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Agenda Item No

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Cabinet Meeting: 2 December, 2013

Report of the Cabinet Member for Housing, Building Maintenance and Community Safety

 

Brecon Court - Options Appraisal Update

 

Purpose of the Report

1.         To update Cabinet on the structural issues affecting the Brecon Court complex in Barry to allow the consideration of options for the future development of this site.

Recommendations

1.         That Cabinet notes the current position in respect of the options for Brecon Court, Barry.

2.         That Cabinet agree that officers commence formal consultation with Brecon Court residents on their individual housing needs and preferences

3.         That Cabinet agree that the current allocation process gives preference to residents who want to relocate to other social housing on the Homes4U register

4.         That Cabinet agrees in principle to progress the redevelopment of the Brecon Court site via another social landlord (option 3).

5.         That Cabinet agree to suspend the normal allocations to Brecon Court.

6.         That a further report be provided to Cabinet on conclusion of informal discussions with suitable alternative social landlords.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1.         To update Members on the current position.

2.         To obtain the detailed views of individual residents.

3.         To give preferential status to residents who may wish to relocate.

4.         To further progress what appears at this stage to be the most appropriate option.

5.         To reduce any future decant or relocation demands.

6.         To allow Cabinet to consider all alternative landlord options in full prior to embarking on any formal land transfer / purchase process.

Background

2.         Brecon Court in Barry is a block of 32 flats and bedsits which provides housing for older people.  The complex was constructed in 1965 on a sloping site formally occupied by allotment gardens.  It is generally a two storey building where the site slopes down to rear gardens.  At the rear of the complex, there is a washroom and storage facility for tenants.

3.         In March 2005, the Council commissioned a structural survey of the site following concerns that there were structural movement issues affecting part of the complex.  The findings concluded that structural problems exist to the north east corner consisting of horizontal and vertical cracking around the end of link flat (at number 15).  There is also an issue with the first floor walkway to the rear of the block. As a result of the report a contract to undertake the repairs was commissioned.

4.         In 2006, repairs to the drainage system and structural underpinning works were undertaken.  However, cracking to the main structure continued after this work was completed. There was evidence of continued settlement in certain parts of the main structure of the building indicating that the foundations are not working as effectively as they should.  There were further complications with the drainage system continuing to settle / crack.  The resultant water seepage increased moisture content of the soil and softened the ground bearing strata below the installed underpinning.

5.         The structural surveys carried out in 2011 again identified significant problems with the main structure and concrete walkways.  Following a meeting with residents in August 2012, a report was submitted to the Housing & Public Protection Scrutiny Committee on the 10th October 2012 advising of the problems with Brecon Court and other substandard and difficult to repair properties, termed 'hard to treat' stock.

6.         The site has been monitored by the Council's Property Section.  Whilst there are problems to the foundations of the main building, which is resulting in external and internal cracking, Property Section officers have confirmed that the structure is not dangerous to residents at this time.

7.         Cabinet considered this report at its meeting of 5th November 2012 and recommended "that further work on sustainability testing and the completion of an options appraisal to include the demolition and rebuild and future accommodation type on the site of Brecon Court, Barry, with the completion of the said appraisal to be determined by Cabinet in consultation with existing tenants and local ward Members before any final decisions are made". (Cabinet Minute C1886 refers).

Relevant Issues and Options

8.         A recent inspection of the walkways resulted in a recommendation in the feasibility report to replace the walkways in three years.  This report advised that access to many of the flats is difficult with a series of lengthy ramps or steps involved.  None of the properties meet “lifetime homes†standards, “wheel chair user†standards or meet current guidelines for space and layout requirements.

9.         In view of the limited life of the Brecon Court Building before major work or demolition will be required, it is proposed that there be no new allocations at the site.  Depending on the timescale in respect to any action that may be taken this will reduce problems with decanting and / or relocation.  It is however recognised that this will have an affect on rental income dependant on turnover.

10.      The “Options Appraisal†report for Brecon Court is now complete and includes the following options:-

·           Renovation of Brecon Court to resolve the movement problems.

·           Redevelopment of the site (demolish entire site and rebuild).

·           Redevelopment of the site via another social landlord partner.

·           Do nothing.

11.      Appendix A outlines the Options Appraisal in more detail whilst Appendix B outlines the redevelopment options (as completed by the Council's Property Section on behalf of Housing Services).

Option 1 – Renovation

 

12.      The first option i.e. renovating the complex, will prove challenging. Previous repairs have not halted the continual movement and officers question whether extra piling, major excavation work and renewing the drainage system will resolve these problems.  The building was constructed without structural movement joints, and as such, it is not practical to retrospectively fit them.  The Property Section has reported that it is probable that after any additional structural works further structural movement and cracking would occur as the movement joints are not in place to properly absorb any such movement.

Option 2 – Redevelopment

 

13.      The second option that the Council could consider would include potential new schemes for the site including:

·           A sheltered scheme with either 24 or 36 dwellings.

·           Individual bungalows with 14 dwellings.

