Bringing Empty Homes Back Into Use

Written on . Posted in Community, Housing, Housing repairs, Residents, Your area, Your community, Your council

The Empty Homes Agency has for a long time been campaigning for more commitment from Government to deal with the issue of private empty properties. This has been recognised by the new coalition government who have signalled their intention to act on empty homes with a commitment in its coalition agreement. The idea is to also provide assistance and incentives to the owners of long term empty properties.

The District of Epping Forest has approximately 600 long term privately owned empty properties. They could provide a much needed housing resource and could  help meet a huge housing demand especially in the current market conditions.

Epping Forest District Council is working hard to try to reduce the number of empty homes in the District, and has been working in partnership with other councils to form the PLACE Scheme Partnership.  The Partnership has appointed Capital Project Consultancy (CPC) to return empty properties back into use, through financial assistance provided as a grant to the owner.  The other 7 local authorities are Chelmsford, East Herts, Uttlesford, Watford, Epping Forest,  Harlow, Hertsmere and St Albans.

PLACE (Private Lease Agreements Converting Empties) is targeted at helping owners of long term empty homes return their properties to use in the local area. The scheme offers grant funding of up to £50,000 for properties needing significant repairs and ensures that properties meet the Government`s Decent Homes Standard. Properties that sit empty for a long period of time can often fall into disrepair, which can have a detrimental effect on the local neighbourhood. Empty properties can also attract vandalism and vermin. 

Other benefits of this scheme to owners is that CPC design the works specification and manages the process.  Also, the owner has no long term ties and there is no requirement to pay back the money. In return, the Council leases the property from the owner for three years once the work has been completed and then returns the property  to them fully renovated.

People that may benefit in particular from this scheme could be someone who has inherited a property that has been empty for some time – perhaps whilst probate is being sorted out – and the property has fallen into disrepair, and the beneficiary can’t, or doesn’t want to, sell the property in the current market.

Epping Forest District Council`s Housing Portfolio Holder Councillor David Stallan said. As a Council we are fully committed to bringing empty properties back into use and are looking to help owners in every way we can. This may be through general advice and information or through financial incentives such as the PLACE Scheme and other grants where appropriate.

However, in cases where an owner is uncooperative or unwilling to consider any of the options available, the Council has enforcement powers to ensure empty properties are returned to use. Particularly where the property is causing a nuisance or is detrimental to neighbouring homes; the Council will, as a last resort, consider enforcement options such as Empty Dwelling Management Orders, Compulsory Purchase Orders or Enforced Sale as appropriate.  

Any owners of empty properties who would like to find out more about the help available should contact Paul Callaghan at Epping Forest District Council, on 01992 564706.

Customer Service Excellence Award

Written on . Posted in Councillors, Housing, Your council

Councillor Grigg took great pleasure in the presentation of the Customer Service Excellence Award to Epping Forest District Council`s own Housing Directorate.

Customer Service Excellence replaces the former Charter Mark Award, which has been held by the Housing Directorate for the past six years. To obtain the Customer Service Excellence Award, organisations must meet 57 separate assessment criteria. They must demonstrate that they: engage and consult with their customers; measure customer satisfaction with the service; provide information and easy access to services; co-operate with other providers, partners and communities; have service delivery standards; deal effectively with problems; achieve timely service delivery, and have a positive organisational culture.

Councillor David Stallan, Chairman Anne Grigg and Alan Hall, Director of Housing

Councillor David Stallan, Housing Portfolio Holder and Alan Hall, Director of Housing accepted the Award from the Chairman of Council on behalf of the Housing Service.

Councillor Anne Grigg, Chairman of Epping Forest District Council expressed delight in welcoming Canon John Brown back to the council chamber to make more awards to the Parish Councils of North Weald Bassett and Epping Upland. Canon Brown had return to the meeting of the District Council on 2 November 2010 for the award of Quality Parish Council status to North Weald and the re-accreditation of Quality Status to Epping Upland.

Val Evans, Councillor Ann Pegrum, Chairman Anne Grigg and Canon John BrownCanon John Brown, Councillor Cyril Hawkins, Chairman Anne Grigg and Sue De Luca

Receiving the awards from Canon Brown and Councillor Grigg were Councillor Ann Pegrum, Vice-Chairman of Epping Upland and Cryril Hawkins, Chairman of North Weald Parish Council with their respective parish clerks, Val Evans and Susan De Luca.

