’s recommendations would have any effect on the reputation of the Authority.
o The Portfolio Holder responded that he hoped that this was not the case, and he confirmed that the scrutiny process remained important.
The Chairman thanked the Portfolio Holder for Assets and Planning for his attendance at the meeting, and for answering the Panel’s questions.
The appendix relating to this item was attached to the agenda as an exempt item however, no discussion of the exempt information was required, and the item was therefore considered in open session.
That the responses of the Portfolio Holder for Assets and Planning be noted.