Housing issues dominate cabinet meeting

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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.