Agenda and minutes

Housing, Finance and Corporate Services Policy and Scrutiny Committee - Monday 6th March, 2017 7.00 pm

Venue: Rooms 5, 6 & 7 - 17th Floor, Westminster City Hall, 64 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 6 QP. View directions

Contact: Reuben Segal; Senior Committee and Governance Officer  Tel: 020 7641 3160; email:

No. Item



The Head of Legal and Democratic Services to report any changes to the membership.


1.1       There were no changes to the membership.


Declarations of Interest

To receive declarations by Members and Officers of the existence and nature of any personal or prejudicial interests in matters on this agenda.


2.1       Councillor Connell declared in respect of item 6 (Housing Regeneration -Review of Progress) that Richard Patient, founder and managing director of Thorncliffe, was a personal friend.


2.2       Councillor Connell further declared that all members of the committee know Councillor David Boothroyd who works for Thorncliffe.


2.3       Councillor Church declared that he is a board director of Westminster Community Homes.


Minutes pdf icon PDF 170 KB

To sign the minutes of the previous meetings on the 9 and 19 January 2017 as correct records of proceedings.

Additional documents:


3.1       RESOLVED: That the minutes of the meetings held on 9 & 19 January 2017 be signed by the Chairman as correct records of proceedings.


Work Programme


4.1       Tara Murphy, Scrutiny Officer, tabled an updated copy of the work programme and action tracker which were unavailable at the time that the agenda was published. She explained that the agenda items that were due to be considered at the committee’s next meeting on 10 April were being replaced.  Due to its strategic importance and crosscutting nature the update on the Managed Services Programme would now be considered by the Westminster Scrutiny Commission.  The item on the rollout of Office 365 was for information only and would therefore be circulated as a briefing outside the meeting.


4.2       Tara Murphy advised that that she was working with the chairman to identify replacement items.  One of the items would be to consider ideas for the committee’s work programme for 2017-18.


4.3      RESOLVED: That the responses to actions and recommendations as set out in the tracker be noted.






Update from Cabinet Members pdf icon PDF 127 KB

An update from the Cabinet Members on key areas within their portfolios are attached.

The Cabinet Member for Housing will be in attendance to answer questions from the Committee.


Additional documents:


5.1       The Committee received written updates from the Cabinet Member for Finance, Property and Corporate Services and the Cabinet Member for Housing on the key issues within their portfolios. 


5.2       Councillor Rachael Robathan, Cabinet Member for Housing, addressed the committee.  With reference to her recent appointment to the portfolio, she advised that her previous experience as Cabinet Member for Adults and Community Protection would enable her to bring a different perspective to the portfolio’s challenges.  She was aware that the city required more housing of every tenure.  She recognised that there were huge pressures to deliver housing and she undertook to do all that she could to speed up delivery.  She had recently visited each of the regeneration sites and had spoken to all of the officers involved.  She advised that one of her key priorities is to have a viable proposal for Ebury Bridge by April which can then be discussed with Ward councillors followed by residents.


5.3       Councillor Robathan further advised that she had transported two areas of responsibility from her previous role.  These were the Specialist Housing Strategy for Older People and the Council’s Hubs Programme.


5.4       The Cabinet Member then responded to questions on the following issues:


            Housing Provision

5.4.1    The Cabinet Member was asked whether she intended to review any executive decisions taken prior to her appointment such as purchasing accommodation out of borough.  She was also asked how she intended to speed up the delivery of urgently needed housing.  Councillor Robathan stated that she did not intend to revisit decisions taken by her predecessor.  She reflected that some decisions such as purchasing housing out of borough had been difficult to make but were necessary in order to provide affordable, stable homes for residents.  Ideally the Council would house all residents within the borough but given the size of the housing waiting list this was unachievable.  Every effort would be made to house residents as close as possible to Westminster.  She advised she was focusing her attention on increasing the speed of housing delivery.  None of the objectives are easy to deliver.  There are difficult issues to overcome in each Ward where there can be embedded views.  She would be holding a series of monthly meetings with officers on delivering the Council’s housing regeneration programme.


            In response to further questions Councillor Robathan stated that she fully supported and would endeavour to push for apprenticeship opportunities for young Westminster residents as part of the Housing Regeneration Programme.


            Increasing Intermediate Housing Provision

5.4.2    Councillor Robathan was asked whether the Council intended to increase the provision of intermediate housing in the city.  She advised that there was a strong commitment to deliver more of this tenure in Westminster.  To facilitate this the Council was looking to amend its planning policy on the ratio of social to intermediate housing required to be provided on the new on relevant housing schemes.  At present the policy requires 60% of new affordable housing to be social housing and 40% intermediate.  The  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.


Housing Regeneration - Review of Progress pdf icon PDF 1 MB

Report of the Director of Housing and Regeneration


6.1       The committee received a report that provided a progress review on the Council’s programme of housing renewal.  The report also included information on infill housing and the context for purchasing housing out of borough.


