Councillor Mason welcomed attendees from Clarion, Councillor Hoy and Dan Horn to the meeting.
Members asked questions, made comments and received responses as follows:
· Councillor Mason asked whether Cadent had any routine maintenance programmes in place. Sally Greetham informed the panel that, regarding routine gas maintenance compliance, Clarion were undertaking 99.78 percent within the timescales. She noted that this was good compared to peers who only average around 99.4 percent. She informed the panel that they do well in other areas of maintenance such as solid fuel types where 100 percent servicing had been achieved and noted their programme for green technology servicing which was in the high 90s for compliance. She explained there were some challenges with compliance including customers refusing entry which prevented 100 percent compliance. She explained there are more legal opportunities for enforcing gas compliance and that where compliance was lower than expected this was due to there being less of a legal basis for compliance. In addition, Sally noted that Clarion also have a planned routine maintenance scheme for when kitchens, bathrooms and roofs are due to be replaced. She also explained that alongside the usual investment programme they had successfully undertaken a decarbonisation project in Fenland.
· Councillor Yeulett asked how the sites for new builds are chosen with regards to good transport and facilities. He also asked what plans they had to implement the green agenda noting the expense and questioning how they will manage this. Daniel Reed noted that Clarion have a strategic land team who look at long term options which take 5-10 years to develop and an everyday land team who buy sites with planning already passed. He explained that all sites are chosen in consultation with the local authority and the housing management team to ensure that they are in an area that is well located. He further noted that they also have a strategic project team which works on sites already owned but are coming to the end of their life such as Springfield Avenue and Roman Court. He explained that these sites are modernised and that they were aiming to be zero net carbon whilst remaining as affordable as possible for residents. He noted that Clarion were also trying to be more sustainable when working with developers on any package deals for land and building, however he explained that this was done at the developer’s discretion as there was no legal obligation to build houses to a high level of sustainability yet.
· Councillor Yeulett noted that the price of modern green technology such as the ground source heat pumps was high at 18,000 pounds and asked whether Clarion could work with these prices whilst keeping the cost down for residents. Daniel Reed agreed that it was expensive and that whilst it was not a legal obligation to have them in a new build, Clarion were attempting to stay ahead of the curve in phasing out traditional fossil burning technology.
· Councillor Miscandlon asked what steps were being taken to future proof their housing stock and what the programme for replacement was in relation to gas boilers. Daniel Reed reasserted that Clarion were attempting to phase out the use of traditional boilers in new builds and that they had a long-term programme to replace their current stock with modern technology in the next 8-10 years. Sally Greetham informed the panel that there was a Clarion 2040 standard which aimed at eventually becoming carbon neutral but that the first approach was to make homes more energy efficient and that how this is achieved will vary from property to property. She explained that they have a strategy with a robust financial plan and that their plans have been helped by the decarbonisation project in Fenland. She noted that Clarion will seek government funding where possible as with the Fenland project and that it was important to bring the residents along with them. Daniel Reed explained that technologies are improving all the time and expressed the hope that as technology improves there will be a chance to replace single units rather than whole systems. He also noted that they were looking at utilising electric boilers but that they had a bad reputation in the past and they needed to be happy with them before this route was explored further.
· Councillor Miscandlon asked what strategy was utilised when relocating problem tenants. Sally Greetham noted that it is the tenants who choose where they go and that any vulnerable tenants have access to support wherever they go. She explained that if a resident is at risk of breaching their tenancy agreement, they work with them to resolve these issues through the tenancy sustainment team. She also noted that they had successfully collaborated with Fenland colleagues on the Ferry project which helped provide more support to customers and reiterated the importance of working with third parties to help vulnerable residents.
· Councillor Miscandlon thanked Clarion for a very comprehensive report.
· Councillor Booth asked whether Clarion were keeping up with the servicing of the air source heat pumps and whether they had experienced any problems due to the supply issues in England. Sally Greetham noted that she was confident that they could keep up with the servicing demands and that they were happy with how servicing had been undertaken with contractors. She agreed that there were challenges across the sector with repairs and maintenance due to struggles in the supply chain, but good contracting management has meant that this has been managed well.
· Councillor Booth noted that solar panel numbers seemed quite low as grants were available from government and asked whether there were any plans to introduce more in the future. He also enquired about the possible use of house batteries. Sally Greetham noted that they did have plans to continue introducing solar powered alternatives noting the recent decarbonisation project. She explained that the project will give a good insight into what will work well in the area. Councillor Booth asked whether Clarion had an idea of how many houses would have solar power installed. Sally Greetham noted that they do not have a specific figure as each property was bespoke in what would work well. Yvonne Ogden noted that they were working with residents to maximise the efficiency of the technology and better manage the cost across all areas. Daniel Reed also noted that they were looking at battery technology but that they always go with a fabric first approach as the less heat escaping the better.
