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Agenda and minutes

Venue: Committee Rooms C, D & E, Merton Civic Centre, London Road, SM4 5DX

No. Item


Apologies for absence


Apologies for absence were received from Councillor Nick Draper, Cabinet Member for Community and Culture.


Declarations of pecuniary interest


There were no declarations of pecuniary interest.


Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 109 KB


The minutes of the last meeting were agreed as a true and accurate record.


Introduction to housing and homelessness - presentation pdf icon PDF 64 KB


Steve Langley, Head of Housing Need and Strategy, presented on housing needs and homelessness using the presentation provided in the agenda pack.


In response to member questions, the following clarification was provided:

·         There are approximately 70 to 100 new additions to the housing register each month and the register is reviewed to ensure that all registrations are active and valid.  Merton’s housing register policy is not as restrictive as it might be meaning that this acts as a good indication of housing need in the borough;

·         The Council is working with Street Rescue, which is funded by the Greater London Authority.  It responds to any report of rough sleeping and will go out to provide support when needed any time of the day or night.  However, on occasions, a rough sleeper won’t want to engage with offered services.  Support is then provided through Faith in Action that will work to get individuals back on track;

·         The term ‘rough sleeper’ is legally defined according to whether or not an individual is bedded down.  The last count of rough sleepers in Merton happened in February 2017 and totalled nine;

·         The Council is continuing to work with private landlords through the Landlord Forum to increase the supply of private rented accommodation.  The work ongoing with the Notting Hill Housing Association was quoted as an example.  The implementation of universal credit has resulted in a drop in income for private landlords.  The Council is trying to make taking tenants on universal benefit attractive to private landlords by assuring them a guaranteed income and by breaking down their beliefs about those on benefits;

·         Shorthold tenancies in the private sector are not assured (a tenancy can be lost by a landlord giving two month’s notice and following a short court process with no reasons or grounds required).  Therefore, tenants with a secured or assured tenancy are unlikely to give these up in favour of renting in the private sector.  It was noted that the courts are taking an increasingly tough line against tenants in rent arrears meaning some secured and assured tenancies are becoming available as a result;

·         Any resident in Merton who has been made homeless and who has a property they own overseas is not homeless and would need to live in their property;

·         Of the 9,581 households on Merton’s Housing Register at the end of March 2017 only 180 were in temporary accommodation and therefore regarded as homeless.  The remainder are housed in the private sector, with family and friends etc.


Cllr Russell Makin thanked the staff in the housing team for all their good work with residents.


Care leaver accommodation pdf icon PDF 85 KB

This session will run as two workshops focusing on:


·         The issues care leavers face with accommodation (supported by Grenfell Housing and Training which works directly with care leavers and supports them in their accommodation needs); and

·         Different approaches to care leaver accommodation (supported by Paul Chadwick, the former Director of Children’s Services at Croydon).


This will conclude with a plenary session allowing the workshops to report back to the whole meeting.



To support members to look in depth at the issue of accommodation for care leavers, the meeting took a workshop approach splitting into two groups to focus on:

1.    The issues care leavers face with accommodation supported by Liza Burnell, a member of the Gap Road Team at Grenfell Housing and Training and Lee Buss, Director of Operations at Evolve Housing and Support; and

2.    Different approaches to care leaver accommodation supported by Paul Chadwick, the former Director of Children’s Services at Croydon.


Acknowledging that accommodation for care leavers is also an issue relevant to the Children & Young People Overview and Scrutiny Panel, its members were in attendance at the meeting. 


Workshop 1: The issues care leavers face with accommodation


Members heard directly from Liza Burnell who is a life coach and mentor supporting care leavers through the semi-independent provision at Gap Road in Wimbledon.  This is a six bed house catering for 18 – 19 year care leavers.  Wraparound care is provided on a strengths based approach.  Based on her experience, Liza highlighted that care leavers have very different housing needs.  For example, young people who enter care as unaccompanied asylum seekers have very different life experiences.  They often find it difficult to comply because they have had to be self reliant.  This results in it being difficult to achieve engagement.  The need for a range of accommodation offers was therefore highlighted. 


The work of the Children’s Services team in preparing young people for leaving care through independent living skills training was emphasised.  Liza suggested that the more that is done and the earlier this starts whilst young people are still in care, the easier it is for workers to engage with young people when the arrive in a semi-independent setting.  Liza focused on care leavers who speak English as an additional language and the specific help needed to integrate pre-tenancy help into ESOL provision.