6.2       The committee was asked for views on the learning from the regeneration of Church Street to assist in subsequent regeneration schemes. 


6.3       Barbara Brownlee highlighted some of the key learning from the Regeneration programme to date.  She explained that the aspiration to deliver Housing Renewal in the City led the Council to be overly ambitious in forecasting that the programme would be delivered in a matter of a few years.  She explained that given the scale and complexity of the programme and the fact that no local authority in London had undertaken housing renewal on such a scale for many decades it was near impossible to deliver the programme within this timeframe.  Expectations were raised amongst residents about swift progress on the transformation of their neighbourhoods.  As regeneration has taken longer to deliver this has led to some understandable frustration and concern amongst some residents.


6.4       Barbara Brownlee then provided a specific lesson learned in relation to the regeneration of Lisson Arches in Church Street.  She explained that the site would provide new housing for vulnerable elderly residents currently living in sheltered accommodation at Penn House, which is no longer fit for purpose.  The site does not currently have any buildings on it because it has a number of strategically important services - gas, water, electricity and telecommunications running through it.  Some of these service the West End.  The complexity of the underground utilities was not fully understood until works began on site.  Discussions with utilities to divert supplies were protracted.  This involved obtaining approval from three different organisations within one utility.  This, coupled with a restriction of only being able to undertake works over two weeks in any one year, resulted in a delay of 18 months to plan and undertake the works.  Lessons learned from Lisson Arches would be applied to the regeneration of Ebury Bridge.  The Council will ensure that more extensive site investigation works are to understand the complexities of the site.


6.3       Matt Harmer Chief Commercial Officer and Sheli Barracluff, Consultation Coordinator, Thorncliffe, who had been invited to the meeting as expert witnesses, addressed the committee on effective community consultation in relation to development and infrastructure projects.


6.4       Mr Harmer explained that Thorncliffe provide community consultation expertise to clients to help get regeneration and development delivered.  This includes developing community engagement strategies.


6.5       Ms Barracluff provided a presentation on some of the key challenges and elements for successful community engagement.  These included:


·           The importance of understanding the resident demographic including the tenant mix as well as issues of concern


·           Understanding the demographic of those living outside the immediate regeneration area


·           Finding local champions to promote the regeneration programme


·           Setting clear aims and outcomes for the consultation


·           Providing multiple communication channels including door knocking as individual engagement is  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.


Housing Investment Strategy and Housing Revenue Account Business Plan 2017/18 pdf icon PDF 597 KB

Report of the Executive Director of Growth, Planning and Housing


7.1       The Committee received a report on the Housing Investment Strategy and thirty-year Housing Revenue Account (HRA) Business Plan. This was the fifth such plan since the introduction of self-financing in 2012.  The City Council’s investment plans are ambitious and will deliver a range of lasting benefits for the City, its residents and the City Council.  They will allow the City Council to realise much of its ‘City for All’ ambitions of aspiration and choice; delivering new homes and leveraging the value of our land assets to bring forward investment in some of Westminster’s poorer neighbourhoods.


7.2       The Director of Housing and Regeneration highlighted the main changes from last year’s which would see an accelerated and increased borrowing to facilitate housing regeneration which will peak in year 7 to £334m reaching the HRA debt cap while reserves will reduce to around a minimum level of c £11m for 20 years. 


7.3       Barbara Brownlee explained that the base business plan uses prudent assumptions so that risk is minimised.  As the HRA headroom and financial capacity is fully utilised by the increase in the proposed capital programme over the immediate planning period the ability of the HRA to absorb and manage risk is reduced as HRA reserves will be at minimal levels.  This means that if any overspends occur or capital receipts are delayed or reduced this would necessitate mitigation through a range of management actions such as either reducing, reprofiling or stopping expenditure on the capital programme or realising funds through the disposal of HRA assets as the HRA is legally unable to run deficits.  The potential impact of risk factors requires a strong risk mitigation strategy that can be quickly adopted if any of the risks materialise.  A table summarising identified potential risks was set out in the committee report.


7.4       The Committee asked Ms Brownlee how confident the Council was in the assumptions of future rental income as well as about the monitoring of potential risks.  She stated that officers were fairly confident about the assumptions around dwelling rents.  She advised that if the assumed government rent policy turnout to be incorrect then management would this revise the business plan.  With regards to monitoring, she explained that quarterly governance meetings are held between senior officers and elected officials at which program performance is reviewed and risks monitored.  The business plan is reviewed annually starting in October as part of the budget setting process.


7.5       Members noted with concern that management costs will account for 46% of total annual expenditure in 2017/18.  Ms Brownlee advised that an independent review of CWH in 2015 highlighted that management costs were in the top quartile compared with similar housing providers.  A target was set for the organisation to reduce these costs by £5m over 5 years so these fall within the median quartile.


7.6       Ms Brownlee was asked about the use of the HRA to build and purchase property outside of the borough when there are still opportunities to provide housing in  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.


Any Other Business