·           Studio flats with 72 dwellings.

·           Single bedroom flats with 60 dwellings

·           Two bedroom flats with 48 dwellings.

·           Or a mixture of the above.

14.      There are significant costs to the Council for each of these options.  However, any new build would be to modern standards and current space and access standards and would provide better homes for the residents.

Option 3 – Redevelopment of the Site via another Social Landlord

 

15.      The third option is similar to the option 2 but with the Council looking to an external partner to develop and manage the site.  To start to consider the viability of this, a local housing association has assessed the site and provided information on a number of possible options.  Any feasibility work undertaken by any Housing Association will need to take into account the land value and the availability of Social Housing Grant Investment.

Option 4 – Do Nothing

 

16.      Doing nothing is not an option as considerable structural works will be required to the balconies within three years in addition to drainage works.  Further, to meet the Welsh Housing Quality Standard in terms of kitchens, bathrooms etc. internal works would still be required.  Brecon Court has therefore been put to the end of the Housing Improvement Programme to allow sufficient time for the Council to take a decision on its future.

17.      Clearly whichever option is chosen, it must provide good quality housing for our residents that is both sustainable and affordable in the long term.

Resident Consultation

 

18.      It is acknowledged that residents presently living at Brecon Court will have significant concerns not only because of the uncertainly affecting their homes but also due to the fact that they will have to move out at some stage whatever option is chosen.

19.      On the 17th of September 2013 residents of Brecon Court were invited to attend a residents' meeting to receive the results of the options appraisal report detailing the structural issues and challenges associated with the building from senior officers.  The Local Members were also in attendance to answer questions.

20.      The meeting was well attended with residents, some family members, the Chair of the Brecon Court Tenants and Residents Committee and a local town Councillor.

21.      Overall it was generally felt that the meeting was constructive and had allayed in part some of the fears that the residents of the Court had, although it was also recognised that on-going dialogue with residents was absolutely necessary to reduce the impact of misinformation.  Residents raised a number of key questions during the meeting ;

·           How long will the process take?

·           Would there be compensation?

·           Would there be support for moving costs if decanting was necessary?

·           Would residents be consulted on a one on one basis?

·           Would the comments from the meeting and subsequent one to one’s with residents be built in to the plan?

·           How would security of the building be managed if residents start to be moved out?

·           When would the Council stop letting properties?

·           Would residents get preferential status as part of the allocation process?

·           Would residents have a choice of where they go and would it suit their needs? (examples included parking facilities, ability to take their pets, ground floor accommodation, disabled adaptations)

22.      Residents were advised that the answers to many of these questions could only be determined when a preferred option had been agreed.  Minutes of the meeting are attached as Appendix C.

Resident Liaison

 

23.      As part of the meeting held in September a commitment was made that a dedicated officer would work with residents to identify their concerns and answer any questions they may have.

24.      Consequently a Tenant Liaison Officer (TLO) has been appointed to address the concerns of residents at Brecon Court and to be the main contact officer for the Council on this matter.

25.      The TLO has now met with all residents on an individual basis.  The main concern voiced by residents is the affect of the move on their health particularly those more vulnerable residents.

26.      All residents have stated that they enjoy living at Brecon Court, the main reasons being that it is a safe and friendly place to live with excellent bus routes and shops within easy walking distance.

27.      Residents have some concerns with their current accommodation namely a lack of parking spaces, particularly during football match days; washing facilities are located in the basement (which are very difficult to access), and there has been some anti-social behaviour in the past including children using scooters along the top floor walkway.

28.      The consensus from residents is that they would like to remain in their homes but accept that they will have to move out at some stage as they are aware that the site is only going to deteriorate further.

29.      In addition to the above, there were a number specific comments made by residents these being:-

·           ‘Please do not drag your feet and take into consideration our ages very seriously’.

·           ‘Things need to be clarified, and then clarified again. Hard information is required such as letters etc. so that we do not forget information.  Also, the information to be provided for tenants is to be written in a manner which is in “our languageâ€.’

·           ‘Simple language reduces confusion.’

·           ‘Do not want the process after the decision to take too long, want the allocations policy to be organised before the decision is passed so it can be put in place immediately.’

·           ‘Believe that all removal costs etc. are to be paid for in full by the Council.’

·           ‘More information is needed with regards to compensation.

·           Would like to have their information packs as soon as possible.’

30.      Following the selection of the favoured option by Cabinet, future work will be undertaken with the Council's Estates and Legal Sections prior to a formal communication strategy being adopted with further residents meetings, information packs and individual decant strategies developed.

31.      Doing nothing is clearly not an option and any renovation works to the existing building carries a very high risk due to the continuing land settlement.  It is therefore proposed that option 3 be progressed further as this is the most suitable option in light of these issues and the Councils current financial position.

Compensation

 

32.      Residents were concerned about whether they would receive compensation and what level they would receive.  

33.      Tenants who are forced to permanently leave their homes through no fault of their own can claim compensation for the upset and expense caused.  The compensation available includes:

·           Home loss Payment – a statutory payment of £4,700.This is a fixed sum.

