Housing issues dominate cabinet meeting

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Business, Community, Council tax, Democracy, Housing, Local business, Local plan / planning our future, Media, Meetings, Our countryside, Out and about, Parking, Planning, Residents, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your money

Housing issues and council tax were on the agenda at cabinet on 2 December 2013.

Lower population growth estimates

Lower levels of housing growth than previously predicted were reported as a ‘good news story’ after a new Epping Forest District Council commissioned report updated earlier government projections. The report endorsed at Cabinet on 2 December suggests the population might grow by 6,000 fewer than previous studies. With less pressure on population growth, the report suggests the Council will need to plan for fewer new houses in the lifetime of the new Local Plan up to 2033.

The population of the district is still predicted to grow by nearly 23,000 people between 2011 and 2033.

Councillor Richard Bassett, Planning Portfolio Holder has welcomed the new study. Speaking before the meeting, he said: “We still need new homes for a growing population. Even if no new families moved into the district, the fact that we are generally living longer and in smaller households means we would need more homes. After preparing an objective forecast for population growth as required by the Government, I am pleased to see our new forecast still comes out significantly lower than the earlier projections produced before the 2011 census.”

The study will be used by the council as evidence in the preparation of the new Local Plan for consideration at an ‘Examination in Public’ by a Government-appointed Inspector.

Councillor Bassett also gave a clear ‘health warning’ when asking cabinet to endorse the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) which looks at other issues such as housing market trends and affordability. Councillor Bassett reported that as a joint report produced for other councils it was already in the public domain, but he added that the SHMA was based on older population data and would require further updates before presentation as final evidence in support of the Local Plan.

Residents are to be consulted next year. ‘Preferred Options’, the next stage in the Local Plan public consultation process, takes place in 2014.

Council Tax held

Cabinet agreed to recommend that council tax for the district council be frozen again in 2014/15. It is now almost 4 years since the last increase which has remained at £148.77 for a Band D property since 2010. The final decision on council tax and budgets for 2014/15 will be made at full council in February.

Local Council Tax Support Scheme

Cabinet agreed to recommend the continuation of the Local Council Tax Scheme in its current form after consultation with residents brought forward very few responses. The decision will be referred to full council for approval.

Car park site sale for housing

A decision to hold on to Church Hill Car Park, Loughton until an upturn in the economy and property values has been vindicated. Cabinet approved the sale of the site which previously had planning permission for eight 1 bed and two 2 bed flats to Constable Homes Ltd for £858,000.

Councillors also supported a bid of £160,000 for specialist consultants to assist the council with further strategic decisions and practical steps on the future use, sale and development opportunities of its property portfolio.

Receipts from the sale of Church Hill Car Park will be invested in further services for residents.

 

National empty homes week

Written on . Posted in Business, Housing, Housing repairs, Local business, Media, Private housing, Supporting business, Your area, Your council, Your home, Your money

Empty homeThis week is National Empty Homes Week

New research from Halifax and the Empty Homes Agency shows how strongly the public feel about empty homes. They want the government and local authorities to do more about them.

There is  no sound economic reason for an owner to leave a property empty.  An empty property can cost up to  £10,000 in maintenance, it can increase your Council Tax payments by 50% and your insurance premiums can increase. What’s more, you could be missing out on valuable rental income.

It’s in everyone’s interest to reduce the number of empty properties

To the owner – A property left empty is a wasted resource and can be costly in terms of increased insurance, increased council tax, emergency repairs, vandalism and arson.

To the neighbours – It is estimated that the home next door to an empty property can be devalued by  about 10%. There is also the worry of nuisance, vermin, arson, vandalism and anti social behaviour.

To the community – There are currently approximately 380 properties that have been empty for more than 6 months in the District. Empty properties provide valuable homes for local people; they reduce the demand for building on the Green Belt, and for every property brought back to use the Council receives a financial reward known as the New Homes Bonus. This can be included in the budget for providing services to residents of the district.

This Council is committed to reducing the number of empty properties on the district, and in some cases we can offer financial help. Bringing an empty property back into use can be difficult if it’s in a poor state of repair and cannot be lived in, let or easily sold. To help the owners we can offer:

  • Empty Homes Repayable Assistance, which offers up to £10,000 if there is an empty property in poor condition that you would like to live in yourself. The money is repaid when you eventually sell the property.
  • The PLACE Loan, which offers up to £25,000 to renovate a property in order to sell it or rent it out. This is an interest free loan and is paid back within 2 years if you sell, or 5 years if you let the property.

