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					                                                          AGENDA ITEM NO.




REPORT TO:                  Social Affairs, Health & Housing Scrutiny
                            Committee

REPORT OF:                  Chief Housing & Public Protection Officer/Chief
                            Transportation & Asset Management Officer

REPORT NO:                  CHPPO/107/09S

DATE:                       2 October, 2009

CONTACT OFFICER:            Fred Czulowski, Landlord Services Manager (315401)

SUBJECT:                    Future of Hightown Large Panel System
                            Properties



1.    PURPOSE OF THE REPORT

To present the Social Affairs, Health and Housing Scrutiny Committee with
the result of the Tenant Consultation exercise carried out following the
completion of various surveys of the Hightown Flats complex and to make
recommendations on the future of the complex and its tenants and residents.

2.    SUMMARY

2.1   In April 2009, SAHHSC received a report of the Chief Housing & Public
      Protection Officer (CHPPO/51/09s), which presented details of the
      current issues surrounding the Hightown Flats complex and the results
      of various surveys completed.

2.2   The surveys have shown that many elements of the buildings should
      be replaced or repaired.

2.3   A Structural Appraisal was also undertaken. The Appraisal
      recommended that strengthening works are carried out to the buildings.

2.4   The report identified and analysed five possible scenarios for the future
      of the complex.



                                                                              1
            Do nothing
            Repairs and Maintenance Only
            Repairs plus Strengthening Works
            Repairs plus Strengthening Works with Improvements
            Demolition

2.5   At the meeting in April 2009, the Committee recommended that tenants
      and residents should be consulted.

2.6   The consultation indicates that demolition would be a popular option
      amongst the majority of residents, but that local connections need to be
      respected and that these should be taken into account in future plans
      for redevelopment and re-housing arrangements.

2.7   The site will require a significant scheme of redevelopment. The two
      options for consideration are:-

      Option 1:     Relocate all tenants, demolish and sell the site with
                    vacant possession

      Option 2:     Demolish and Redevelop the site with a preferred
                    Purchaser/Registered Social Landlord (RSL) to deliver
                    affordable housing

2.8   The transfer of a large number of tenants and their families will require
      significant project management. It will have significant consequences
      for general day to day allocations.


3.    RECOMMENDATIONS

That the Social Affairs, Health & Housing Committee recommend to the
Executive Board that:

3.1   The large panel system buildings at Gatefield and Napier Square/
      Nelson Street are demolished and that the Chief Housing & Public
      Protection Officer develop options for funding the demolition.

3.2   Subject to financial viability, the site is redeveloped with a
      preferred Purchaser/Registered Social Landlord (RSL) to deliver
      affordable housing, together with the nearby Barracks Field site
      on Brynycabanau Road.

3.3   That consideration is given to the inclusion of the sites in 3.2
      above in joint proposals for affordable housing in association
      with the Welsh Assembly Government.

3.4   The permanent decanting of tenants should be commenced
      immediately and Management Move points awarded to give
      tenants priority over the general Waiting and Transfer Lists.


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3.5   Those tenants and residents decanted as a result of a decision to
      demolish are given first option on any subsequent Council
      nomination rights for affordable housing on the site.

3.6   The Chief Transportation & Asset Management Officer,
      commences consultation with the Local Health Authority.

3.7   The Chief Transportation & Asset Management Officer
      commences negotiation with the private owners of the flats to
      acquire their interest.


4.    INFORMATION

Previous report to Scrutiny – April 2009
4.1   In April 2009, SAHHSC received a report of the Chief Housing & Public
      Protection Officer (CHPPO/51/09s), which presented details of the
      current issues surrounding the Hightown Flats complex and the results
      of various surveys completed on the complex, specifically the two
      areas of Gatefield and Napier Square/Nelson Street.
4.2   These two areas comprised 7 blocks of 3, 4 and 5 storey flats and
      maisonettes constructed using the Bison Wallframe Large Panel
      System (LPS) which was a popular method of construction in the
      1960‟s and 1970‟s. LPS buildings consist of large pre-cast reinforced
      concrete panels, connected together on site to form the floors and
      walls of the building.
4.3   As was reported to Scrutiny Committee in April various surveys have
      been undertaken to provide information and general conditions at
      Hightown Flats.
4.4   Surveys included a desk study of all available information relating to
      the construction and maintenance of the complex, visual and intrusive
      structural investigation and analysis, mechanical and electrical
      installation analysis and fire safety.
4.5   The surveys have shown that many elements of the buildings should
      be replaced or repaired and below is a very brief list of some of the
      elements highlighted:-
         Surfacing to walkways, pedestrian bridges and stair block roofs
         Rain water goods
         Concrete external surfaces
         Electrical installations
         Lifts
         Asbestos ventilation pipes
         Water pipes
         Polystyrene insulation
         Fire protection
         Roofs




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4.6   The findings also highlighted that problems such as water ingress,
      surface water drainage and condensation are prolific.

