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Apologies, Declarations of Interest or Any Other Communications from Members
Cllr Shantanu Rajawat sent apologies for absence and Cllr Darshan Grewal for lateness.
There were no declarations of interest.
Cllr Sheila O’Reilly said that she wished to state categorically that the Conservative Group had never applied the Party Whip to call-ins to Scrutiny meetings. Cllr Rajinder Bath, Chair, declared that the Labour Group did not do so either. Ian Duke, Head of Policy and Scrutiny, advised that the matter had arisen in the context of quorums. A section of the Council’s Constitution specifically stated that agendas must say if a Party Whip was involved in a call-in; there was no suggestion that it had actually been applied in the case of Scrutiny meetings.
The Chair welcomed everyone including Cllr Ed Mayne, present as a guest, to the meeting. He offered special thanks to the Vice-Chair, Cllr Peter Carey, for chairing the Panel meetings in Cllr Bath’s absence.
The minutes of the meeting held on 21 January 2012 were agreed to be a true and accurate record.
Cllr Peter Carey expressed the hope that officers and would remain in close contact with the Tenant Scrutiny Board, which he described as a very exciting development, adding that it enjoyed the full support of the Housing & Environment Scrutiny Panel. Members present agreed.
Feltham Arena Scrutiny Referral
Ian Duke, Head of Policy and Scrutiny and Ben Osifo, Policy & Scrutiny Officer, gave the presentation. The Overview and Scrutiny Committee had been requested to investigate the matter in September 2012 and OSC agreed to delegate this to the Housing and Environment Scrutiny Panel. The gap between the date of that decision and the current meeting was due to a number of factors including the issue’s complexity.
The matter dated back over ten years and there had been a number of Council interventions during that time involving eight key officers, all of whom had since left the Council’s employ, two of them recently. The relevant documents had not been easy to find and great credit was due to Policy & Scrutiny Officer Ben Osifo for finding them. Mr Duke advised that he would present the background of the case and an initial review of questions raised in the original request. The Panel could then decide upon what steps would be taken next.
The Chair welcomed Councillors Darshan Grewal and Balvir Sond who arrived at this point (7. 09 pm).
Mr Duke advised that hard copies of the documents to be presented were not yet available as some of the information had only been obtained as late as Friday 1 March and the presentation itself had only been finalised during the day of the meeting (4 March). Information would however be made available at the next stage of the process.
Beginning the slideshow presentation, Mr Duke advised that a site visit would be arranged prior to the next stage. He confirmed that work had stalled at the site but advised that it was unclear if the agreement with the club had definitely been cancelled. A formal planning application had been granted more than four years previously; Mr Duke advised that he would check to discover if the permission had now lapsed.
Scrutiny had been asked to investigate the matter on 18 September 2012 in a letter signed by Councillors Sharma, Ellar and Ajmer Grewal and the purpose of the present meeting was to bring members up to speed and provide an initial officer assessment against the grounds for the request. Given that the next meeting of the Housing and Environment Scrutiny Panel would not be until July 2013 Mr Duke advised that there was a case for the formation of a task group to start examining the matter in the meantime. The request to investigate could be summarised as follows:
Any business which the Chair agrees to accept on grounds of urgency.
Cllr Sheila O’Reilly advised that she had obtained evidence of a number of different planning inspector decisions regarding rogue landlords, which she had emailed to Scrutiny Officer Ben Osifo. She stated that she would be attending a meeting with the Department for Communities and Local Government in the near future where she hoped to obtain further information and that she believed that Scrutiny should examine the subject to ensure that best practice was followed. Cllr O’Reilly clarified the term “rogue landlords” as a reference to the practice of unlawfully letting substandard accommodation in outhouses or garages to vulnerable persons, often colloquially referred to as “beds in sheds.” Cllr Rajinder Bath advised that the letting of rooms in overcrowding housing came under the same heading. Cllr Peter Carey agreed that the matter should be investigated by Scrutiny. Cllr Felicity Barwood advised that she was aware of the scale of the problem from her work on the Enforcement Panel; landlords with multiple properties were known to have converted houses with as few as three bedrooms into houses in multiple occupation.
Mr Osifo asked if members wished relevant officers to be invited to the July meeting in order to discuss their work on this issue. The Panel agreed, asking for a general overview to be provided to enable a view to be formed as to how the Council could best target resources.