Tell us about an empty property

Report an empty home online

Give us the address, and any other information you may have, and we will do our best to contact the owner. We will work with the owner to bring the property back to use. All calls are treated in confidence.

More information?

For further information and advice or to report an empty property, please contact the Private Sector Housing Team

 

 

Entrance improvements going well

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Council tax, Media, Residents, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your money

Work on the new public entrances at the civic offices of Epping Forest District Council is progressing well and on time. Work should be completed by the end of October.

The reception area side entrance has been replaced and work will be starting on the cash and benefits side entrance next week.

We would like to thank visitors to the civic offices for their patience and understanding and give our residents a sneak preview at the new entrance.

Photos

View photos in a slideshow by clicking on a picture and then click start slideshow.

Council pays tribute to former councillors

Written on . Posted in Chairman, Councillors, Democracy, Elections, Health, Housing, Jobs, Leader, Media, Private housing, Residents, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your home, Your money

Tributes to former councillors, new housing and the Citizens Advice Bureau were on the agenda of Council on Thursday 26 September 2013.

 

Councillors met for the first full meeting of Epping Forest District Council since the death of Councillor Colin Finn. Members showed their respect to Councillor Finn and former Councillor Derek Cousins who also passed away recently by observing a minute’s silence.

Warm tributes were paid to Councillor Finn who represented the residents of Loughton as a county and district councillor. Councillor Mary Sartin, Chairman of Epping Forest District Council led the tributes with Councillor Ken Angold-Stephens and others for a warm, polite and dedicated public servant.

Councillor Anne Grigg also spoke with warmth and affection of former North Weald Councillor Derek Cousins who served as a parish and district councillor until illness intervened.

Chairman Mary Sartin

£800 has been raised by Councillor Mary Sartin for her chairman’s charities with help from councillors and others who attended a garden tea party at her home beside the River Stort in August.

Councillor Sartin spoke with pride of the recent awards for the former Bobbingworth tip which has now received several awards for its transformation into a haven of peace and tranquillity for wildlife and local people. Councillor Sartin also drew attention to the opening of the environmentally friendly Straw Bale Houses at High Ongar which proved their weather proofing in pouring rain, for which more information is available in the chairman’s blog.

Leader Chris Whitbread

Councillor Chris Whitbread reported to councillors on a busy summer in which he has been working with colleagues from across Essex on joint projects and strategies to build economic investment. As a former pupil of St John’s School he was very pleased to attend the opening of the new secondary school in Epping and very impressed by the young people he met. Finally he drew attention to the council’s own steps to recruit young people into its new apprenticeship scheme.

Housing

Housing Portfolio Holder Councillor David Stallan responded to a question from Councillor Stephen Murray by saying he was proud of the council’s steps to restart council house building even though the current plans would not replace the many houses sold under the ‘Right to Buy’ over many years.

Citizens Advice Bureau

Councillor Chris Whitbread (Leader of Council) recommended that members with concerns about the future provision of the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) attend a presentation and debate at the next meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Councillor Stephen Murray asked how the council might respond to plans for a centralised CAB service with outreach to the south of the district. Councillor Whitbread noted that Epping Forest District Council provided over £100,000 in funding for the CAB annually and was very aware of the important role it plays supporting local residents.

Health

Councillors across the chamber supported a motion calling on the health authorities to explain the critical reports on Whipps Cross Hospital used by many residents in the south of Epping Forest District. Concerns were also expressed about the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Romford. Representatives of the health authorities will be called before Overview and Scrutiny to account for the failures in care and the measures to rectify the situation.

Accounts

Councillor Antony Watts submitted the Annual Statutory Statement of Accounts 2012/13 for approval. He was pleased to announce that the auditors were happy with the accounts and the council remains a sound financial concern. No significant adjustments or weaknesses were identified and the unqualified reports approving the accounts and the value for money provided by the council will be issued shortly.

Finance Portfolio Holder Councillor Syd Stavrou thanked Councillor Watts and the members of the Audit and Governance Committee along with the external auditors and the council’s finance staff for the production of the accounts. She noted that the value of the council’s assets had increased significantly and the outturn on the general fund was almost half a million pounds better than originally anticipated.

