Housing Stock Quality and Quantity in Fylde – Surprising/Concerning facts

Housing and the debate about need and demand is always at the top of the debate list in Fylde.  I have made a numebr of posts on this blog on the subject, including the need for the community to be involved this year in a discussion about Fylde’s future and how it will look in the next 20 to 30 years.  This debate will mark the start of our Core Strategy work, probably the most imporatant policy document the Council will produce for a generation.

This week I attended a housing summit in Fylde with partners such as the PCT and the YMCA as well as over local voluntary groups representing disabled residents as well as others.  The quality and mix of the housing stock in Fylde was a key element of our discussions and everyone who attended was surprised at some of the recent findings.

There are approx 35.000 households in Fylde, even if new build rates increase this year, this will only provide a further 3,000-4,000 households over the coming years. With the economic climate still slowing what we must do in the interim and future is make sure that our current housing stock meet’s the needs of our residents and is maintained to a high standard.

The private sector housing stock (privatley owned) comprises of approximately 33,400 dwellings of which 28,500 are owner occupied (people with mortgages on them) and 4,900 privatley rented (investement properties for rent) By comparison the social rented stock (former Council Houses as ex.) only number 2,300 dwellings across the Borough.

The challenge for the Council and it’s partners, as we have recently seen with our attempt to build a new scheme at Heeley Road is that the lack of supply of social rented means that many, often vulnerable households are having to meet their affordable housing needs by renting from private sector landlords.

More than 31% of households in Fylde have an annula income of less than £15,000 and more than 42% of households have an annual income of less than £20,000. Most of us will be under the impression that Fylde is a very affluent area, these statistics clearly show that is not the case for the majority.  Additonal data on income levels show that low income households (less than £10,000 pa) are most likely to be found in the 16-24 and over 60 age groups, again some of the most vulnerable people in our community.  Should we really be turning our backs on these people as Politicians or as fellow residents of Fylde?

With respect to benefit receipt, overall 19% of households contain a person in receipt of a means tested benefit with the proportion of benefit receipt rising to 34% of households in the private rented sector. 

Surprisingly in Fylde just of 34% of dwellings fail to meet the decent homes standard! within the private rented sector (such as HMO’s) the failure rate climbs to a massive 50%  The main cause of failure to meet the standard in both cases is the poor degree of thermal comfort.

The category 1 hazards are dominated by excess cold issues with falls in the home due to poor maintenance coming a close second.  As part of the house condition survey the council also identified 780 dwellings that are classed as long term vacant, most being empty for over 6 months.  we need to work with developers and partners to see how we can return these to use.

However, money is always the main stumbling block! and to simply remove the Class 1 Hazard – i.e to insulate these homes it is estimated that we would need to invest over £42 million pounds. The estimated cost of comprehensively bringing all our sub standard properties up to the decent homes classification would require in the order of £216 million.  That said FBC and the LSP through the FLoWE Officer has made a start at a number of projects to address the home insulation challenge.

As you can see some of these facts are surprising, others shocking.  Fylde is a nice place to live, but it does have it’s problems.  We need to ensure that we maintain the original feel of our Borough whilst at the same time meeting the needs and providing support for those vulnerable households who live on nearly every street in Fylde.  Considered and targeted development and re-generation will be needed in the coming years, we must all acknowledge that, whilst at the same time, ensuring that by building a long term vision of how our communities will look and feel for future generations, is a well managed consultation  with all our residents.

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Developer delay is putting Conservative plans for Lake and Pool at risk

Yet again we have been left frustrated and with serious concerns about the sale of council owned land on Heeley Road, St Annes, after the property developer, set to buy the land, has failed to make the payment deadline. 

We had expected to have completed the sale to Town Manor Developments in May. However since the original, above valuation, offer for the site was made and the deposit eventually paid, the sale has still not been completed and yet another extension on the deadline for completion has been requested.

My latest position is that; “A completion date in May had been agreed between the council and Town Manor after strong assurances by them and local campaigners that the funds were in place, but for some reason the company seems unable to complete the sale. The company has once again requested an one month extension of time prior to completion of the sale”

The Council had made arrangements to sell the land to the Muir Housing Group to develop a much needed supported housing facility, in accordance with the Council’s homelessness strategy,  (readers should note that the principle of why we need such a scheme is agreed universally, even by Lib Dem Councillor Howard Henshaw – whom misled voters in the recent County elections on this issue.  He failed to tell residents that he was all for the scheme – but not in his ward!! he wanted it moving over the boundary to either Ashton, Central or Heyhouses ward!)

After an 11th hour offer for the site from Town Manor which was £150,000 more than the original valuation! it was obvious that we could not ignor this offer. 

