Friday, December 29, 2006

Call-in of Merton Council Land - Housing Decisions

The Merton Council Cabinet meeting decision of 18th December relating to Council Land - Housing Decisions has been called-in and will be considered by the Overview and Scrutiny Commission on Monday 15th January at 7.15pm.

The land at Merton Road and Ravensbury Garage had previously been set aside by Merton Council for sale to a Housing Association. The main reason given for the abandonment of the housing 'is that 12 new affordable housing homes represents too high a concentration of mono-tenure affordable social housing in this particular location.' The report also states that 12 affordable housing units is 'too high a concentration' when in many developments the figure would be many times higher.

Now it will be interesting to see what arises out of the particular documents that have been requested about the Cabinet decision, this includes the e-mail requests. The decision also goes against the Housing Strategy 2004-07 which is a policy framework document approved by Council and Cabinet decisions need to be in compliance with the policy framework. Although the minority Tory administration document many not agree with the document now, they did not oppose the document when passed by Council in February 2004. The Housing Strategy was not even mentioned in the report. Below is the decesion by Council in February 2004 which is still Council policy.

751 HOUSING STRATEGY 2004-2007 (Agenda item 11)
The recommendations in the submitted report were duly moved and seconded.
Following debate it was
RESOLVED: That the Housing Strategy 2004-2007 be approved, noting that
the Strategy has been declared “Fit for Purpose” by the Government Officer
for London.

The full reasoning for the Call-in is below, along with a link to the Cabinet agenda of 18th December. The decision made by Cabinet is quite a good indicator to the policies that the Conservative minority administration in Merton are pursuing at present. All the reasons for call-in have been accepted as valid by the Head of Legal.

Title of decision
Council Land – Housing Decisions Key Decision Reference Number: 402 Agenda Item 18

Cabinet 18th December 2006 Cabinet
Which principle(s) of the decision-making has not been followed?
(iii) Respect for equalities
(iv) A presumption in favour of openness
(v) Clarity of aims and desired outcomes
(vi) Consideration and evaluation of alternatives

Reason for the call-in and desired outcome
Reason for the Call-In:

1. Recommendations and Decisions C & D of this report fail to comply with the Housing Strategy for Merton 2004 – 2007 approved by Council 25th February 2004. ( This is a Council framework policy with which Cabinet decisions must comply. For a 24 page report dealing with housing decisions on HRA land, it is extraordinary that there is a failure to mention the Strategy even as a background document. The Strategy sets out the following priorities: Increasing the Supply of Affordable Housing; Supporting Vulnerable People and Preventing Homelessness; Improving Housing Conditions; Developing Sustainable Communities and Delivering Through Effective Partnerships. Recommendations C & D contradict each of those priorities. The fact that neither the Strategy nor its Priorities are mentioned in the Report is itself clear evidence that they were not taken into account in arriving at the decisions that were taken. Recommendations C & D are in breach of Principle (v) – little or no account is taken of the clear aims and outcomes set out in the Strategy; and of Principle (vi) that there was no consideration or evaluation of alternatives compliant with the Strategy.

2. Recommendations and Decisions C & D fail to comply with Principle (iii) equalities in that there is no consideration given to the well documented unmet housing needs of those in Merton and in the wider Sub-Region, nor of the fact that those in Housing Need are more likely to be vulnerable and/or from a minority ethnic background.

3. Recommendations C & D and the Report supporting them fail Principle (iv) the test of openness in that they purport to be the recommendations, advice and view of officers whereas in fact they are the recommendations, advice and view of the Cabinet Member, Cllr Diane Neil Mills. It is contended that Merton’s senior housing officers previously have drafted the aforementioned Housing Strategy for Merton 2004 – 2007 and the original Cabinet report of 15th November 2004 in favour of proposals to declare 165-169 Merton Road and garages on Ravensbury Estate surplus to requirements and disposed of to Wandle and Presentation Housing Associations for the purpose of building affordable housing units. This was the basis of the Cabinet decision of 15th November 2004. There is no reason to believe that the officer advice has changed in respect of these proposals. In this context, it is believed that paragraph 2.4.2 gives a misleading impression. It is accepted that: “Officers have advised the Cabinet member on the benefits and risks of not proceeding with the affordable housing scheme given the work that has been completed to date.” However, the next sentence reads: “It is now being recommended that this affordable housing scheme does not go ahead and further, that Cabinet makes a decision to sell the site on the open market with outline planning permission. The reasons for this is that it is now considered that 12 new affordable housing homes represents too high a concentration of mono-tenure affordable social housing in this particular location. …. The view is that the Council’s best interests would now be served by selling all of the site on the open market, but with outline planning permission, so that the Council’s wider interests in terms of eventual housing on that site can be fully considered.” (my underlining) The implication is that this report presents the recommendation, reasons and view of housing officers, in a true sense rather than, on a narrow definition, merely writing a report in accordance with what they believe to be the Cabinet Member’s views.

Desired outcome:

1. That the Cabinet be advised to retake their decisions on the basis of a report that refers to the Priorities contained in the Housing Strategy for Merton 2004 – 2007.

2. That the Recommendations and Decisions comply with the Housing Strategy for Merton 2004 – 2007.

3. That the Recommendations and Decisions comply with Equalities.

4. That there is openness and clarity about which is the advice and recommendations of officers and which of members.

Witnesses requested
Cabinet Member Diane Neil Mills, Peter Mulloy Head of Service, Simon Williams Director of Community and Housing
Specific information/documents requested
Housing Strategy for Merton 2004 – 2007.

Correspondence by letter or e.mail between officers and between the Cabinet member and officers in relation to the compilation of this report, including legal and constitutional advice given.


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