Agenda item

Attendance of the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services

This report sets out activities and progress on work areas within the Housing and Community Services Portfolio, which fall within the remit of this Committee. This information is provided in relation to the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services being held to account.




Members received an overview of progress on the area within the terms of

reference of this Committee covered by Councillor Howard Doe, Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services, i.e.


• All Housing Services (including HRA)

• Homelessness and Housing Options

• Private sector housing

• Adult learning

• Libraries and Community Hubs

• Voluntary sector


Councillor Doe responded to Members’ questions as follows:


·         Rough sleeping – a Member queried how the reduction in

rough sleepers had been achieved and what was planned for existing rough sleepers when freezing temperatures were forecast. Councillor Doe advised that the arrangements for dealing with rough sleepers had been overhauled, helped by Government funding. Over 50 rough sleepers had been supported into accommodation and the emphasis was now focused on offering assistance to a hard core of rough sleepers. Other measures to tackle the problem included Housing First (a scheme to place rough sleepers into accommodation and support them to sustain their tenancy) and an increase in hostel provision. When the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol was in place outreach workers would look out for rough sleepers and assistance could be sought from Kingsley House.


A Member commended the work of the homelessness team and asked whether Housing First represented a long term solution to tackle rough sleeping. Councillor Doe commented that Housing First had the potential to dramatically reduce homelessness but could never eradicate it as there would always be some people who did not want to be helped. The key was to work with people on a one to one basis and encourage then to turn their life around. A Member disagreed with this outlook that there would always be some people who could not be reached and argued the approach should be to offer intensive support to people, many of whom had ended up making poor choices as a result of complex and difficult experiences. There was also a need for more affordable accommodation, particularly as targets had not been met, and the Council should also look at introducing a licensing scheme. In response, Councillor Doe emphasised that everything possible was being done to help people in this situation but, ultimately, there would always be an element of free will. The affordable housing target had not been met due to the late development of two external care schemes. More affordable housing would result from develpments planned in Medway. The Council did not have the resources to introduce a licensing scheme.



·         Emergency accommodation for vulnerable rough sleepers – a Member queried how much was delivered by external organisations and Councillor Doe replied that a Charter had been agreed to ensure the Council and other agencies worked together in a co-ordinated way. Details of respective roles could be provided.


·         Homelessness – a Member asked for details of the new Homelessness Hub and its location. Councillor Doe responded that this would be operational in a matter of weeks and would be located in Chatham. Regarding the landlord helpline aimed at preventing evictions, Councillor Doe commented that the Council supported landlords by explaining to them their responsibilities and the possible penalties they could face. The Council used a number of tools to try and prevent evictions, aiming to intervene as soon as possible. Support to tenants was also provided.


·         Social Isolation – regarding the work of Adult Education in combating social isolation, a Member asked for an assurance that people in rural areas would also be included. Councillor Doe commented this work was a Council wide initiative and the service was trying to involve more people in adult education so they could learn new skills and interact with others.


·         Children in temporary accommodation – in terms of what action was being taken to support the approximately 600 children living in temporary accommodation, Councillor Doe advised that the housing team would deal with any housing issues and alert other departments to other issues as appropriate. A Member queried how many of these children were known to children’s services before being placed in temporary accommodation, commenting it would be a concern if this was a significant number.


·         Private rental market – a Member expressed concern about the private rental sector in Medway, noting the poor quality of many properties and landlords, and asked if the Council had the resources to deal with this. Councillor Doe acknowledged the heavy workload of the team but considered it was coping well. He was willing to increase resources if the need was demonstrated.


·         Building Council houses – a Member asked what representations had been made to the Government to allow the Council to be able to start to build new council homes. Councillor Doe welcomed the lifting of the borrowing cap. It was important though that each scheme was assessed to ensure borrowing was affordable. Funding was available for 3 reasonably sized schemes, with a fourth a possibility.


·         Welfare reform – regarding how closely the landlord services welfare reform team worked with the Council’s welfare team, Councillor Doe commented the teams worked well together and he was not aware of any major problems.


·         Libraries and Community Hubs – in response for a request for clarification on the difference between the Neighbourhood Community Hub at Hempstead compared to other libraries and also whether there were plans for a Community Hub at Rainham, Councillor Doe responded that the Hempstead site was on a smaller scale, which was why it was not possible to provide as many services and why it could only offer limited advice to the public. It was hoped that a Community Hub in Rainham could be established as part of the development of the shopping centre.


A Member queried how Medway had been so successful in providing a library service and also asked for an update in respect of Grain Library.  Councillor Doe considered that in part this was because the libraries offered more varied services which encouraged visitors and also due to the ethos of trying to make libraries relevant to their communities. He added that he did not see Grain becoming a Community Hub as that would not be sustainable. A Member disagreed with this view and considered more people would visit if a greater range of services were offered.


A Member expressed concerns about the future of libraries in Medway and asked for an assurance there would be no closures, reductions in opening hours and staffing or an increase in the use of volunteers. Councillor Doe responded that, whilst it was impossible to give absolute guarantees, there were no plans to replace paid staff with volunteers or reduce staffing levels or opening hours.


·         Developments - Members asked what actions were in place to mitigate against speculative developments due to the lack of a Local Plan and also what was being done to lobby the Government to change the permitted developments rules to prevent developments without S.106 Agreements and which could not be influenced by the local planning process. Councillor Doe commented that little could be done until a Local Plan was in place. This had been delayed by a bid to the housing infrastructure fund which it was hoped would attract substantial additional resources. After Councillor Doe advised that the Council would be making a submission to Government on the issue of permitted developments, a Member asked if this could be shared with Members.




The Committee thanked the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing

and Community Services for his attendance. 

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