Brent New Council Homes Development Programme and Affordable Housing
This report provides the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee with an overview of the Council’s efforts to increase the supply of Affordable Housing in Brent and the demand it aims to meet.
The Chair invited Councillor Southwood (Lead Member for Housing and Welfare Reform, Brent Council) to introduce the item for discussion. Councillor Southwood highlighted that the paper included information on the Council’s own new Council homes building programme and information on where the Council was working with other providers to increase the number of affordable homes in the Borough. She advised that just over 230 properties had been built and let, there were sites going through planning, and officers were looking at other schemes that may also be viable. Over 600 homes were on site, making Brent consistently the highest of all the London homes being built. The paper drew information from the recent Cabinet report, and Councillor Southwood hoped the paper gave the Committee confidence about the programme, its achievements to date and what the pipeline looked like.
John Magness (Head of Housing Supply and Partnerships, Brent Council) added that more handovers had taken place the previous day, increasing the number of new properties to 255. He advised these numbers changed on a daily basis.
The Chair thanked the housing team for their introductions and invited the Committee to raise comments and questions, with the following issues raised:
The Committee wanted assurance that the affordable housing referenced in the report was genuine affordable housing and that it would meet the local needs including the different types of accommodation needed, the size of homes needed, and housing need in light of the findings of the Brent Poverty Commission report. Councillor Southwood expressed that she would be happy to provide that assurance and noted that the good thing about the Council doing its own infill for council homes was that it had control and flexibility over what that looked like. When the team looked at potential sites they talked to the housing needs service to determine what Brent actually needed and doing infill development meant the Council could design those schemes to meet actual need. For example, sometimes the Council had opted to build fewer homes at larger sizes to cater to that need for larger homes. All new build Council homes were at London affordable rent and all new schemes, including those where the Council worked with partners, would seek to deliver rent levels either at London affordable or social housing rent levels.
The Committee asked what definition of affordable housing the report was using. Councillor Southwood explained that the reason affordable was used was because there were different types of rent levels, for example any new build was rented at London affordable rates, but legacy developments or Section 106 developments could differ. Hakeem Osinaike, Operational Director for Housing, added that before the programme began the department first wanted to understand what affordability meant to Brent residents therefore commissioned research by Cambridge University, so that the Council were clear what rent levels would apply to the majority of people the Council knew were of housing need. Therefore, he explained, when the report referred to affordable it did not refer to the Mayor of London’s initiative but affordable in respect to the residents of Brent. He advised that from the research they knew social rent may not be affordable to the majority, for example, 65% of the Council’s tenants were receiving housing benefits. The housing department was now negotiating with colleagues in planning so that when planners negotiated Section 106 agreements they negotiated a reduction to 65% of market rent rather than just “affordable”, as for the developer “affordable” meant 80% of market rent which was not affordable for most residents in. It was understood that that could mean fewer homes but it would mean the homes were affordable. He felt that the Council had been successful at applying the research commissioned to determine affordability.
Infill new council housing was discussed by the Committee. It was noted that the report stated there would be consultation with ward members and residents about proposed infill with those views taken into consideration, but some colleagues were not aware of any proposed infill or consultation. Councillor Southwood highlighted that the housing department acknowledged that when the Council built infill schemes it could be disruptive for local residents and local councillors, and that they had learnt a lot from previous infill schemes. She explained that there was a clear process enabling people to know when they would be engaged and a 6 point commitment to engagement. She advised that every time infill went through the feasibility stage, ward councillors would be the first to know, and if they did not know about an infill proposal that would be because it was just an idea at that stage. Hakeem Osinaike (Operational Director Housing, Brent Council) expressed that they understood very clearly that the more people engaged meaningfully the better chance of building those homes, and they would not want to force homes on anyone so where they had built had been with the support and encouragement of local residents and ward councillors. He informed Committee that there were several ways to engage, such as the Scrutiny Committee, Cabinet, and listing sites being looked at to encourage members to come forward with any issues they knew of to iron out before residents were consulted. The housing department carried out consultation pre and post planning permission and he gave the example of Watling Gardens, which had not been designed yet or gone to planning but which residents had been consulted on for months.
The Committee queried whether there had been feasibility studies completed on the sites listed in the report and when the housing department consultation would be likely to take place with residents on the sites listed in the report following the feasibility studies. John Magness clarified that feasibility looked at whether it was possible to build on a plot of land, whether that land was designated for a particular use, and then what was possible to build on the land. Regarding financial feasibility, he explained that the Council would look to see whether they could get grant funding from the GLA, whether they already had allocation they could use, whether they could borrow money and finance would support that, and whether it was what they were looking at to house the people that were in housing need. Once all of these questions had been considered it was then put into the programme and most were properties that would not be handed over for more than 3 to 5 years. Once they thought they could deliver it that would start the consultation process, and the next stage was to get planning permission.
