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* On Thursday morning, I took part in the second Harris Academy Project Board that will oversee the Harris Academy rebuilding project.
* In the afternoon, I attended part of the City Council’s Housing Best Value Review Group, at which I raised questions regarding the performance of the City Council in re-letting empty council houses, an issue I have previously raised at the council’s Scrutiny Committee.
* Thereafter, I chaired the first meeting of the West End Christmas Week 2011 committee. Early days in planning this year’s Christmas Week, but great progress and enthusiasm!
I reported last November that the City Council intended using legislation under the Tenement (Scotland) Act 2004 to ballot owners in blocks of flats where there is a mix of owner occupiers and council tenants to see if a majority will agree to the installation of controlled entry systems.
This is to ensure that the previous problem of just one unco-operative owner in, say, a block of eight flats stopping the majority wish for a controlled entry system that greatly helps home security.
I’m pleased, therefore, to be advised by the City Council that the first of these ballots took place recently and the outcome was a positive vote in favour of secure entry in all the West End Ward properties that were in the first phase of balloting. This will mean new controlled entry systems in various blocks in Blackness Road, Polepark Road and a block in Saggar Street, which is good news.
I have welcomed news that the City Council has, after an options appraisal, finally decided to renovate a badly damaged council house in Polepark Road and bring it back into the tenancy pool.
The property has sat empty since it was abandoned in August 2008 and I have been in contact with the Housing Department to query why it had been left empty so long.
The City Housing Manager has now updated me as follows :
“As promised here is the outcome of the Options Appraisal exercise.
We explored two options and determined that the optimal approach was to refurbish the property – combining specialist timber treatment and solum works with planned capital investment (kitchen/bathroom/heating) and normal relet repairs – with a view to offering it to mainstream waiting list clients.
The other option was to carry out essential specialist remedial works only, secure the property and remove it from the Housing Revenue Account on the grounds that the investment in refurbishing doesn’t represent value for money.”
I am pleased that the Housing Department has finally decided to do the necessary work to get this property back into use as this will help house someone on the waiting list, but the question remains as to why it was left such a long time sitting empty.
At the last Scrutiny Committee of the City Council, I expressed concern that the time taken for reletting houses under the SNP administration is getting worse. In the 6 months to 30th September 2009, the average time to relet a council house was 74.5 days; it had worsened by the 6 months to 30th September 2010 to 98.7 days.
I was assured that effort was being made to improve matters and get average relet time down to 65 days – but the Housing Department seemed not to know when this target will be met. I have asked for an update on progress on this as getting empty houses re-let quicker must be a priority for the Housing Department.
As a councillor with a ward where there is a high proportion of tenements, I must applaud Ann Laird of Friends of Glasgow West for an excellent letter in the Herald yesterday :
New MSPs must make an upgrade of our tenement law the priority
Published on 2 Apr 2011
Why do flat owners in older tenement properties in Edinburgh so often end up handing over the common repairs on their combined property asset worth upwards of £1.2 million to a local authority department?
In 19th-century Scotland, a typical tenement building was owned by a single individual or trust, who maintained the property –and this worked well for repairs. But mostly since 1950, tenement flats were sold off individually in large numbers. Allocation of responsibility for common repairs would be set out in the title deeds for each tenement whenever the first flat was sold off.
The tragedy is that for 50 years, the necessary parallel upgrade in our tenement law – a standard legal instrument in many countries – was not done. The Scottish Parliament’s Tenements (Scotland) Act 2004 brought some belated improvement, but shied away from a fully workable system for common repairs.
So although things are considerably better, tenement flat owners may still have difficulty in getting their co-owners to agree and pay up, and property managers (or factors) are in a similar position. And surprisingly, too few flat-owners make a realistic effort to work with co-owners – compared with, say, eight owners of a hypothetical business worth a comparable £1.2 million.
In Edinburgh, the answer has been to use a willing surrogate source of authority, the local council. But the combination of a minority of wayward private flat owners and the unusual position of a council department spending large sums of money on behalf of private owners, provides a perfect breeding-ground for exactly the kind of unfortunate problems we are now seeing – surely an accident waiting to happen. And do we also expect a council which has stepped in on one level, to have full capacity for what are often significant and demanding heritage conservation works?