 “As previously mentioned a lot of misinformation was put about by Lib Dem Cllr Howard Henshaw on this issue and his assurances that the money was immediately available have now been shown to be false.  It has always been a concern that the offer from Town Manor was way over the market value and therefore potentially unrealistic. That is why we insisted that a non-refundable a deposit was given for the site. The deadline for this was missed but as the money on offer was too good to miss we allowed an extension and the deposit was eventually received. Although this further extension is unwelcome we have agreed to this final delay as the finiancial benefit to the Borough in such uncertain times will brings about improvements that could not otherwise be realised. 

“Although we are in no doubt of the benefits of the orginal scheme for Heeley Road, we have listened to residents views and quickly came to the conclusion that we needed this windfall to help achieve our desire for local improvements. We have been considering where we might be able to invest the additional funds that the sale would bring in, such as the refurbishment of additional public toilets at Fairhaven Lake and the funding of a rescue plan for St Annes Pool, I hope we do not have to go back to the drawing board after placing our faith in Town Manor. It is really frustrating to have everyone’s time wasted in this way, it puts an unnecessary extra burden on the already scarce time of our officers who have been pushing to complete the deal for several weeks”.

 So in conclusion the Cabinet has not written off the sale to Town Manor but, we are now starting to consider all other available options and approaches as we are determined to use the funds from the sale of this site to further improve local facilities.

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Swimming in Fylde – St Annes Pool

Readers will have been keeping a keen eye on the progress being made on the future of  St Annes Pool since the Council’s decision to close the facility in July 2008.  As you know this was down to increased external budget pressures and the lack of interest from the private sector.

On making that tough decision I resolved to undertake a feasibility study which would look at various alternative solutions, for example, closing existing facilities and using the proceeds of their sale to fund a modern leisure centre centrally located in the Borough.  It soon became apparent that this option would not be financially viable and so we continued to speak with Private Sector Operators.  As you know we came to a two year agreement with the YMCA regarding the Pool at Kirkham.  This was achieved through the Conservative members committing to use the DCMS Swimming concession funding towards Kirkham,  to secure it’s future then looking at innovative other funding solutions for St Annes.  It is worth noting that a recent Independent Councillor leaflet distributed in the Rural areas said that they had played a role in securing the future of Kirkham – this is untrue.  Granted meetings were held with the with Rural Splash Group but at this years budget meeting Independent Councillors voted against the Conservative Budget proposals that saw Kirkham’s future secured. 

As part of our budget deliberations myself and senior Council Officers have been in constant dialogue with Government Office North West regarding the unfair burden being placed on the Council as a result of Concessionary Bus Travel and it’s effect of the Councils ability to provide the services expected by Fylde residents.  To be fair they did listen to our arguments and as a result agreed to allow the Council to move some funding pressures out of our revenue budget into our Capital budget.  Difficult to explain , but this is not unusual in Local Government.  Last year alone 72 Councils were allowed to capitalise over £68.5 miilion worth of revenue spend.  Some opposition members and web based critics will try and make this into a political issue, but this is common practice.

As a result of this funding agreement the Councils finances have now returned to a much stronger footing and as a result we have been able to review some of the key projects that Conservative members considered a priority.  The Pool’s being the first one.  Last night the Cabinet resolved to meet with the Fylde Coast YMCA to discuss their latest business plan for St Annes Pool.  Although there are some Council funding implications the Cabinet now feels that it is in a strong position to agree a timetable for the re-opening of the St Annes Pool under a partnership approach which will hopefully see the site flourish and able to offer more facilities than in the past. 

Although it has taken some time to get to this point, I felt it was vital that we did not move forward without first being sure we had achieved two vital criteria.  

1. That any deal to re-open the facility must be supported by a credible business plan, which would see Pool Funding removed from the annual Council budget debate  in the face of ever decreasing grants and:

2. That if a subsidy was needed that it should be affordable, capped and open to annual review based on the future success of the pool. i.e. The pool’s new operator would be expected to find alternative funding streams and increase usage, therefore helping the Council over time to reduce it’s subsidy.

As readers will appreciate we now live in very difficult times and the way we use your money and where is more important than ever!  We have proved that we are a well run, efficient Council which is recognised as delivering value for money services.  As a result of our decisions to halt the endless subsidy to the Borough’s pools I hope we have not only secured their long term future but have also saved you the taxpayer in excess of £500.000 per annum.  Now the Government has agreed this budget  support we can now look to invest in other key services and improvements.

I know this has been an unpopular chapter in the Councils recent history, but I stand by the original decision and I hope that the community will now rally around the Council to help it and it’s future partner make the St Annes Swimming Pool a well used, popular, viable facility.

