One of a councillor’s main duties is to set a balanced budget. This year that is harder than ever. The loss of over £100 million in funding over the past 10 years means that any “low-hanging fruit” have long since disappeared.
We now face the awful decisions we never wanted to make. And in doing so, we must be aware of the impact on residents.
Last week, I attended an event hosted by “Real Conversation” discussion groups from Prestonville and Whitehawk. The Together Network is running these events across the country, the aim being to feed into the government’s “levelling up” agenda.
Much of the discussion was about the broken housing market in Brighton and Hove, the poor quality of some temporary accommodation, unresponsive letting agents, the loss of private rented properties to the holiday lets market and the problems of damp and mould.
The council is currently reprocuring its temporary accommodation and has worked with Justlife and Fulfilling Lives to revise the required standards of such accommodation. We are also committed to bringing more of this accommodation in-house.
In terms of unresponsive letting agents and landlords, while tenants can complain to the Property Ombudsman, they can also contact the council’s Private Sector Housing Team.
We know that tenants can be reluctant to report issues to their landlord for fear of revenge evictions. With the spotlight currently on the issue of damp and mould, however, it becomes more important than ever that renters have the confidence to report issues as they arise.
We are committed to addressing the problems by introducing landlord licensing where there is the requisite evidence to support a scheme.
In the meantime, we would encourage tenants to let the council know where they intend to request repairs but are concerned about the possibility of a revenge eviction.
Renters can obtain six months’ protection against the issue of a section 21 notice where the council has ordered a landlord to do repairs under an improvement notice or emergency works notice.
As far as damp and mould in our own council homes is concerned, reports are up 30 per cent on last year. I welcome this. The council cannot act on the cases it does not know about.
The work to address this is divided into three phases: an initial assessment, followed by a washdown and antifungal treatment and, in about 25 per cent of cases, further remedial works.
We introduced additional contractors before Christmas, including a specialist damp contractor. This contractor compiles a report for each property that covers the amount of ventilation and any health concerns.
In some properties, they can leave portable air management systems in place to start removing the spores from the air before more in-depth works are carried out.
More positively, the council continues to contribute to alleviating the housing crisis by building high-quality social housing.
In the past fortnight, the Planning Committee unanimously approved the planning application for the Moulsecoomb hub development.
The scheme is for 212 new council homes, a community hub building, 3G sport pitches, skate park and public open space. The housing mix is 77 one-bedroom apartments, 79 two-bedroom apartments, 48 three-bedroom apartments and 8 four-bedrooms houses, helping meet the demand for larger family homes.
The consultation process involved setting up a Neighbourhood Action Plan for Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, nine “planning for real” events and the establishment of a Community Stakeholder Group.
This resulted in changes being made to the original design, with the housing and community facilities going into separate areas and the design being broken up to create more pockets of light.
At the other end of the construction process is the development of 42 new homes next to Portslade Town Hall which is nearing completion and should start welcoming its first residents next month.
Councillor David Gibson and I visited it last week, sadly the day before they started installing the “green” walls.
What we could see, however, were the generously proportioned rooms, the planters ready for a community garden and the space for a small orchard.
The homes are well insulated and have the benefit of the council’s first ground source heat pump.
The heating system will operate differently from a conventional gas boiler system so this will be a learning process for tenants and housing teams alike. But given the Council’s commitment to no new boiler installations after 2028, this is a key stage in the process.
Elsewhere in Portslade, we are due to purchase 49 truly affordable new council homes being delivered by the joint venture with Hyde within this financial year.
This means we are predicted to deliver an additional 200 council homes in a single year – which is about as many as the last Labour council delivered in four years. Now that really is something to celebrate!
Councillor Siriol Hugh-Jones is the Green deputy leader of Brighton and Hove City Council.