- Strategic Director of Environment and Development Services to report.
Further to Minute No. 29 of 6th August, 2014, Cabinet, Councillor Godfrey, Cabinet Member for Safe and Attractive Neighbourhoods, introduced a report by the Strategic Director of Environment and Development Services, setting out proposals for the remaining nine Neighbourhood Centres and Borough-wide laundry and guest bedroom facilities following further consultation and usage analysis.
A thorough consultation exercise for each of the Neighbourhood Centres, including communal lounge areas, guest bedrooms and laundry facilities, had been undertaken to determine proposals relating to future use. The findings had been:-
- Retain one Centre – the Centre was only used six hours per week but operated at a surplus and the majority of tenants wanted to retain it. It was located within a deprived area where the Service would like to work with the existing Tenant and Residents Association to increase usage
- Decommission eight Centres – these Centres were not well used, most operated at a deficit and the majority of the tenants (on seven of the eight schemes) supported removal of the charge and an alternative use
The guest bedrooms would be removed from all facilities recommended for an alternative use. However, some of the laundry facilities may be retained if usage was above the proposed threshold. The Centres would be converted and re-let as Council homes to support housing need and demand subject to planning permission for a change of use. If planning permission was not granted that alternative options may have to be considered. Subject to the relevant approvals, the works would be phased with Centres already approved for conversion over a two year period (2015/16 and 2016/17).
The options for the proposed increase to the laundry charge were set out in the report submitted.
Informal discussions had been held with the Planning Service regarding the proposals for a change of use to residential units. There was a need to demonstrate that the existing community use was no longer required and that there was no other community use that could benefit from the building before considering allowing a change of use to residential. The Housing Service was able to justify that the community use was not viable based upon current usage and consultation feedback, however, there was a risk that planning permission would not be granted and alternative options would have to be considered. The units were located within older persons housing schemes and, therefore, future lettings would have to be sensitive towards the nature of the scheme with a relevant Local Lettings Policy being applied similar to lettings of former warden flats above centres.
It would be necessary to change the terms of the Tenancy Agreements if the communal facility was to be no longer available or changed to a nearby site. If the alternative facility was too far from the site or shared with properties of a different status, there may be a danger that they would lose their immunity from Right to Buy claims.
The Centres were currently operating at a deficit and there was no certainty that appropriate funding would be available to subsidise the units in future.
Cabinet Members welcomed the alternative arrangements that would be offered to tenants regarding the laundry service.
Resolved:- (1) That the proposals identified for each Centre in Appendices 1 and 2 and as detailed in the report submitted be approved, namely:-
- Retain one Centre
- Decommission 8 Centres for an alternative use subject to planning permission
- Increase the laundry charge to £1.60 with a minimum threshold of ten tenants resulting in the retention of twenty-nine facilities and removal of eighteen facilitates
- Remove forty-three guest bedrooms for an alternative use
- Retain one guest bedroom and increase the charge to £10 per night
(2) That the removal of payphones within all Neighbourhood Centres be approved.