Agenda and minutes

Agenda and minutes

Speaking at a Council or Committee meeting

Venue: Plowman Room - Oxford Town Hall. View directions

Contact: Andrew Brown, Committee and Member Services Manager 

Items
No. Item

187.

Apologies

Substitutes are not allowed.

Minutes:

The Panel noted apologies from Councillor Gotch and from Councillor Smith (Board Member for Leisure and Housing).

188.

Declarations of interest

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest.

189.

Notes of previous meeting pdf icon PDF 120 KB

To note the minutes of the meeting held on 4 March 2019.

Minutes:

The Panel resolved to approve the notes of the meeting held on 4 March 2019 as a true and accurate record, subject to the correction of some minor typographical errors.

190.

Breaches in Building Regulations pdf icon PDF 238 KB

To consider a report concerning breaches in building regulations, as agreed by the Scrutiny Committee in June 2018. This follows the publication of the Hackitt Review into the Grenfell Tower fire which made a series of recommendations to the sector.

Minutes:

The Housing Panel considered a report from the Head of Regulatory Services and Community Safety on Building Control enforcement.

 

The Building Control Team Leader provided an overview of the various aspects of the Building Regulations, which provide minimum standards for design, construction and alterations to buildings. He said the Council’s Building Control team was not primarily driven by enforcement, which would rarely meet the public interest test due to the low levels of fines and costs awarded by the courts. Instead, compliance was encouraged through informal negotiation and the Council used an ‘escalator’ approach when contraventions were identified. Building Control could identify unauthorised developments in a number of ways and would seek to ensure compliance through a retrospective approval process known as regularisation.

 

The Panel explored the interactions between local authority building control functions and Approved Inspectors (AIs), which were originally introduced for residential building work in 1985 and whose role was significantly expanded in 2013. Local authority building control teams had to compete for work with private sector AIs but remained the only agencies that could take enforcement action. The Panel noted that AIs would undercut local authorities by providing the building control service for rock bottom prices, which raised concerns about their diligence. Where an AI provided the service they had to submit an initial notice to the Council but, once approved, the Council had no powers to inspect their work unless it was formally reverted back to the Council for enforcement. Such reversions were rare and the bodies responsible for ‘marking their own homework’ had little incentive to find fault with their work. It was hoped and expected that the Hackitt Review into the Grenfell Tower fire would help to drive up standards and improve accountability within this sector.

 

The Building Control Team Leader assured the Panel that the Council’s Building Control team did what it could within the law to ensure high standards, citing an example of the Council standing its ground in a pressurised situation in the hours before the Westgate Shopping Centre was due to open. The service had also been audited in the last couple of years and no major issues had been identified.

 

The Building Control Team Leader explained that as a consequence of the competitive market that existed, the Council’s in-house Building Control team would not necessarily be selected to provide the building control function for Council-led development projects. This would have benefit of providing stronger quality control and keeping finance within the Council. Consideration could be given to whether it would be possible to address this through procurement.

 

In view of reported issues with defects (“snagging”) at new build developments outside the city and skills shortages in the construction sector, the Panel considered how the Council could ensure that its new build social housing was delivered to the highest standards by third parties. The Panel heard that Building Control Surveyors took a risk-based approach to sampling and inspecting the work of contractors but were focused on ensuring minimum standards. The  ...  view the full minutes text for item 190.

191.

Project Approval for the development of a Homeless Shelter and Assessment Hub at Floyd's Row pdf icon PDF 190 KB

To consider a report concerning proposals for a new homeless shelter and assessment hub at Floyd’s Row. This is due for consideration by the City Executive Board on 10 April.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Panel considered a report to the City Executive Board on the proposed development of a Homeless Shelter and Assessment Hub at Floyd's Row. The Panel warmly welcomed the report and commended a number of aspects of the proposals, particularly the work undertaken to engage with homeless service users and involve them in the design of the facilities, and the fact that the continuous winter provision would be open to people with no local connection and those with no resource to public funds.

 

In discussion the Panel heard that the intention was to provide an adaptable space that could be adjusted over time to meet the changing profile and needs of service users. A lack of flexibility had been identified as being an issue at some other homelessness facilities. The provision of private rooms and separate spaces for women and vulnerable groups had been written into the brief, as had provision for dogs, accessibility and the secure storage of belongings. Safety was at the forefront and a range of safety measures would be in place such as secure entry, CCTV, panic alarms and a high staff to client ratio.

 

The Panel noted that there were lots of challenges associated with delivering this important project to a good standard in a very compressed timeframe, particularly as full funding was yet to be secured, as reflected in the length of the risk register. Planning consent would be required for external works including an extension of the lobby area and the installation of ramps, signage and lighting.

 

The Panel questioned whether the funding envelope was realistic and noted that revenue would need to be allocated to running the services in addition to capital funding. The Affordable Housing Lead provided assurance that suitable contingencies had been factored in and the Council was seeking to mitigate risks, while cautioning that this remained an evolving process. Failure to secure Government funding to make up the capital shortfall would significantly affect the sustainability of the scheme over the medium term and would result in difficult decisions being taken in regards to the use of the homelessness reserve (which was already due to be substantially drawn down over the coming 4 years). The Panel also heard that there may be opportunities within the scheme to draw on other external funding sources such as energy grants and local charitable funding.

 

The Panel considered how the Council could build on the positive engagement activities that had recently taken place involving service users at the Gatehouse and other homelessness projects in the city. This had included undertaking insight interviews, seeking views on drawings and photos of comparable spaces and reviewing outline layouts in an interactive way. It was possible and desirable to build an ongoing culture of participation at Floyds Row, notwithstanding the temporary nature of the services and the need for throughput and suitable move on options. This could be achieved by establishing the right contract with the service provider. The Panel suggested that the Council should look for opportunities  ...  view the full minutes text for item 191.

192.

Housing Panel Work Plan pdf icon PDF 103 KB

To reivew the Panel’s Work Plan and make any adjustments and additions as nessesary.

 

Minutes:

The Panel agreed that the following suggestions should be added to the long list of items to be considered for inclusion in the next Scrutiny work plan:

·         The idea of a tenants’ union for tenants in the private rented sector

·         Engagement with Council tenants

·         Youth homelessness

·         Airbnb (noting that this has already been the subject of a members’ briefing session)

·         Boat homes (perhaps as part of a wider item on the waterways)

·         Other non-standard types of homes such as park homes (if there are any in the city)

 

The Panel also noted that the figures on the numbers of homelessness cases prevented (which were not reported to the March meeting due to changes in national legislation) should now be available and asked to see these.

193.

Date of next meeting

Meetings are scheduled as follows:

 

27 June 2019

3 October 2019      

5 December 2019

 

All meetings begin at 6.00pm.

Minutes:

The Panel noted that the date of the next scheduled meeting is 27 June 2019.