The need for care leavers to sustain their links with foster carers was highlighted as difficult to achieve where semi independent and independent accommodation isn’t available in the same areas as foster carers.  Innovative solutions to achieve more provision were highlighted including the Y-Cube model and the Tiny Homes project in Detroit.


Lee Buss additionally highlighted that private rented accommodation isn’t appropriate for care leavers where this doesn’t have support and that care leavers are significantly more likely to end-up homeless than young people growing up with their parents.  Liz Broughton, the Head of Access to Resources, reminded members that currently Merton has 89 young people in semi-independent provision, of which 72 are care leavers.  It was highlighted that the Council has a duty to supply appropriate accommodation for care leavers which includes the Gap Road provision and that Merton has no care leavers in Bed and Breakfast accommodation. However, whilst semi-independent provision is well catered for, the difficulty comes in terms of next steps and sufficient independent provision.


In response to member questions, officers and guests further commented:

·         Whilst there have been  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.


Local Authority Property Company update - presentation pdf icon PDF 3 MB

A presentation will be provided at the meeting.


James McGinlay, Assistant Director, Sustainable Communities and Paul McGarry, Head of futureMerton, presented on the Local Authority Property Company using the presentation provided in the agenda pack.


In response to member questions, the following clarification was provided:

·         The four initial sites identified for development are in the public domain as they feature in the local development plan.  Greater scrutiny of these developments is anticipated because they are Council led.  A robust and transparent consultation process will be used.  The Council wants to demonstrate that it is a good investor and that community engagement is important.  It is intended that these developments go for planning permission in the New Year and therefore pre-planning consultation will start in November;

·         The shareholder board is a subcommittee of Cabinet as agreed by Full Council.  Any change to the governance structure is therefore a legal consideration which would need to again be determined by Full Council;

·         It is planned to build around 1,500 residential units using land already in Council ownership.  It is therefore unlikely that these developments will have any impact on local land prices.  Where there is adjacent land available for development, a joint venture may be considered;

·         The property company will operate on a lean structure with limited Council staff seconded.  James McGinlay, Assistant Director, Sustainable Communities and Paul McGarry, Head of futureMerton, will act as company directors and be seconded for a few days a week.  Their salaries for these days will be paid by the company.  Their costs will be recharged to the company and their positions will need to be back filled.  A further, non-executive director, with a specialty in finance, is yet to be appointed.  All other functions (such as design and maintenance) will be provided on a contractual basis;

·         The purpose of the housing company is to maximise the return for the Council.  This means focusing on the residential market, specifically the private rented sector. It was highlighted that the Council has no experience of commercial developments, which are highly competitive, higher risk and with marginal return.  The Council does have a track record of successful residential developments;

·         The resulting residential properties will be made available for rent and not purchase.  This is to ensure an ongoing income for the Council and avoid issues such as properties remaining empty if purchased for investment purposes.  Given the objective of achieving the maximum return for the Council, rents will be set based on a market level assessment.  This is being carefully researched; and

·         The current intention is for approximately 26% of the first tranche of units to be affordable.  It was noted that the Council will be subject to the same scrutiny as other developers and will need to provide the same viability evidence with regard to affordable housing.



Progress against the housing supply task group recommendations pdf icon PDF 71 KB


In response to member questions, Chris Lee, the Director of Environment and Regeneration, and James McGinlay, Assistant Director for Sustainable Communities, clarified:

·         Recommendation 12: the scrutiny officer will check that the Panel has agreed to remove this recommendation on overcrowding strategies;

·         Recommendations 15/16: the development of intermediate products such as Pocket homes and the YCube model through the Local Authority Property Company will depend on whether this is in line with its strategy which is to achieve the biggest income return for the Council; and

·         Recommendation 4/13: the provision of affordable housing through the Local Authority Housing Company will be determined by the nature of the sites that become available and viability and planning policy.


Work Programme pdf icon PDF 122 KB


·         The report of the Air Quality task group has been delayed.  This is because the Council’s consultation on air quality has not yet happened and the final report will want to take account of the responses received.  The task group report will now come to the Panel at its meeting on 10 January 2018;

·         Members again expressed their concerns about the number of items to be taken at the meeting on 2 November 2017.  It was suggested that some items be taken at the additional meeting on 11 October 2017 which has recently been scheduled to accommodate the parking charges call-in.  The scrutiny officer will explore this options with officers; and

·         It was reported that the Eastern Electrics event in Morden park was successful; it raised £55K, had low anti-social behaviour and crime, 16.5K people in attendance, no noise breach with music going off at 10pm prompt and with little damage to the park.  It was agreed that a full report on the event would be made to the Panel at its next meeting.