Meanwhile the hidden culprit is our Scottish Tenement Law which could do better for the 25% of households in private tenemental ownership. Our new MSPs must put these long-term issues high on their agenda in the next Parliament.
Chairman, Friends of Glasgow West
* A meeting with Dundee Museum of Transport representatives at the building in Roseangle (see right) that they hope to soon open as the temporary premises for the museum. Although their long term aim is to locate at a larger site in Maryfield, they are keen to get the museum open meantime in Roseangle and residents will welcome the news that the long-empty building and site in Roseangle will come back into use, particularly for such a worthwhile project.
* Along with my ward colleague Cllr Richard McCready, I took part in a meeting at St Peter’s Free Church to discuss further ways in which this fabulously renovated building can be used as a community resource and for concerts and other activities. I have also been in touch with Angus and Dundee Tourism officers to see how they can assist with this, given the great historical interest in the church, the church of the Rev Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-43).
* I took part in the Dundee House Project Board’s latest meeting, at a time when the building project is nearing completion.
* I attended a briefing on tenant participation in Dundee, run by the City Council’s Housing Department.
* I met a number of residents in the Polepark area about issues of local concern.
* I had the pleasure of meeting Dave Kaye, Managing Director of National Express’s UK Bus operation. Dave was taking part in an event in the City Square where the Dundee public could meet senior staff from National Express, including Simon Mathieson, the Acting Director of National Express Dundee. This was an excellent initiative to let Dundee people highlight their issues about bus services in the city and let local people meet senior representatives of one of the major bus operators in Dundee.
* I also had the pleasure of attending the launch of the Dundee Youth Council at the City Chambers last night. Congratulations go to Matthew Landsburgh on being elected Chair and to all the other members of the new Dundee Youth Council. Listening to the debate last night, there is no doubt that the DYC will become firmly established as a strong voice for young people in the city.
“This property was extensively damaged – provisional estimated cost £20 K.+ – when recovered as an abandonment in August 2008. At that time an operational decision was taken to not commit this level of resources on a property with little or no demand (ground floor bedsit).
What should have happened is what we are now doing and an options appraisal exercise is being undertaken to determine how best to resolve the issues around this particular vacant property.”
I have replied stating :
“I must confess considerable concern that an options appraisal exercise has not been carried out sooner at (this property in) Polepark Road and that the property has been left in this situation for such a lengthy period. Can I please be given an assurance over the timeframe for the options appraisal and can I have sight of it when complete and detail of any decisions taken as a result of it?”
I also asked about another property that is lying empty in Polepark Road and was advised :
” … this property was fire damaged a few weeks ago and we are in the process of arranging the appropriate repairs to allow the decanted tenant to return a.s.a.p.”
I have responded as follows :
” … could you give me some clarity on dates? When did the fire take place and if the department is now “in the process of arranging the appropriate repairs” what he been happening with this property in the meantime? When will it be available for the decanted tenant to return?”
There’s an important issue here. At the last Scrutiny Committee, I expressed concern that the time taken for reletting houses under the SNP administration is getting worse.
In the 6 months to 30th September 2009, the average time to relet a council house was 74.5 days; it had worsened by the 6 months to 30th September 2010 to 98.7 days, despite the SNP administration’s “enhanced relets policy” that has cost council tenants a small fortune.
At the Scrutiny Committee, I was assured that effort was being made to improve matters and get average relet time down to 65 days – but the Housing Department seemed not to know when this target will be met. I have therefore also sought clarity on this from the Director of Housing.
After a visit to Ancrum Drive to discuss impending works that the City Council will undertake to ensure the flooding problem from Lochee Park into residents’ gardens is tackled, I attended a very interesting briefing on the private sector house condition survey in Dundee, undertaken by David Adamson and Partners.
This contained very interesting information about the city’s private sector housing stock – owner occupied, former local authority sold housing and private rented housing. Of concern is the extent of investment needed to bring those houses requiring repair up to an acceptable standard (£24.82 million to achieve tolerable standard/visible repairs up to £76.02 million for comprehensive repairs) and environmental concerns – graffiti/vandalism/parking issues/rubbish etc – a concern for some residents in the West End and in other wards, according to the survey.