4.7   A Structural Appraisal was also undertaken on the buildings to assess
      them for their robustness in the event of accidental loading (a gas
      explosion or a collision with a large vehicle). Buildings should be
      adequately robust so that in the event of an accidental loading the
      building will not suffer collapse to an extent disproportionate to the
      cause. The appraisal recommended that strengthening works are
      carried out to the buildings.

4.8   The report identified and analysed five possible scenarios for the future
      of the complex, as summarised below. All costs were included as
      indicative only and the report stated that further detailed analysis would
      need to be sought when a preferred scenario was selected.

      Scenario 1 – Do nothing
      (Ongoing costs to responsive repairs to the structure)
         No works other than responsive repairs to be carried out
         Structures and elements will deteriorate at an accelerated rate, as
          scheduled in paragraph 4.5
         Physical hazards as scheduled in paragraph 4.5 will not be
          minimised or removed
         Adverse effect on thermal efficiency and general living conditions –
          elemental degradation will increase poor living conditions and
          promote problematic external environments
         Inability to re-let vacant units


      Scenario 2 – Repairs & Maintenance Only
      (Cost estimate £ 2.8m plus VAT)
         Only repairs and maintenance undertaken (including asbestos
          removal, rewiring, fire protection, concrete repairs)
         Retention of risks due to design and weaknesses in structure
         Does not address general standard of property
         Implications for the Housing Capital Programme
         Tenants would need to be temporarily re-housed


      Scenario 3 – Repairs and Maintenance plus Strengthening Works
      (Cost estimate £ 9.6m plus VAT)
         Remedial works to major structure defects
         Does not improve standard of property to Welsh Housing Quality
          Standard (WHQS)


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          Significant implications for the Housing Capital Programme
          Significant impact on improvements for the rest of the Council‟s
           housing stock
          Refurbishment does not guarantee extended life
          Tenants would need to be temporarily re-housed


       Scenario 4 – Repairs and Maintenance plus Strengthening Work
       with Improvements
       (Cost estimate £ 17.5m plus VAT)
          All works completed plus refurbishment of each flat to WHQS
          Significant implications for the Housing Capital Programme
          Significant impact on improvements for the rest of the Council‟s
           housing stock
          Full refurbishment does not guarantee extended life
          Tenants would need to be temporarily re-housed


       Scenario 5 – Demolish/Disposal
       (No cost available for this scenario in the April 09 report – now
       estimated at £ 2m)
          No further work carried out
          Tenants would need to be re-housed on a permanent basis
          Consideration to be given to the future of the site


4.9    At the meeting in April 2009, the Committee was informed that funding
       options for repairs, maintenance and structural works were limited.
       Management and maintenance of the Hightown Flats complex is
       budgeted for within the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) which covers
       all the Council‟s housing stock. The report noted that the HRA Capital
       Programme for 2009/10 is in the region of £12.5m, with £2.5m of this
       figure being allocated to the provision of Disabled Facility Grants and
       asbestos removal and that element is therefore not realistically
       available to re-allocate. Any recommendation regarding the use of
       these funds would be at the expense of other programmes of work
       across the whole Council housing stock, in particular works to ensure
       that properties are wind and water tight and have fuel efficient central
       heating.

4.10   The report also noted that it was not envisaged that the Capital
       Programme will increase in subsequent years. At that time, it was
       reported that preliminary discussions with housing officials from Welsh
       Assembly Government (WAG) had indicated that no additional funding
       would be made available. Officers subsequently wrote to WAG on 22



                                                                              5
       July 2009 asking for WAG support to fund either refurbishment or
       redevelopment. We are awaiting WAG‟s response.

4.11   At the meeting in April 2009, the Committee recommended that the
       tenants and residents should be consulted on the findings to date with
       the aim of obtaining their views on the future of their homes and that a
       further report be submitted on the results of the consultation exercise
       and on further consideration of the scenarios.