·           Disturbance allowance – no fixed sum but covers reasonable expenses associated with actual costs of the move and setting up a new home.

·           Secure Tenancy and Local Authorities Compensation for Improvement Regulations 1994 - Secure tenants of local authorities have a statutory right to compensation for certain qualifying improvements they have made to their homes when a tenancy ends.  The maximum amount payable under the regulations is £3,000 and this is calculated using a formula.

34.      If renovation is the chosen option, the Council will pay reasonable costs associated with the decant only and the compensation detailed above will not apply.

Health and Safety associated with the Balconies

 

35.      In view of the fact that there are ongoing issues with the Brecon Court building, particularly the balconies, a programme of regular inspections has been introduced.  The walkways and other structures will be monitored every three months and all essential health and safety repairs will be undertaken.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

36.      Initial indications at this stage suggest that the renovation option would cost approximately £1.2 million to complete and this cost would include the internal works for meeting the Welsh Housing Quality Standard. However, there is no guarantee that this option would be successful in overcoming the structural problems that presently exist at Brecon Court.

37.      Option 2 (new design and build) varies in cost from £2 million to £5.5 million dependent on the scheme to be developed.

38.      There is no initial outlay from the Council associated with Option 3.  However, it would mean a commitment from the Council's Social Housing Grant allocation of between £500,000 to £700,000.  The Council's current Social Housing Grant allocation is awarded over a 3 year period, as detailed below:

2013/2014 - £1,738,873

2014/2015 - £1,105,635 (indicative)

2015/2016 - £1,105,635 (indicative)

These amounts are fully committed, however RSL's can forward fund projects on the condition that the Council will prioritise future SHG allocations.  The Council will be notified of the indicative SHG allocation for 2016/2017 in the autumn of 2014.

39.      The annual rent loss to the Housing Revenue Account for the vacant site would be in the region of £115,000, although any decant process would mean the rent loss would be on a partial basis until the site was fully vacated.

40.      In addition, the removal of these 32 properties from the Council's stock portfolio would impact on the Councils Housing Business Plan by increasing the Unsupported Borrowing Requirement for meeting and maintaining the Welsh Housing Quality Standard over a 30 year period by £231,000.

41.      The “do nothing†approach will still have costs involved i.e. structural works to the balconies will be required and it is estimated that this will cost in the region of £325k. Dependant on specific requirements, the internal element to meet the Welsh Housing Quality Standard could cost up to £480k.  The building will eventually become unsafe and tenants will have to be decanted, though it is impossible to accurately say when this will be.

42.      In view of the Council's financial position and the urgency associated with this structural problem, it is proposed that option 3 be progressed as previously advised.  This will establish firm financial data for Members to compare this final cost estimate with any rebuild or repair options and will permit the rent loss implication to also be considered within any analysis.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

43.      Carbon Reduction and energy improvement of the housing stock is a primary element of the Welsh Housing Quality Standard (WHQS).  All stock should be improved to a SAP (2005) score of 65 or more to meet the standard.

44.      Sustainability testing is an integral element of the Asset Management Strategy and is undertaken prior to major planned investment.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

45.      The Council is required to ensure that its homes meet all necessary standards.  Many of the dwellings do not meet current guidelines for space and layout requirements and none of the flats meet “lifetime home†standards with poor access often with lengthy ramps.  A new build scheme would be designed to more modern standards including lifetime home standards.

46.      The Council is obliged to satisfy certain Statutory and Fiduciary duties pursuant to S123 of the Local Government Act 1972. Consideration of this requirement will be given prior to any potential Land Transfer.

47.      In addition, S25 of the Local Government Act 1988 gives power (in appropriate circumstances) in conjunction with the General Consent under S25 of the said Act, to Local Authorities to dispose of land to Registered Social Landlords.

Crime and Disorder Implications

48.      The building has been constructed with decked accesses, this has led to some anti social behaviour.  The future rebuild of Brecon Court will take into account the requirements for 'safe and secure dwellings', which are located in safe and attractive environments.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

49.      All residents will be required to move out of Brecon Court at some stage (and within three years).  As part of the Council’s “decant†strategy, current residents will have the first option to return to the Brecon Court site once the scheme has been completed.

Corporate/Service Objectives

50.      Upgrading and redeveloping Brecon Court will contribute to the Council’s corporate priority that Vale of Glamorgan residents have access to affordable, good quality and suitable housing, including housing advice and support.

Policy Framework and Budget

51.      This report is a matter for Executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

52.      The local ward Members have been consulted on the content of this report.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

53.      Corporate Resources

Background Papers

None.

 

Contact Officer

Hayley Selway, Head of Housing and Building Services

Tel. No: 02920 673 124

 

Officers Consulted

Accountant, Housing

Operational Manager, Legal Services

Operational Manager, Housing Services

Housing Services Manager

Asset and Improvement Manager

Operational Manager, Property Services

 

Responsible Officer:

Miles Punter, Director of Visible Services and Housing