Park Home Licence Conditions Reviewed

Written on . Posted in Community, Housing, Licensing, Residents, Your community, Your home

Councillors have recommended that Government Model Standards for park homes (sometimes referred to as mobile homes) are not imposed on existing park homes where they do not currently comply.  All park home residents will now be consulted on the recommendations of the Housing Scrutiny Panel, before they go to the Cabinet of Epping Forest District Council.

Local residents braved the wet weather to listen to the debate on licensing of park home sites at Epping Forest District Council on Wednesday 8 September 2010.  Councillors of the Housing Scrutiny Panel were asked to examine potential amendments and make recommendations to the Cabinet after an earlier decision to adopt recommendations of the Government`s Model Standards 2008 met wide-spread opposition.

The Panel, chaired by Councillor Stephen Murray, looked in particular at existing hedges and fences over one metre high between park homes and combustible items such as sheds, which might enable a fire to spread. Whether to set a minimum distance between hedges and park homes was another issue. Many residents of local park homes had said the proposed new licence conditions were unnecessarily strict for existing sites. The Panel considered options to satisfy both health and safety as well as the convenience and comfort of mobile home residents.

Councillors were asked to consider the extent to which new licence conditions should be implemented and whether they should apply in part or full to existing park homes as well as any new sites in the future. Other issues included detailed porch construction and smoke alarms, domestic waste facilities and minimum distances between park homes and site boundaries.

Alan Hall, Director of Housing presented the report. He referred to the original decision of the Cabinet which was called“in and reviewed by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and the fact that the Council had received 5 petitions with around 300 signatures and accompanying letters between the Cabinet in June and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in July.

Although the original consultation with site owners and residents associations went beyond legal requirements, Mr Hall accepted that with hindsight his team would have undertaken more consultation before asking the Cabinet to make a decision, had the strength of public feeling been known earlier.

Mr Hall explained that councillors had to balance the views of the Government through the Model Standards and Fire Officers against the quality of life and concerns of residents. He added that most councils had previously adopted the earlier (1989) Model Standards, but so far few had updated to the 2008 Standards.

Councillors were also asked to consider the practicalities of enforcing new licence conditions, as well as the timescales of implementation.
Assistant Divisional Officer Stuart McMillan of Essex Fire and Rescue Service emphasised that the safety of residents was his organisation`s overriding concern and recommended to the Council to accept the Model Standards.

Councillor Murray invited the following representatives of local park home sites, and a site owner, to give their views to the Panel:

Speakers referred repeatedly to the rarity of fires on park home sites within the district over the previous 40 years. They emphasised the care taken by park home owners to protect and maintain their properties and asked whether the new 2008 Standards were proportionate. Park home owners were concerned for their privacy if the Standards were imposed in full. A site owner asked how she should enforce such conditions on her residents. Attention was drawn to the high standard of construction and materials used in modern park homes compared with older ones of a lower standard. They said many residents of park home sites are mature and experienced older people; one site has a minimum age restriction of 50 years. Officers were asked what other forms of residential dwelling had new standards that applied to existing conditions. Alan Hall gave by example the introduction of High Hedge legislation a few years ago.

Councillor David Johnson proposed that, whilst the Model Standards should be applied to both new and existing park home sites, any contraventions of the licence conditions at the time the new licences are introduced at existing sites should be allowed. The proposal was seconded by Councillor Rodney Barrett and approved by the Panel as a recommendation to the Cabinet.

Councillor Murray concluded by saying that councillors had listened to residents, considered very difficult and important issues that affect many residents` quality of life and thanked them for their help.

Mobile Home Parks Decision Reviewed

Written on . Posted in Community, Housing, Planning, Residents, Your community, Your home

After long and comprehensive debate, district councillors have referred proposed changes to the licensing conditions for mobile home parks in the District back to the Cabinet of Epping Forest District Council for another look.

More than two hundred residents came to the Civic Offices to listen to the debate. Councillor Liz Webster called on the Council`s Cabinet to reconsider its approach at the meeting of the Council`s Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Monday 12 July 2010. Many residents packed the public gallery of the council chamber. Others watched via video screens in other parts of the Civic Offices as Councillors discussed the issue.

Councillor Morgan chaired the live webcast debate

Councillor David Stallan, Housing Portfolio Holder explained the purpose in bringing forward the proposals to change licence conditions, primarily for health and safety reasons. He was supported by Assistant Divisional Officer Stuart Macmillan of Essex Fire and Rescue Service, who also attended the meeting.