The Committee queried whether objections that had been received in the past when developers been unsuccessful in applying for infill would be taken into when the Council considered infill. Councillor Southwood explained that the Council proposed developments had to go through the exact same process as any proposed development, including going through planning and abiding by planning regulations, and going through planning meant objections could be made which she felt was a good opportunity to receive additional feedback on the schemes. She reminded members that planning was a quasi-judicial process.
Discussion was had on the practicalities of building infill, for example how current residents were compensated for loss of parking if the proposals were to remove garages and build flats instead, and how waste storage and disposal was taken care of. Regarding waste, John Magness advised that the Council had an ongoing contract with Veolia so that new schemes could be added as they were developed. He advised that it had been a learning curve getting the processes up and running such as taking new stock into the portfolio and recording information for asset management. He highlighted that the practicalities of ensuring waste disposal timings should be part of the process when the Council negotiated through the process with residents. Regarding parking, Councillor Southwood agreed that it was a perennial challenge on estates particularly on infill and was where most residents had the most anxiety. The housing department actively addressed this through consultation in terms of whether it should be a 0 car development, how they could increase parking provision as part of re-landscaping, or whether parking control schemes should be implemented. The housing department would begin piloting parking control schemes on some estates in the near future, with another round of consultation having been completed with the 5 pilot areas. It was noted that it had been a lengthy process and resident views were mixed, and that the cost of permits for estate parking had been reduced to be less than street parking. John Magness highlighted that building in London did involve a level of compromise, therefore he could not promise that going forward they could provide full parking for anyone who wanted to use it. It was also a significant issue at planning as the policy direction in London was to reduce parking and the use of individual cars.
The Committee noted the table in 3.7 of the report that under developer led property there were 12 this year. Hakeem Osinaike advised that under section 106 agreements developers were required to provide affordable homes but often sold those homes to registered providers, which was why the table in the report showed a higher number of homes coming through registered providers rather than developer led, and why there were 12 developer led homes rather than a larger number.
One Committee member felt that the Council had lost a large amount of stock in the past to housing associations who could sell off properties after ten years of providing housing, and wanted assurance there would be clauses for any new properties done in partnership with housing associations that they could not be sold for profit after so many years. Hakeem Osinaike advised that he could not comment on political decisions made in the past but right now the Council was very keen to build its own stock and had no plans to go into partnership with housing associations or registered providers to jointly own stock. The Council did work with registered providers to encourage them to build in the Borough or to use their knowledge and capacity to help the Council build its own homes but there were no deals to jointly own properties.
Discussion was held around the types of people in housing need, with members noting that there was a cohort of people in their fifties and sixties in the private sector that were always liable for eviction. The Committee wanted to know what plans the Council had to build housing for older people and those with learning disabilities. Councillor Southwood agreed that the need was evolving and, although the current housing need was larger families, through covid the housing department had seen more single and older people, some of whom would need support. Not everyone would need intensive NAIL support, so wrapping support around those living in accommodation was one option. John Magness agreed that they were always conscious of the whole range of needs in Brent and were exploring a number of solutions for older people such as extra care facilities in the design thinking of Windmill Court and Kilburn Square ranging from no need at all to significant need. The potential of a retirement home was also suggested, although it was highlighted that people wanted to make their own choices and increasingly people wanted to live within their own communities when they were older so putting support around them to ensure they could carry on living around their local networks was also important.
The Committee noted the importance of community facilities to help foster a sense of community. Councillor Southwood highlighted that a high proportion of the most recent infill developments did include community facilities which was one of the aspects that residents appreciated being involved in designing. She gave the example of Braven House.
The housing department were not yet clear what the impact of the Government’s Housing White Paper would have on section 106 agreements but hoped they would be able to gain more property out of any replacement for section 106 agreements.
During the discussion, several requests for information were made, which included:
i) To receive the strategic asset review of infill sites, setting out possible or identified infill housing sites in the Borough.
ii) To receive a list of the proposed rent levels of the developments listed in the report, how the housing in Table 1 of the report could be categorised by type of affordable housing, such as London Living Rent or Social Rent.
iii) To receive further information on what is expected to happen to housing supply as a result of government changes to Section 106.
The Chair drew the item to a close and invited the Committee to make recommendations, with the following agreed:
i) That in any ward where infill housing was proposed the housing department should write to Ward Councillors to inform them of the proposals and draw it to their attention.
ii) For future new builds, to consider including community centres or, where space did not allow, provision for access to community facilities to be made available within the neighbourhood.