Later today, I had a very useful meeting with the Head of Secondary Education about the City Campus proposal and progress with Curriculum for Excellence. Thereafter, I held my weekly surgery at Blackness Primary School.
As reported in yesterday’s Scotland on Sunday, Scottish Liberal Democrats have highlighted nationally concerns that 70 000 houses are lying empty across Scotland and urged that efforts be made to bring them back into use.
Further to my update last month on the subject of empty houses in Dundee, in today’s Courier and in the Press and Journal, I have emphasised that the City Council, Registered Social Landlords and others must redouble their efforts to get empty housing back into use to help ensure that targets to tackle homelessness are achieved.
It is clear from parliamentary answers from the SNP Minister for Housing and Communities that there are over 4000 Dundee properties lying empty and around half of these are in the social sector – most being owned by Dundee City Council.
I welcome Liberal Democrat calls nationally to look at ideas such as giving out grants to renovate homes and put them back into the social rented sector, and loans to put them back into the private rented sector.
I spoke earlier today on Radio Tay news criticising the above-inflation council house rents increase in Dundee being proposed by the SNP council administration. You can hear this by clicking on ‘play’ above.
The SNP Housing Convener says that the 4.5% increase is the lowest of the options on the table but what he conveniently forgets to tell tenants is that I proposed that the council also consult tenants on a lower increase – a full 1% lower – and the SNP blocked this to prevent any real consultation on genuine options. Instead tenants got SNP inflation busting options only – ranging between 4.5% and 5% – which will hit hard pressed families at a difficult time.
The response to the consultation – 428 tenants out of 12 995 – or just 3.3% – shows that if you give tenants a fake consultation with no real options other than high increases, tenants will treat the “non-consultation” with the contempt it deserves and boycott it. That is exactly what has happened. The reason the SNP was unwilling to consult on my lower increase level is that, deep down, they know that tenants would have supported the lower level and that would have upset their plans to impose an inflation-busting increase.
I will be proposing a lower increase of just 3.5% when the council meets on Monday. The Consumer Prices Index this week shows inflation at 3.7% so a 3.5% increase is a reasonable step. The SNP increase they claim is vital is not vital at all – it is excessive and will hit many tenants hard.
I will also speak about this matter on Wave 102’s news on Monday.
I recently contacted the City Council’s Director of Housing about the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership – an excellent initiative that includes COSLA on behalf of Scottish local government, Shelter Scotland and Scottish Government and aims to get many of Scotland’s empty homes back into use and thereby further help tackle homelessness.
I was keen to ensure that Dundee City Council signed up for the Empty Homes Initiative and very encouraged by a detailed and positive response from the Director, the main points from which I detail below :
“The Housing Department contacted Kristen Miller from the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership back in September to discuss the initiative.
Since then, the Department has had the opportunity to meet with Kristen to learn more about the initiative and discuss it further. The meeting was helpful in finding out how we might best target our efforts within Dundee.
Kristen’s role is to provide information and support to local authorities and their partners to examine initiatives to make better use of empty properties where possible. Many of the examples of good practice highlighted by Kristen relate to action underway in England and Wales where there are different legislative mechanisms and funding streams available to bring empty homes back into use.
Key to the development of a strategy is identifying empty properties and finding out why they are empty. Kristen has been developing a quick reference guide to developing questionnaires to assess why properties are left empty, what owners intentions are towards their property and what are the barriers to bringing such properties back into use.
The Council has now also decided to reduce council tax discounts for second homes from 50% to 10%, additional funding can be used towards funding social rented housing. This reduction in relief may be an incentive to owners not to leave properties vacant. Work undertaken for recommending this reduction in discount indicated that there are around 180 second homes within the City.
You may have noticed in Housing News that according to the Bank of Scotland the number of vacant properties in Scotland has risen to its highest level in six years. There were 106,239 vacant homes in Scotland in September 2009, a rise of 2.7 per cent from 103,433 in September 2008. The number of vacant homes is at its highest since 2003 (106,312), accounting for 4.3 per cent of all homes in Scotland. harnessing this adds weight to the drive to bring empty homes back into use.
