Cllr Lynden Stowe, Cabinet Member for Finance and Change, to be invited to attend the meeting to provide information on how the Council could harness more social benefits as part of its property disposal programme.
4.1 Following the One Public Estate item at the last meeting, Cllr Lynden Stowe, Cabinet Member for Finance and Change, whose portfolio included property, had been invited to attend the meeting. Committee members had requested information on how the Council could harness more social benefits as part of its property disposal programme.
4.2 Cllr Stowe explained that the Cabinet and officers worked to the Corporate Strategy which set out the Council’s priorities including climate change. He said that every aspect of the Council’s business was about delivering social benefit and was not limited to the property disposal programme . He noted that housing was the primary responsibility of District Councils through their local plans. The demand for social housing and market housing was assessed through a Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) and these were kept under review by the District Councils through the local planning process. He acknowledged the importance of social housing but also noted that market housing was a key part of balanced communities. He was concerned that home ownership in the county has fallen from 70% to around 60%. One of the priority objectives for Vision 2050 was the provision of good quality housing that encouraged young people to stay and attracted other people to move to the county for work.
4.3 The One Public Estate Programme had to work within the parameters of the housing needs identified by the Districts. One of the key areas was providing housing for adults in later stages of life and the Council always looked to work with partner agencies to meet that need. Cllr Stowe stated that the budget was tight with limited flexibility but if there were opportunities to harness more social benefits then the Council would look to do that.
4.4 A member noted the urgent need for good quality social housing and she believed that the Council should have a more planned approach with less emphasis on achieving the maximum capital receipt. They said it was difficult to bring forward social housing schemes without subsidy as there were challenges with the financial viability of sites. With the Council facing increasing demand for supported housing for vulnerable young people and adults, they suggested that the Council consider developing sites itself. They called for a more innovative approach that learnt from the Gloucester City Local Plan that included electric vehicle charging points, cycle lanes and carbon-neutral development.
4.5 Members expressed concern regarding the proposals for a Gloucester Health Hub at Quayside, including access, design, parking and cost cutting. Cllr Stowe believed that it was a sensible and pragmatic scheme which made the best use of the funds available and reduced carbon emissions by utlising the existing concrete footprint of the former Quayside building.
4.6 A member stated that the Property Team was very good in engaging with local communities on proposals for the disposal and reuse of sites. They recognised that this was a difficult process as local people often had different views. With the increasing focus on carbon-neutral development they enquired how the Council’s approach was changing. Neil Corbett stated that following the Council motion declaring a climate change emergency, the Property Team were considering the best way forward. He said that it was important for officers to understand the impact on value and the resulting proceeds from capital receipts. He assured members that the Council enjoyed a good working relationship with the District Councils and other public agencies including the Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group.
4.7 Another member noted that in some instances a significant proportion of the cost of running a service related to the maintenance of buildings rather than delivering the service itself. He believed that there was potential for using buildings in different ways to meet particular needs, for example providing support to people coming out of hospital.
4.8 Cllr Stowe noted that the Council had installed a new solar heating system at Shire Hall and was committed to reducing its carbon emissions. He acknowledged that financial viability could be an issue in delivering social housing and the Council looked to provide support where there were identified needs. In terms of social value, he referred to the new facility for young people being developed at Trevone House.
4.9 In developing sites to meet the needs of local people, a member noted that the Council could retain ownership and receive an income stream through rental payments.
4.10 Another member enquired about process that was followed when the Council became responsible for properties at short notice. They made particular mention of the two care homes that had closed in the Stroud area. Mr Corbett stated that such events were unexpected so the Council had to act more quickly. He said that the Council would be engaging with local residents and Stroud District Council in developing plans for future use of the sites.
4.11 Steve Mawson assured members that the local County Councillor would always be consulted when options appraisals were undertaken of sites within their area.
4.12 Cllr Theodoulou thanked Cllr Stowe and Mr Corbett for attending the meeting and answering questions.