· Councillor Hay asked what Clarion were doing about sheltered housing and the maintenance of the communal areas. Sally Greetham noted that if any sites are brough to Clarion’s attention by Councillors they can do a recheck. She explained that there were some challenges with sheltered housing specifically which can make it hard to let. She noted that they are subject to routine maintenance work as with the other properties but agreed that it was an area that probably needed tidying up.
· Councillor Hay noted that there used to be wardens living in sheltered housing and asked whether there was anything in place for a quick response now they were gone. Sally Greetham explained that the model today was that each house had alarm systems to use in emergencies and that there were also daily welfare calls to check in. She noted that the live smart manager is also on site several hours a day and that they also identify any additional needs of residents living on site along with organising community events, to bring residents together. She explained that the model had changed since Fenland District Council owned the stock as today’s digital technology should enable residents to connect to people if needed.
· Councillor Wicks asked how many properties were left vacant for extended periods of six months or more and asked what the reasons for being left vacant were. Sally Greetham explained that she didn’t have an exact figure to hand but that she could provide this after the meeting. She noted that the average turn around was currently 30 days and that this was good compared to peers. She explained that properties can be empty for longer due to work needed in the property such as in the kitchens and bathrooms and that problems with the supply chain meant that repairs could take longer. She informed the panel that there had been some flooding in some units not so long ago which had also required more work to prevent this from reoccurring.
· Councillor Wicks asked what the procedure was for housing people with children and without transport to ensure that there was support available in the town and rural areas. Sally Greetham reiterated that this is a benefit of the system as residents can choose where they go and that the benefit of having a knowledgeable team allows relevant advice to be given to individuals moving into the area.
· Councillor Wicks asked what the timeline was for a right to buy from application to completion. Sally Greetham noted that this can vary significantly from application to application and can take anywhere from 6-18 months for a live application to be completed depending on complexities and any possible disputes in valuation. She added that the average time for completion was 9 months.
· Councillor Yeulett asked what challenges Clarion had experienced due to Covid. Sally Greetham noted that there had been challenges with staff attending properties and undertaking servicing. She added that there had been challenges where people had struggled to pay rent and that they had to take a different approach to managing arrears as eviction was not a possibility. Yvonne Ogden noted that there had been a raft of support offered by Clarion stating that they had spoken to every vulnerable person several times to ensure they had the support needed. She also explained that they had aided partners and had contacted them to make sure they were okay and could function as normal. She noted that they utilised available funding to help assist partners and she explained that they provided consultants to help partners understand ways in which they could continue to deliver services going forward.
· Councillor Booth noted that there were a number of long-term vacant properties at Thorny Toll and asked why this was a case. Sally Greetham noted that some roofing work was being undertaken here and that these properties were challenging to let due to their positioning on the A47. She noted that they are looking at their options due to the high turnover of families.
· Councillor Booth asked how complaints are taken and what lessons had been learnt from them. Sally Greetham noted that they had completed a piece of work around complaints analysis and that the main recommendation was around transparency and sharing lessons learnt with customers. She also added that there was work to be done around informing customers about how they can make complaints and the process they can go through.
· Councillor Mason asked whether there were any other highlights from the presentation that Clarion wished to speak on. Yvonne Ogden noted that they had provided over 83,000 pounds to help partners in assisting vulnerable residents. She added that they were also supporting the Oasis centre and had assisted with floodlighting on Lime Avenue. Furthermore, she informed the panel that they were leading on a national consultation with backyard nature on how to engage in green spaces. Sally Greetham added her thanks to Fenland for their continued assistance, especially on the decarbonisation project. She also noted the rough sleeper’s accommodation programme in collaboration with Fenland which had helped to support vulnerable individuals.
· Councillor Booth noted that there were 250 new properties in the pipeline and asked why the number had dropped from previous years, stating his worry that this was not enough housing. Daniel Reed informed him that this was due to Clarion being more realistic as past reports had included schemes which were possible rather than probable. He noted that the market was also currently difficult with high land values and build costs. Councillor Booth noted that Combined Authority currently had money for social housing and that they were a key body that Clarion could be working with. Daniel Reed noted that they were attending those meetings and have also become a partner of Homes England which has provided 250 million pounds worth of grant for the next 5 years across the country.
· Councillor Mason thanked Clarion for the report and noted that it demonstrated how far Clarion had come.
The Annual review of Anglia Revenues Partnership was noted for information.