However, she also warned of on-going government consultations that could lead to significant cuts in future funding in 2014/15 and 2015/16. She said that difficult decisions would need to be taken going forward in order to protect the council’s financial position.

Elections

Council noted the date of the 2014 local elections has been changed by Parliament to coincide with the European Parliamentary elections on 22 May. Epping Forest District Council has postponed the date of the Annual Council meeting from 20 May to 10 June accordingly.

 

Better access to council offices

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Community, Council tax, Councillors, Epping, Media, Residents, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your money

Public entrances at the civic offices of Epping Forest District Council are to be replaced and improved during September and October.

2 sets of original doors, installed when the Epping High Street offices opened 25 years ago are to be replaced by more accessible sliding doors. Access to the main reception will still be available from the council’s front entrance during the replacement works.

Visitors to the cashiers and finance reception area will be asked to use a temporary entrance via steps signposted from the High Street next to the Elachi restaurant and takeaway. The temporary arrangements therefore include payments, Benefits and Council Tax advice for anyone with mobility restrictions at the main council reception too.

Improvements are also taking place to the cash desk and Finance reception area. The £35,000 works are planned in 2 phases. Work on the main reception starts on Friday 27 September. Works to the Finance area follows on from 11 October with everything completed by the end of the month.

Councillor Anne Grigg Asset Management Portfolio Holder said: “Over the course of their life-time the old doors probably opened many thousands if not millions of times and are worn out. The new doors will be much more accessible, especially for people using wheelchairs. The internal works to the finance reception area should also improve the environment for people coming to pay their bills or talk about their council tax or benefits. We will do all we can to minimise disruption during the improvements but also apologise in advance for any temporary inconvenience these unavoidable works might cause.”

 

Council services disrupted

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Building control, Business, Business rates, Council tax, Crime and safety, Emergencies, Environmental health, Housing, Housing repairs, Leader, Local land charges, Media, Meetings, Planning, Residents, Supporting business, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your money

The council headquarters in Epping High Street are working with reduced electrical power and some offices are unavailable to staff after a water pipe burst over the weekend.

Finance including, council tax, and housing benefits are among services affected.

The subsequent power shutdown also took the council website offline on Sunday. Some staff are making temporary arrangements to work in different parts of the building or at alternative locations while others have been asked to stay at home.

The Council activated its business continuity plan on Sunday morning. The supply to a water cooler in the planning area on the top floor of the 1960s part of the civic offices had burst. A large amount of water caused damage in the planning department and offices directly beneath it occupied by support services and finance. Damage to electrical cables temporarily cut the power supply to the whole building but supplies to the more recently constructed areas of the office were re-established on Sunday afternoon.

Temporary power supplies were installed to the telephone switchboard and cash office ensuring these essential services would be available on Monday morning. IT systems were brought back online during the course of Sunday afternoon and evening. The website was also back online by 9am on Monday.

Visitors to the civic offices are being warned of potential delays or disruption while further emergency repairs are carried out. Other services affected include legal, estates and valuation, land charges, accountancy, all areas of planning, building control and economic development, and the council’s internal printshop. However, services located in the newer part of the offices including housing, environmental health, safer communities, and the contact centre for refuse and recycling are largely unaffected.

Some staff usually based in the affected areas will be offering services from temporary accommodation in other parts of the building.

The meeting of the cabinet scheduled to take place in the council chamber at 7pm on Monday evening is expected to go ahead and will be webcast as normal.

Councillor Chris Whitbread Leader of Epping Forest District Council said:

Councillor Chris Whitbread, Leader of Epping Forest District Council

Councillor Chris Whitbread, Leader of Epping Forest District Council

“This is the kind of event that can hit any organisation. We have good business continuity plans in place and actually practised for a similar scenario only a year or two ago. It meant we had anticipated many of the potential issues and were able to respond very quickly despite the significant disruption.

We will have the insurance assessors in and there will no doubt be quite a few repairs but I am confident we will be back to normal very soon.

In the meantime, I would like to thank all those members of staff who worked throughout Sunday to make sure we could open on Monday, apologise for any inconvenience to our residents and ask everyone to bear with us while we do everything necessary to get all our services back up to speed.”