Many of the local authorities with high levels of vacant properties are rural authorities for instance Western Isles has the largest proportion of vacant homes in Scotland (13.3 per cent); over three times the average for Scotland (4.3 per cent). Argyll and Bute (11.4 per cent) have the second highest level of empty homes, followed by Orkney Islands (8.9 per cent). Based on the figure of 180 second homes in Dundee would equate to 0.25% of the total housing stock.
Dundee City Council has signed up to the Empty Homes Initiative. From the discussions and investigation to date the next steps we are progressing within the Housing Department are the development of a questionnaire to owners of second homes to assess reasons why properties are lying vacant as well as information provision highlighting to owners the possibilities for bringing their properties into use. This would include information for example on how to register as a private landlord and the Scheme of Assistance for repairs to private sector dwellings.”
Tonight, I attended the November meeting of “Community Spirit” – the community group for the “north” part of West End Ward, covering Tullideph, Ancrum, Pentland and the Cleghorn area.
There was a presentation from the Dundee Travel Active group and a useful discussion of numerous local issues, including how parking could be improved in Pentland.
The group was updated on the recent correspondence I have had with the City Council’s Housing Department over the issue of controlled entry provision. The problem up to now in many blocks of flats is that, as the department has sought 100% approval from owner occupiers before going ahead with controlled entry installation, it has taken only one uncooperative owner to stop the vast majority of owners and tenants who want controlled entry from getting a system.
I am greatly supportive of increasing the extent of controlled entry systems as they greatly improve safety and security for residents and I asked the City Council why it did not accept majority votes on this matter.
I am pleased to say the council has now had the legal position reviewed and I paste below an update from the Housing Department :
“… please also find attached the rules associated with the Tenement Management Scheme which details the legal approach we must use as a local authority when we adopt this route in 2011/12.
It is our intention to follow the voting procedure and advise all the relevant people involved of the outcome of the ballot, prior to instructing the work. Work will only proceed where we have a majority in play who indicated that they wish to proceed .
Please rest assured that we will formally approach each person in writing in order to secure their vote and provide details of the outcome of the ballot prior to undertaking any works.
It is our intention to roll this out in financial year 2011/12 and I will be drawing up the processes and procedures in the coming months in preparation for this using legal guidance provided.”
I understand the council is using legislation under the Tenement (Scotland) Act 2004 to pursue this course of action and it will mean a majority vote in future. This will be welcomed by many people who want controlled entry but have been denied it because all owners had to agree before it could be installed.
I had a very useful meeting earlier today with the Director of Housing, City Housing Manager and the Homeless Services Manager about the homeless in Dundee and the council’s progress with the issue. This follows on from recent correspondence I have had with the Housing Department recently. Later, I attended a briefing for councillors on council rents issues.
Also today we held our latest West End Christmas Week meeting. The 10th Anniversary West End Christmas Week is taking great shape with great events being planned.
Residents will recall that at the 2009 Christmas Week, we held a balloon launch and the winning balloon went all the way to Sweden. Imagine our surprise when a lady called Ellen Grundt e-mailed us from Norway earlier this month as follows …
“I’m writing to tell you that I found your balloon. In fact three of them. I live in Oslo, Norway but we have a cottage in Vestbygda, Eggedal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggedal) 140 km from Oslo. I was walking in the mountains while picking cloudberries and found the balloons under a tree close to a marsh. At first I didn’t understand what it was but then I saw the notes you had attached.”
See photo below! I’ve sent Ellen a package of Dundee branded items as a thank you for letting us know!
From the Homeless Services Manager :“Dear Councillor Macpherson
Regarding the article in Thursday’s Courier on numbers of homeless households provided with emergency temporary accommodation I have to inform you that there was an error in the figures supplied.
The Courier reports that since April 2008 a total of 3,839 households have been placed in temporary accommodation and that in the last four months more than 600 accommodation placements have been made. This figure is in fact the number of households assessed as being homeless and is not the number who required and were placed in temporary accommodation.
The figures for households placed in Council temporary accommodation and including Dundee Womens Aid and partnership accommodation with Hillcrest Housing Association are:
2008-09 – 489
2009-10 – 505
2010-11 – 212 (up to 31/8/10)
As you will note this makes a total of 1,206 rather than the 3,839 as reported by the Courier. The total does not include voluntary sector hostels as we do not have statistics on these establishments but I would estimate that the voluntary sector has provided similar levels of placements to ourselves.
