Questions from Councillors Under Rule 12
A written question was received from Councillor Foster, to the Leader of the Council, as set out below;
“‘Given the Prime Ministers recent announcement that the Government will lift the borrowing cap on councils to help support more housebuilding. Once funding is available, what direction do you think this will take the council, regarding the overall housing strategy?’”
The answer to this from the Leader of the Council was as follows:
“The changes recently announced by the Government, give local authorities with existing housing stock held in a Housing Revenue Account the ability to borrow more money to support the development of new housing. The borrowing capability of stock-holding authorities was based on an assessment of the size, value and condition of their existing stock. The difference between this figure and the actual levels of Housing Revenue Account was referred to as headroom, many councils had limited headroom left and were therefore unable to borrow funds to support new developments. The recent announcement indicates that the government is going to remove this requirement and enable councils to borrow within their Housing Revenue Account at a level which is considered prudential.
The changes will have a limited impact on non-stock holding local authorities, including Hastings Borough Council, as we do not have a Housing Revenue Account (HRA). Re-opening a HRA would require approval by the Secretary of State, the council would also be open to the risk of the right to buy on any of the new units it developed, which authorities with existing stock are able to offset against their wider portfolio. As part of its broader income generation strategy, the council has established a housing company to acquire new accommodation. Properties owned by the housing company are exempt from the right to buy.
As part of the development of its Housing Strategy, the council is continuing to explore new ways of working with both private and social developers to increase the supply of all types of accommodation, but particularly affordable housing, to meet growing demand. This includes the development our own sites to provide residential accommodation, and work is currently underway to model the viability of opportunities in the town and secure additional funding.
If government policy should change to limit or get rid of the Right to Buy, and to allow councils with no existing stock to borrow and start building council housing again, then I would want us to pursue this option.”
Questions to the Leader, Deputy Leader and other Lead Members were asked and answered in accordance with rule 12.1 as follows:
Questioners and Councillor
Reply Given by Councillor
Commercial Property Purchase Plan: There is currently a limit to the funds in the plan on commercial property purchases. Is there a plan to increase the limit, and if so, by how much?
Councillor Chowney replied that it depends on what is made available to use up. To use up any available funds, there would be an agreed increase, to attempt to reduce deficit.
Mergers: The recent development of Eastbourne and Lewes merging in to one authority raises questions as to whether Hastings Borough Council will consider the same kind of plan.
Councillor Chowney replied that currently, the smallest size of the town would have to be 300,000 people. He said that it would be an interesting possibility to look in to, but Hastings was a unique town in the county.
Addressing Caravans: With caravans on the roads, with many people in them, with seemingly no enforcement, the public health risks and anti-social behaviour, what is the situation on this?
Councillor Chowney replied that this is the responsibility of highways at East Sussex County Council, and that it is a complicated issue. It was agreed with ESCC however, that they would take action on the issue.
Station Plaza: Please could the Leader provide an update on the Station Plaza and the cuts to GPs.
Councillor Chowney replied that keeping the station plaza treatment centre open was important, and supported by Hastings Borough Council, who had provided a petition to the CCG. However, this petition was currently deferred. The urgent treatment centres would be kept open for the time being.
Homelessness: Please could Councillor Batsford provide an update on homelessness in the borough?
Councillor Batsford gave an update, stating that the housing first scheme was underway. It would begin in early November. He also said that there was success in working with Seaspace. Interventions were 88% successful. He gave a recommendation to use Streetlink (Streetlink.org) to report rough sleepers.
Review of income generation: With the risk of income generation, why has the board to review income generation been disbanded?
Councillor Chowney replied that it has not been disbanded, but will need to undergo a review to it’s role in income generation, and how the group will work in the future from now on.
Borrowing cap: With the lifting of the borrowing cap, what opportunities are there in the future for Hastings Borough Council?
Councillor Batsford replied that he was delighted at the news, however becoming a housing association was not an option, however, investment in to the Right to Buy scheme would be sought after.
Fees and Charges: What would the benefit be to owners of beach chalets with the raises to fees and charges?
Councillor Chowney replied by saying that raising fees and charges instead of putting in cuts was the better option, however he saw that there was no reason as to why there was a ban on sub-letting beach chalets, and that the council should seek to change this at some point.
Procurement of Waste Contract Update: Would Councillor Fitzgerald offer an update on the procurement of the new waste service contract?
Councillor Fitzgerald replied with thanks to the officers in to their hard work. It was stated that there were workers’ meetings and they seem positive at the change.