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Developing the Future of Fylde

We will embark on one of the most important Borough wide public consultations for years in the near future.  The development of the Councils Local Development Framework (LDF) and Core Strategies will involve residents and local businesses alike and will give the Council an opportunity to develop it’s long term vision for development based on local needs and understanding.

 

At present there is a negative view on new development in Fylde, with some groups advocating that Brown Field sites only should be used.  This is fine in principle, but over the next two decades, where then do we develop new industrial sites and therefore jobs?

 

Sandgrown un’s will remember the mid 70’s prior to the building of Hall Park and South Park when we were blessed with Woodland and Green fields, other’s will remember the day’s before the new housing stretching from Wildings Lane to North Houses Lane where there was a rifle range and dune type landscape existed.  Those rural readers will remember the 80’s before Hillside was developed in Newton and significant housing was built in the 1990’s in Kirkham and Wesham.

 

Development has remained a constant in Fylde, especially Lytham St Annes since it rose from the dunes in the mid 1800’s.  The latest population figures show that the Fylde’s will grow by 7500 residents by 2020.  Most will agree that there is already a shortage of affordable homes and ALL agree that the policy adopted by the Council in the 90’s to allow greater density on sites, may have slowed the development of open land, but had a devastating effect on our local heritage and was the major factor in the proliferation of Apartment blocks, which saw many grand houses lost and the character of the coastal strip changed forever.

 

 

This is why we must all work together to accept development will come, but in the future it must be on our terms and, the Borough’s infrastructure should benefit from it.  We need to consider Schools, Roads, Doctors, Dentists, Public Transport and Jobs to name a few.  Improvements to these and more will only come about from growth, not Government grant.  Industry will only come if there are homes for workers, schools will only prosper and develop with families moving into the area.

 

I am often challenged about Blackpool’s intentions; let me assure the reader that Fylde’s land will be used for Fylde’s housing need.  That said, we cannot stop people from Blackpool or elsewhere moving into our Borough.  Recently my daughter was forced to put her foot on the property ladder by buying an affordable property in South Shore, as she could not find one in St Annes.  Whilst this is good for her, it has by default removed the opportunity of owning an affordable home from a young person who has been raised in Blackpool.  The reality is housing has no boundary.

 

The challenge for us all is not to look back, but forward.  Development will come either as a result of the community agreeing a vision for future generations, whilst at the same time receiving community benefit, Or, it will come at the insistence of Government with no regard for local opinion or community benefit, as happened with Cyprus Point. 

 

These are important times and we must accept, that if it were not for development, many thousands of us would not be so lucky and live in this beautiful Borough today.

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Axe the Beer Tax Petition – Local Support

Our petition urging Chancellor Alistair Darling not to increase the Tax on Beer in this weeks budget has received a fantastic response.  12 Local landlords took up the challenge to collect as many signatures as possible in just 48 hours.  The petition was coordinated by Ansdell Councillor Elizabeth Clarkson and with Liz I was delighted to receive the petition from the Landlords of both the Links and Station Tavern pubs.  Liz has bundled them off and sent them priority to Michael Jack who has kindly agreed to walk the petition over to 11 Downing Street and will raise the issue in his budget response this week.

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Copy of letter to LSA Express

Readers will appreciate that we are now entering the silly season, the run up to County Council elections!  Potential candidates are now starting their campaigns by criticising Councillors, Political parties and anyone else they can think of in the local media, that’s what I would expect to happen, However, it is frustrating when they use the letters columns to pass judgement on  matters that they have clearly not researched or simply know nothing about at all!
 
– Recent wheelie bin charges have been introduced to stop those people whom look after theirs, from having to pay for the replacements of people who do not.
– Parking charges at Lowther was a trial to help raise funds for the Theatre in a bid to reduce the £125,000 annual subsidy paid by Fylde Council taxpayers.
– Fylde Councillors have the some of lowest allowances in England.  A back bench County Councillor receives £9800 per annum in allowance, this is far more than the Leader of FBC receives.
– Parking attendants do a tough job.  life was far worse without them.  New guidelines adopted in Fylde now ensure that a little grey has now been introduced to border line cases.
– The Council is clear about it’s accommodation plans.  Before the economic downturn we had made the decision to stay in our current location and build a new extension to enable the Council to open up it’s building to the community.  In light of the downturn we will now reconsider this decision and do the most economical scheme for the long term.
– The St Annes Pool cost taxpayers a £1.2 million subsidy each year.  Not one school swimming lesson has been lost and we are well on the way to finding an alternative operator for the pool.
 