The number of persons placed in Bed & Breakfast was correctly reported by the Courier at 187 however the number of households placed in B&B was:
2008-09 – 62
2009-10 – 21
2010-11 – 21 (up to 31/8/10)
Your support for homeless services is noted and very much appreciated and please accept my apologies if this error has caused you any difficulty. I have to confess that the error was made by ourselves and was not a result of misreporting by the Courier. I will be contacting our press office to issue a correction. If you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact me.”
I appreciate that our HL Returns only record persons who apply to the City Council as homeless and also only record information as given by applicants themselves, however, our experience is that there is not a significant problem with rough sleeping in Dundee. Due to the lack of need for services to rough sleepers we diverted funding from the Cyrenians Outreach and Resettlement Team to what is now Transform’s Homefinder Project. Homefinder staff still retain an outreach remit but this is mainly carried out through briefings with the Police and City Ambassadors to advise that rough sleepers be referred to the Lily Walker Centre. So far we have not had a significant number of referrals.
As the Courier article states, we have protocols in place with voluntary sector hostels in Dundee and we refer people for temporary accommodation to these agencies along with providing accommodation within our own supervised and dispersed units. It is fair to say that we still experience significant demand for temporary accommodation and where people are able to stay with friends or relatives we will advise them to do so if there is a shortage of available bed spaces at any particular time. This may account for the reference in the article to people being advised to contact on a daily basis to check on availability of temporary accommodation but where there is a crisis situation we would use Bed & Breakfast accommodation and would not have people rough sleeping.
Unfortunately there are a small group of homeless people who are barred from all hostel accommodation in the City due to behavioural problems usually associated with substance or alcohol misuse. It may be that individuals in this category have slept rough on occasion but this is not due to an overall lack of bed spaces in the City. Where an individual with these issues presented to ourselves we would accommodation within our own temporary accommodation and endeavour to engage the person with services which may help them to address the issues leading to their homelessness, assuming the health and safety of our accommodation staff was not compromised by doing so.
I would assure you that we keep temporary accommodation requirements in the City under review and at this time supply appears to be sufficient … Our strategy is to reduce demand for temporary accommodation through focussing on prevention of homelessness work but should we find that demand for temporary accommodation increases in future we would look at increasing supply through our partnership arrangements with the voluntary sector along with reviewing our own stock of temporary accommodation.”
“Agree to the cessation of installation of showers from 2011/12 not approved by Social Work on medical grounds, and remit the Director of Housing to investigate alternative methods of providing showers where required.”
It was organised on a “drop in” without the need for an appointment and local councillors were invited to pop in. I had the pleasure of visiting this afternoon and it was good to see the different options available to tenants on show, with helpful staff from the housing project team and the contractors available to answer any questions.
Back in January (see http://www.dundeewestend.com/2009/01/affordable-housing-need-for-action-not.html) I highlighted the lack of momentum behind the SNP government’s funding announcement on capital monies to kick-start council house building across Scotland.
Well, there’s finally been an announcement on the allocation of around two thirds of the £25 million to be allocated and, as I indicate in today’s ‘Courier’, I am very disappointed that Dundee has been overlooked in the initial announcement of funding allocations.
Dundee’s bid of £704 000 was not one of the successful bids in the announcement, which covered some two-thirds of the total £25 million fund. The majority of Scottish Councils – some 18 – did not benefit from the announcement. Neighbouring councils to Dundee, such as Fife and Perth and Kinross did benefit and it is very concerning that Dundee’s bid for new houses for wheelchair users has not yet borne fruit.
The bulk of the funding has now been allocated to 14 councils, so there is going to be significant competition between the bids that have not had funding secured as yet for the remaining monies.
In my view, it is vital that Dundee gets allocated the £704 000 it needs to build new houses for wheelchair users, given that there is a significant waiting list for such housing and Dundee families are crying out for this new housing. Questions have to be asked of SNP Government and COSLA as to why Dundee was not included in the first tranche of funding allocations just announced, particularly given the real housing needs in the City.
I really hope and trust that Dundee gets allocated the funding in the remaining tranche of funding allocation due by the summer.