Representatives of Residents` Associations for each of the district`s main mobile home parks set out their concerns about the proposals. They argued that the benefits of tighter fire safety rules were outweighed by the interests of residents with respect to their quality of life. They suggested that the proposed new licensing conditions should not be applied to existing park homes that have been in existence over many years.

Councillor Stallan acknowledged that there were wider issues affecting residents than the scope of the call-in of the Cabinet`s original decision, which only covered the consultation process and the proposed introduction of a maximum height for dividing fences and hedges of 1 metre. He suggested to members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee that, in view of the representations received since the Cabinet`s decision was made, a special meeting of the Housing Scrutiny Panel should be convened to look at the matter in greater detail. Residents applauded after Overview and Scrutiny Committee Councillors unanimously agreed not to support the original decision and recommended that the matter be referred back to the Cabinet, after the Housing Scrutiny Panel had had the opportunity to consider the issue in detail, and make its views known to the Cabinet.

Team of the Year – Sheltered Housing Scheme Managers

Written on . Posted in Civic events, Democracy, Housing, Media, Your council

The third staff award is for the Epping Forest District Council Team of the Year award for Dealing with the Public 2010 goes to the Sheltered Housing Scehme Managers.

For many people, getting older can be a daunting time. The reassurance of knowing there is someone you can call, someone you can talk to and someone who will help, can make all the difference. The winners of the third set of staff awards, Dealing with the Public, make that difference.

Chairman Penny Smith with Kath Shelton, Caroline Gleaves and Suzanne Doherty

They are a dedicated group who help to make the retirement years of many older residents the most comfortable, safe and enjoyable. Working hand in hand with another award-winning service, Epping Forest Careline, the Sheltered Housing Scheme Managers are skilled in dealing with many of life`s emergencies whether great or small. They can be called out at any time of the day or night.

But they also add immeasurably to the quality of life of our older citizens, whether organising social events, collecting prescriptions, liaising with doctors or just passing the time of day with a smile and a few kind words.

The Scheme Managers clearly love their work and care deeply for the people they support. Every day they go well beyond the call of duty or their job description.

High Commendation – Dave Stannard

Written on . Posted in Civic events, Democracy, Housing, Media, Your council

Few people are better known in Debden than Dave Stannard. The driving force behind Debden Day, a key member of Debden Town Centre Partnership and one of the most influential voices guiding Epping Forest District Council through the highly successful and recently completed Broadway Enhancement Scheme, Dave is one of the most recognisable figures within the community.

Never has Dave’s work for the Broadway been more important. As High Streets the length and breadth of the Country have struggled to survive the recession, Dave’s tireless work to build and maintain the spirit that makes the Broadway the focal point of the local community is invaluable.

Dave Stannard with Chairman Penny Smith

While his contribution to the community is enormous, the friends who nominated Dave focused most of all upon Debden Day, the annual celebration that brings the whole community together. Debden Day is a huge undertaking. Each year it has grown, becoming bigger and better. And Dave is at the heart of it, beginning to plan and prepare for the next event almost before the last one has finished.

Dave’s nomination says We know we are very lucky to have this selfless, hardworking and generous man amongst our community who definitely deserves the award of Citizen of the Year!

High Satisfaction and Low Rents for Council Tenants

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Community, Housing, Older people, Residents, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your home, Your money

An independent regulator says tenants of Epping Forest District Council have the lowest average rent and highest satisfaction levels in the district compared to the tenants of the six main housing associations that operate within the District. District Council tenants currently pay, on average, £74.86 per week and have an overall satisfaction rating of 84 per cent. The best performing housing association in the District charges, on average, £81.50 and has a tenant satisfaction level of 79.7 per cent. The figures can be found on the recently launched website of the Tenant Services Authority (TSA).

The TSA is the new regulator for housing associations and, from April 2010, local authority landlords. Its website enables tenants and landlords to compare rent levels and tenant satisfaction within any local authority area, simply by inserting their postcode.

Councillor David Stallan, Housing Portfolio Holder for Epping Forest District Council welcomed the latest findings. He said: We aim to do the best we can for our tenants. Although we work closely with housing associations in the District, which with our help have grown significantly, the Council is still the major provider of affordable housing in Epping Forest. We work very hard to provide the best quality housing service at the lowest possible rent. I would like to thank all those staff in Housing and associated areas of the Council for the great job they do.

