Car park charge freeze re-affirmed, possible new council housing programme and museum deal were among the agenda items discussed by cabinet on Monday 5 December 2011.
Car park charges freeze re-affirmed
Watch the finance and performance management cabinet committee item
Council pay and display car park charges are to be frozen for another year. Members of the cabinet meeting on 5 December re-affirmed the views of cabinet committee in rejecting proposals by a consultant to use increased parking charges as a means of raising extra money for council services. Councillor Gagan Mohindra, Finance and Economic Development Portfolio Holder also confirmed plans to continue with free parking in Council car parks on Saturdays in the-run up to Christmas.
Responding to newspaper coverage of the report to the Finance and Performance Management Cabinet Committee, Councillor Lesley Wagland, Leader of Epping Forest District Council is to issue an open invitation to traders to view the debate with her. Councillor Wagland is to make the invitation through the editor of the local newspaper responsible for the original media coverage and in an open letter published here on the district council website.
New housing building programme moves forward
Watch the council house building programme item
20 new council houses a year could be built over 6 years. Members of the cabinet received a detailed report setting out proposals to engage a partner to assist in the development process.
Following changes in Government finance rules, Epping Forest District Council has begun a serious examination into the viability of commencing a new council house building programme. The council is looking at a range of funding options aimed at raising around £2.5 million per year. New houses would be built on sites already owned by the council. Future cash receipts from right to buy, other asset sales, section 106 contributions by developers, contributions from the HRA and grants from the Homes and Communities Agency could all help to fund the programme. Rent levels would be set according to the Government’s ‘affordable rents’ framework.
The council expects to see around 100 affordable homes developed in partnerships with housing associations this year. A number of developers have also approached the council with a view to further affordable housing provision in the future. Assuming ‘trigger points’ are reached, developers stand to provide £1.1 million in section 106 funding to the council in the near future. Further funding of up to £800,000 could become available through section 106 arrangements if pending planning applications are approved.
One-off payment to replace annual housing subsidy and protecting tenants and leaseholders
Watch the HRA 30 year financial plan item
Under the current national housing subsidy rules, Epping Forest District Council makes an annual payment of around £11 million to the Government each year. Changes to the subsidy system will see an end to these annual payments in exchange for a one-off subsidy payment to the Government of £186 million.
Members of the council’s cabinet considered the impact of the changes when looking at the housing revenue account plan over the next 30 years. Councillor Margaret McEwen took councillors through the options for short and longer repayment options on the loans necessary to meet the Government bill.
While paying the debt off over a shorter time might appeal to the instincts of some councillors, Councillor McEwen suggested a longer pay back time might be more advantageous to council tenants. For example, extending the payback could allow a lower rent increase (6 per cent instead of 7.9 per cent) from next April, higher standards of maintenance (to the ‘modern homes’ standard) for existing properties and support for the new house building programme.
Under the plan, an additional £1.1 million could be made available towards the costs of maintaining and improving the council’s housing stock. Decisions on how to spend the extra money are to be taken in consultation with the tenants’ and Leaseholders’ Federation and housing scrutiny panel.
Councillor John Knapman, Environment Portfolio Holder congratulated Councillor McEwen in her determination to maintain the council’s housing stock to higher standards.
Investment cuts costs and improves energy efficiency
Watch the planned preventative maintenance programme item
Over £77,000 has been saved on annual gas and electricity costs at the civic offices in Epping over the last 2 years. Cabinet members received the good news as part of the report on planned maintenance on council property over the next 5 years.
The reduction of 552,751 kilowatt hours of gas and electricity represents a 43 per cent reduction in consumption at the council’s main office building. Investment in a combination of better energy management of lighting, heating, comfort cooling (air-conditioning) and improved insulation has lifted the energy efficiency rating from E to D.
Biological Records In Essex (BRIE)
Watch the BRIE item
A new biodiversity records service is to be supported with a £4,000 contribution per annum for 6 years by Epping Forest District Council. Cabinet supported proposals to join other councils in a service level agreement with Essex Wildlife Trust to provide comprehensive data on species and habitat. Information will assist councils in deciding planning applications and protecting the local environment.
PCSO funding ends
Watch the funding of PCSOs item
The direct funding of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) for Epping Forest District is to end. The Cabinet decision follows changes in Government funding for Essex Police and consequential restructuring of the police service. Essex Police is no longer able to match fund the district council in the provision of PCSOs exclusive to Epping Forest. Continued PCSO funding by the council would have been fed into Essex-wide services rather than local deployments. The decision will generate a saving of £62,750 on Council budgets.
Watch the Lowewood Museum item
Lowewood Museum in Broxbourne is to be managed by Epping Forest District Council. Cabinet approved the proposals following an approach by Broxbourne Borough Council. Staff from the council’s museum in Sun Street, Waltham Abbey will manage Lowewood in Hoddesdon. The deal is expected to reduce costs and save money for both councils.