 

Full Council 23 April 2013

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Business, Community, Consultation, Councillors, Democracy, Licensing, Local business, Local plan / planning our future, Meetings, Our attractions, Out and about, Parking, Recycling and waste, Regulations, Residents, Supporting business, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your environment, Your home, Your money

Welfare reforms, broadband access, recycling and the Local Plan were discussed at Full Council on 23 April, the last meeting before the local elections on 2 May.

Short stay parking to support high street

100 or more Epping car parking spaces are to be re-designated short stay. The 3 hour maximum stay in these spaces will free up parking for shoppers visiting local high street businesses.

The pay and display parking changes are being made after a council survey linked the increased London Underground Limited (LUL) parking charges to displacement of commuters to cheaper council car parks. Councillors heard that this caused an unacceptable reduction in parking availability for shoppers and a reduction in business for high street shops. Local councillors are to be consulted on the changes.

Councillors remembered

Councillors remembered 2 former members of Epping Forest District Council. Ian Beattie served the residents of Buckhurst Hill and Buckhurst Hill West for 21 years from 1974 until 1995. One of the longest serving and most senior councillors, he was also Chairman of Council in 1980/81. Councillors also paid tribute to former councillor Joan Ormston who served as a member for the Debden Green Ward from 1990 to 1994.

Other items

Key Objectives in the Corporate Plan were agreed by councillors. Among other issues debated at Full Council were welfare reforms, broadband access, town centre partnerships, recycling, pay policy, licensing and the Local Plan. There was very good news following a council bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for money to expand Epping Forest District Council’s museum in Waltham Abbey.

Watch the Full Council meeting

Essential Living Fund and changes to the social fund

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Buckhurst Hill, Chigwell, Community, Council tax, Epping, Loughton, Older people, Ongar, Residents, Waltham Abbey, Young people, Your area, Your community, Your home, Your money

The Essential Living Fund or ELF is a new scheme for awarding emergency grants and loans for vulnerable groups.

Launched on 1 April 2013, it replaces 2 parts of the social fund from The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)

  1. Crisis Loans
  2. Community Care Grants

Essex County Council is responsible for the Essential Living Fund in Essex with individual applications being administered by Southend On Sea Borough Council.

What is the ELF?

The Essential Living Fund is operated as a grant system (and not as a loan as the crisis loans), and if awarded, it will be paid by goods or vouchers.

It can provide you with essential items in an emergency such as

  • Furniture and furnishings
  • White goods
  • Household equipment
  • Fuel connection or re-connection charges
  • Clothing and footwear
  • General living expenses

Who can get the ELF?

To be considered for support you must be

  • Aged 16 or over
  • In receipt of state benefits or on a low income
  • Permanently live in Essex

How to apply for the ELF

To apply for general living expenses (such as groceries, nappies, toiletries, hygiene products and fuel), phone the ELF team on 0300 7900124 between 8.45am and 5.15pm (this number is charged at local rates from any number including mobiles).

To apply for furniture / white goods / clothing and footwear / household equipment use the online application form.

You will be asked questions about your income, earnings and savings. You will also be required to provide proof of your financial situation.

Is your club up to date on tax laws?

Written on . Posted in Business, Business rates, Commercial properties, Community, Grants, Local business, Our activities, Out and about, Regulations, Residents, Sports, Supporting business, Your area, Your community, Your money

 

With all the talk in the media of obesity in adults and the push for an Olympic legacy this is a golden time for sports in our country as we drive to get more people active.

Wheelchair basketball - image supplied courtesy of Sport England www.sportengland.org

Clubs and organisations also need to offer a professional service that is business like and can cope with the ever changing financial climate. However, this can be difficult as we often run clubs as volunteers through our passion for our chosen sport or because we wish to give something back to the community we live in. This means that we often have no formal training in the ‘off the pitch stuff’ that can make or break even the most successful club (finance, marketing, book-keeping).

Unfortunately for some clubs a lack of expertise in this vital part of club management has been a costly wake up call and there have been reports of clubs receiving fines of up to £100,000 in unpaid taxes and penalties. Additionally, it may not be widely known that if your club is formed by a committee and not limited by a guarantee, the committee members can end up being personally liable for any tax debt the club incurs. 