In 2007, the Council`s Housing Directorate received the Cabinet Office`s Charter Mark for Customer Service Excellence in the Public Sector for a second time – for a further three years. In 2008, the Housing Directorate was also awarded the international ISO 9001 Quality Assurance Standard for the quality of its housing service for the third time.

Housing Strategy 2009

Written on . Posted in Community, Housing, Our performance, Residents, Your community, Your council, Your home

More affordable housing in the district continues to be a priority, according to Epping Forest District Council`s 2009-2012 Housing Strategy which has just been published, following an extensive consultation exercise.

The average cost of purchasing a house in Epping Forest is around £340,000 – 11 times the average full-time earnings of someone working in the district. The latest Housing Strategy sets out the need for properly-planned housing growth with adequate infrastructure. More broadly it states the Council`s vision that `Epping Forest will have safe, decent and attractive housing, meeting the needs of those who want to live in the district.`

The Housing Strategy covers many issues, such as reducing the number of empty homes and improving energy efficiency. It also sets out the Council`s key objectives relating to housing growth; affordable housing; accommodation for people with special needs; homelessness; and housing conditions.

A planned programme is set out in the Strategy indicating where housing is to be developed and how many properties will be built. Plans for the East of England include the provision of 3,500 new homes to be built in Epping Forest by 2021. Around 1,780 homes were built between April 2001 and April 2009, while a further 1,355 dwellings have outline or detailed planning permission. Epping Forest is also required to contribute towards the planned expansion of Harlow, although the number of homes to be provided is currently unknown. Within the growth programme is a provision for more affordable housing. While the Council`s own housing stock has reduced under the `Right to Buy`, partnerships with developers and housing associations are developing new accommodation for many families. This housing may be built for rent or to provide low-cost housing for first-time buyers, such as shared ownership.

People with special needs need suitable accommodation and appropriate support and this is another key aim. Estimates suggest that 10% of residents are aged 75 years or above and population forecasts suggest that the proportion of Epping Forest residents over 65 years of age will increase. The Strategy outlines a number of measures intended to provide support for older people, either in special housing schemes or in their own homes.

The Council aims to prevent homelessness and to house homeless people quickly in suitable permanent accommodation. In 2006 a Homelessness Prevention Team was established to provide advice and help clients look at all the options available to prevent the family from becoming homeless. This approach has proved successful with a 75% reduction in homelessness applications being processed in 2008/09 compared to 2005/06.

The last key objective is to make sure that all homes in the district are in a `decent` condition. The Government has set targets and the Council is on track to deal with all non-decent Council homes by 2010. The Decent Homes Standard is set out in national policy. A range of measures is in place to help vulnerable families who live in non-decent homes in the private sector. In March the Council held a conference in Waltham Abbey and invited partners across a wide range of housing interests to give their views on the draft Housing Strategy. The published Strategy includes these views and sets out an action plan for achieving the Council`s strategic housing aims.

Councillor David Stallan Housing Portfolio Holder said: “This is an important document for the Council and for the district. Nobody knows when they may need help with housing, whether it be housing advice for an elderly parent, low-cost housing for their children who want to get a foot on the home ownership ladder, or Council housing following their home being repossessed due to a business failure.”

He went on to say: “The Housing Strategy is our housing blueprint for the next three years and we will review our progress and success annually. I’d like to thank all those with an interest in housing who have made valuable contributions to working out the best way forward.”

Council Cash to Support Homeless

Written on . Posted in Community, Democracy, Housing, Local plan / planning our future, Planning, Residents, Your community, Your council, Your environment, Your home

A scheme that has helped over 200 families rent a home in the private sector is to be boosted with more money. Epping Forest District Council will pass the full benefit of a £7,500 Government grant to Epping Forest Housing Aid, enabling the local charity to guarantee more rent deposits on behalf of local people. The Council is also extending the value of underwriting Epping Forest Housing Aid`s guarantees from £40,000 to £60,000. Together, the measure will allow more local people to take the first steps to renting a new home. Twenty families are expected to benefit almost immediately.

In a separate move, the Cabinet of Epping Forest District Council also authorised the provision of £47,500 to provide small interest-free loans to residents who might otherwise be in danger of losing their homes due to the economic downturn. Loans of between £1,000 and £3,000 are envisaged although Government guidance allows for loans of up to £5,000 under the scheme.