It should be remembered that in the past year, Housing Association Grant for Dundee was reduced to £7.7 million by the SNP Government. This represents the poorest level of allocation in years – the 2007-8, the previous Liberal Democrat and Labour Executive’s allocation to Dundee was £14.7 million.
Dundee has already lost £7 million in annual house building funding thanks to the SNP and I think it is high time we saw Scottish Government take notice of Dundee’s housing needs.
In November, following Tavish Scott’s visit to Dundee to see local housing projects, I again highlighted the fact that the SNP government, whilst creating a lot of media spin about assisting the provision of providing more affordable housing in Scotland, had, in reality, been poor at actual delivery of the policy in communities across Scotland. Go to http://www.dundeewestend.com/2008/11/affordable-housing.html to view my earlier article.
For 2008-9, Housing Association Grant for Dundee was reduced to £7.7 million by the SNP. This represents the poorest level of allocation in years – the figures below from a parliamentary answer from the Minister for Communities and Sport shows the funding for Dundee under the previous LibDem and Labour administration :
What has been staggering has been the total silence of our SNP parliamentary representatives over the huge cut in funding to the city, caused by their own government. I think it should be incumbent upon them to explain their silence on the issue.
The SNP has announced and reannounced on numerous occasions a £25 million additional capital funding for councils to build new council houses. £25 million is hardly a fortune if spread right across Scotland and I understand it is to be targeted, but it would be good to actually see it actually being used as opposed to being talked about.
“Scottish local authorities will be given a £25m package to build new council houses over the next three years.
In April, the SNP website announced :
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement as she addressed the SNP spring conference.”
(Source : http://www.snp.org/node/13706)
Progress nine months on? In December, the First Minister was still rehashing the same announcement :“Councils offered share of £25m housing pot
By Alex Salmond MP
Published: 02 December, 2008
LOCAL authorities in Scotland are being given the opportunity to apply for a share of £25 million to help kick start a new generation of council house building.”
I think it is high time we saw all the Scottish Government spin about supporting affordable housing and helping the construction industry actually being delivered across Scotland – a good share of the £25 million fund coming to Dundee to offset the negative effects of the cut in housing association funding would be a start.
Following his visit to Dundee earlier this week during which he visited a housing association project, Tavish Scott has criticised the Scottish Government’s record on housing, urging Ministers to take real action rather than relying on spin.
Tavish said, “Affordable housing is in short supply in Scotland. But this SNP Government has slashed Housing Association Grant (HAG). Ministers brag about a multi-million pound funding boost for affordable housing, but have only allocated a tiny fraction of what they promised. They will not meet housing targets or the needs of people in Dundee and across Scotland.
“20,000 jobs are at stake if the Government doesn’t change its mind and get the investment moving.
“It’s time the SNP got serious about housing. Spin simply isn’t good enough. It won’t put a roof over people’s heads or save jobs.”
I am pleased that Tavish is highlighting this issue – the SNP government slashed HAG for Dundee Housing Associations by millions this year – by 46% to be precise – and this shows the SNP’s claims about increasing funding affordable housing to be spin rather than reality.
There has been much debate of late in the City about housing and, however you view that debate, there is absolutely no doubt that further house building investment from Scottish Government to local authorities will be vital. As the Council Leader said recently (quote from the Evening Telegraph of 15th April),
“Mr Keenan said that, if there was to be a solution to the waiting list issue in Dundee, and across Scotland, it must involve a major new house building programme and the co-operation of the public and private sectors as well as councils.
“Mr Keenan said the council was currently investing more than £200 million in the housing stock.”
“the £25m injection would kick-start a new generation of council homes” (Nicola Sturgeon quoted from SNP Conference – BBC – 19th April)
“There is total confusion and uncertainty on where exactly the Scottish Government’s programme is. It should be a simple task to identify and state how many houses for rent in the public sector the SNP Government plan to build. They pull all the levers on this, particularly by the funding provided to Councils and Housing Associations.
“Yet, despite pressure from housing organisations, the SNP continue to duck and weave on this. They seem determined to brazen it out with a smoke and mirrors act rather than come clean on the issue.
“The reality is obvious – as it stands, less houses will be built under the SNP than ever before. Housing has a distinctly lower priority under the SNP than it did when Liberal Democrats were in Government.”