The Council is working to a series of strategies put together by local Councillors, a manifesto, and the Councils Partners.  Residents played a major role in putting together these visionary documents.  You only need to read the Councils Corporate plan or the LSP’s Sustainable Community Strategy to understand the long term vision for Fylde, there on our website.
 
Car park charges are in line with our neighbouring Councils and in recent months have been quieter as visitors are now coming to Fylde on the bus, at YOUR expense! The Council has only closed one facility in the Borough, the pool.  Although popular with sections of the local community, we know that visitors did not come to St Annes to Swim.
 
Our Towns and villages are recognised as some of the cleanest in the North West.  The massive investment made in all our major shopping centres is clear to see.  New shops and infrastructure have followed as a result.  Farmers and continental markets are welcome in any of our town centres and have been offered central locations. 
 
Dog mess is a huge problem and the Council has now brought in measures to tackle irresponsible owners.  The majority of Councillors are dog owners.  It is up to all us responsible ones to help tackle those that give us a bad name!
 
The Council has again been given a clean bill of health for it’s financial management and value for money operating costs.  We deliver some of the highest quality, low cost services per head of population in comparison to similar sized Councils in England.
 
In addition to this we are already re-structuring Management and departments and implementing a review of Councillor numbers on the Council.  In respect of meetings, the number of committees have been reduced as has the frequency of them.  The Council is reviewing surplus assets and with a new Civic Centre we will be able to bring all but a couple of operations under one roof.
 
These are just a small sample of the things which have received recent inaccurate comment.  The majority of Councillors are doing a good job in difficult times with ever reducing Government support.  We have shown that with Community involvement we can do a lot more, but residents also have a responsibility to research what is ACTUALLY happening in their community.  May I suggest that any potential candidates for the looming elections take time to study Fylde Councils website at www.fylde.gov.uk as you will see that the truth is far from that often portrayed in the letters pages and column inches.

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Heeley Road Supported Housing Scheme – Last minute bid

Land on Heeley could now be sold to Town Manor Developments after an 11th hour increase in it’s bid for the site.  Late yesterday Cabinet members were made aware of the bid which has seen the value of this piece of land yoyo over the past few months.  Initially valued at £285,000 then de-valued to just £250,000 after a second valuation at the start of the downturn, was demanded by opposition Councillors through the call in process

The Cabinet meeting, called today to discuss the initial £310.500 offer made by the developers a few weeks ago, was supposed to debate whether to sell the land to Town Manor or to go ahead with the planned sale to Muir Housing Group in order to meet the council’s objectives of providing supported accommodation to the homeless.

The Council were all set to finalise the sale to Muir, which has attracted some concern around the amount the land was to be sold for. However faced with a massive over market value offer from Town Manor the Cabinet concluded that it had no choice other than to accept their offer, subject to tight terms and conditions. 

Cllr Roger Small said: “the amount of money Town Manor offered was very impressive and it could  have been seen as irresponsible of us to turn it down. With the capital raised from the sale the Council can fund improvements and developments around the borough. And we still have the opportunity to locate, was is universally agreed as a much needed scheme at an alternative site” 

The proposed sale will gain the council £400,000 in capital funding.  However the council says it will not ditch the proposals with Muir Housing. Councillor Patricia Fieldhouse, Cabinet Member for Social Wellbeing said: “We still have a duty to provide accommodation to people who find themselves homeless. With the economic downturn having such a detrimental affect on people and recent figures already showing locally a 19% increase in court orders for property repossession when compared to the previous year, we are expecting an increase in the numbers of people coming to us for help as they cannot afford to maintain rent or mortgage payments and risk losing their family home. 

“The Muir Group themselves were ready to invest nearly £424,000 into the scheme, the total value of which was approaching £1.7 million and we will not be letting them down by simply walking away. We will now have to look at alternative sites and come to arrangement whereby the scheme can be developed.”

This should not be celebrated as a victory or success by anyone. From my own perspective I feel this is a sad day as I cannot help but feel that cash has been put before compassion and that everyone involved in this scheme, whether for or against, has today let some of our most vulnerable residents down, in favour of property developers.  Whether we want to acknowledge it or not Fylde for all it’s splendor has people already living in temporary accommodation, including B&B’s across Fylde. This housing scheme would have given the Council and it’s partners the opportunity to help these people get back on thier feet in a more settled home environment.

Town Manor has promised a 10 per cent non refundable deposit to guarantee the sale of the land on Heeley road,  with the transaction expected to be complete by mid May.  It was agreed that at any point in the sale process Town Manor failed to meet the Councils timetable for completion, then the Council would immediately sign the contract to start our original proposals.

 

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