So, with all this in mind, Epping Forest District Council in partnership with GB Sport will be running two interactive training courses to help clubs understand the tax environment and correct their procedures to fall in line with HMRC guidance (none costing more than £20). There is also an additional course on marketing to help clubs take advantage of the growing social media sector to develop their presence in the local community.

Business essentials for clubs

On 23 May at North Weald Golf Club from 6.30pm to 9.30pm. The course will cover

  • Legal status – detailing the definitions and requirements for the various ways coaches/workers can be paid
  • Self employment – outline the strict HMRC self employment guidelines, that if not satisfied can result in a hefty tax bill
  • Employment – review of the various types of employment for those involved in sport
  • Contracts –  sample contracts for self employment will be given and ideal working arrangements for coaches and clubs will be discussed
  • Insurance – we review insurance options to minimise risks to both clubs and coaches

Book-keeping essentials

 On 20 June at North Weald Golf Club from 6.30pm to 9.30pm. The course will cover

  • Book-keeping – How best to meet the HMRC requirements to ensure you are prepared for a tax inspection
  • Allowable expenses – the types of expenses that can/can’t be claimed by clubs and coaches
  • Invoicing and debt management – What to include in an invoice, how to avoid bad debt and options for debt recovery
  • V.A.T –  The rules and regulations for a sports coaching business, linked to turnover, legal status. A review of the VAT issues for non profit-making organisations such as clubs and associations, particularly focusing on what is and isn’t exempt from VAT

Marketing essentials

On 13 June at North Weald Golf Club from 6.30pm to 9.30pm. The course will cover

  • Branding – how to build and develop your club’s/organisation’s brand
  • Planning – how to put together a business and marketing plan
  • First impressions – why they count and how your organisation can make a good one
  • Social media – how to use facebook and twitter to improve your organisation’s profile and increase profit
  • Good practice – case studies of what other clubs have done and how it has helped them

The address for North Weald Golf Club is Rayley Lane, North Weald, Essex CM16 6AR.

If you would like more information on any of these workshops or would like to book a place on any of them, please contact Fabrizio on 01992 564567 or email fferrari@eppingforestdc.gov.uk.

Shared Ownership Week

Written on . Posted in Buckhurst Hill, Chigwell, Epping, Housing, Loughton, Ongar, Private housing, Residents, Waltham Abbey, Your area, Your home, Your money

Shared Ownership Week aims to highlight the need for shared ownership (part buy, part rent) within today’s housing market. It could be an ideal solution for would-be first-time buyers who are increasingly frustrated by high house prices and deposit requirements.

Housing associations and councils are teaming up with the National Housing Federation for Shared Ownership Week from 18 to 24 March 2013 – to show the positive effects shared ownership can have on local economies and communities. Epping Forest District Council works in partnership with housing associations to develop shared ownership in the local area.

Shared ownership offers the most affordable route into home ownership, meeting families’ aspirations and allowing them to live and work in areas they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Normally the homes are newly built and available for sale on a ‘part buy and part rent’ basis through housing associations. You can buy shares worth between 25% and 75% of the property’s market value, then pay a subsidised rent on the remaining share. You may need to raise a mortgage to purchase your share. But if you have enough money for a deposit, or equity from the sale of a property, this can also be used towards purchasing your share. Second-hand shared ownership properties are also available from existing owners and these are called resales.

An innovative scheme called “Open Market Shared Ownership” (OMSO) was launched last year by the  Council, in partnership with B3 Living. OMSO offers a lower cost alternative to other types of shared ownership. Buying a 50% share and paying a subsidised rent on the remaining share, can cost you a third less than if you bought the property outright. The deposit is lower too.  For an affordable way to own your own home, give the Home Ownership Team at B3Living a call on 01992 453700.

On 1st March a new development of 119 houses was officially opened at Gilwell Hill, Waltham Abbey – including 95 affordable homes. The Council worked closely with Genesis Housing Association to provide 38 two bedroom shared ownership houses on the ‘Abbey Meadows’ site, which have all been sold. There are 57 affordable rented homes as well. All applicants must be registered on the Epping Forest Housing Register.

Contact HomeBuy if you are looking for shared ownership homes, or resales.  HomeBuy options is the single website for the South East of England and is operated by Moat. You will find details of homes available to buy or rent in Essex – through affordable home ownership schemes – in the area you live or work.