Findings from the Tenant Consultation
4.12   The aim of the survey was to present the findings of the work carried
       out so far and find out residents‟ views on the future of their homes.
       „Partners in Change‟ were commissioned by Wrexham County Borough
       Council to provide advice and support with designing part of the
       survey, data analysis and producing a report on the survey findings. A
       summary of the survey and the findings is outlined below – the full
       report is attached as Appendix 1 to this report.
4.13   The sample population was all residents of flats and bungalows. It was
       decided to include the residents of the five bungalows in the survey -
       even though the original investigative reports excluded them, any major
       works on the site and in particular any demolition proposals would have
       a significant impact on these properties and there may be strong
       grounds to demolish these five properties as well.
4.14   The survey focused on four key areas:-
       i.     Demographic information on household size and type
       ii.    Residents‟ views on their homes, the estate and the area in
              general
       iii.   Residents‟ views on the scenarios for the future of their homes
       iv.    Residents‟ connections with the immediate area including their
              views on permanent re-housing should demolition be the
              selected option

4.15   There were 104 responses out of 114 tenanted flats and bungalows.
       This equates to a response rate of 91% – a particularly significant
       achievement given the importance of engaging with the maximum
       number of residents on the issues covered by the survey. (Please note
       that the responses for each survey question will not necessarily add up
       to 104 since not every respondent answered every question.)

4.16   The survey was carried out in two stages – stage 1 focused on
       collecting demographic data and revealed that the estate is
       characterised by a high number of single person households and
       relatively low numbers of pensioners. There is a high level of economic
       inactivity. About half the residents have lived there for more than 11
       years.

4.17   Stage 2 focused on residents‟ views of their homes, the estate and
       future scenarios.


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4.18   In general, most people like their flats, but there is dissatisfaction with
       their state of repair and particular concerns about heating and
       dampness. Around two-thirds of the respondents like living in the area
       and think that people get on well together as a community. Its location
       near the town centre is seen as convenient. A significant majority think
       that the area is kept clean and well-maintained by the Council.
       Nuisance and anti-social behaviour is seen as the main problem.

4.19   Although there are a large number of empty properties resulting from
       the Council not re-letting once vacancies arise, the work of the Council
       in keeping the estate well maintained is appreciated by many residents.

4.20   Residents were asked for their views on the scenarios for the future of
       the estate: do nothing; repair only; repairs and improvements;
       demolition. They were given information about the scenarios, including
       costs, and asked whether they thought each was a good approach for
       the Council to take or whether they were not sure. They were not
       presented as a choice between options and residents were also able to
       say that more than one scenario might be a good approach.

4.21   Views were as follows:

          The scenario that receives most support is demolition (71
           respondents);
          Doing nothing was the least supported scenario (82 respondents
           saying that this was not a good idea);
          Few respondents feel that ‟repairing only‟ is a good idea (21
           respondents);
          An equal number of respondents (42) said that repair and improve
           was a „good idea‟ and „not a good idea‟;
          Only 25 respondents feel that demolition is not a good idea with 5
           not sure.

4.22   A further open question was asked about their own views on the future
       of the estate. In this question they could express a preference between
       the scenarios and make known any hopes or concerns they may have.

4.23   102 out of the 104 respondents answered this open question. 84 gave
       a clear view about what their preference was and the views of the
       remaining 18 could not be interpreted as support for a particular
       scenario. 59 of the 84 (70%) who expressed a clear preference said
       that the flats should be demolished and 25 (30%) saying that they
       should be retained. There were particular concerns amongst these 25
       respondents about having to move. On the other hand, many of those
       who favoured demolition felt that the flats had reached the end of their
       life and that further investment would not be money well spent.

4.24   There is a strong connection amongst the residents to the immediate
       local area with many living in the flats for a long time and a large
       majority having family connections to Hightown or nearby. Nearly half


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       of the respondents said they would be either unhappy or very unhappy
       about having to move away from the area. Nearly all the respondents
       said that it would be important to build new homes for rent on the site
       for people who want to stay. When asked about their re-housing
       preferences, should the flats and bungalows have to be demolished,
       respondents mentioned Hightown most frequently. Nearly two thirds of
       residents said they would consider a Housing Association property.

4.25   In addition, the residents of the 26 houses were also surveyed as they
       are very close to the flats and will be indirectly affected by any of the
       scenarios. There were 23 responses from the 26 houses (13 of these
       were from Wrexham County Borough Council tenants and 10 were
       from privately owned houses). However, the findings from the survey
       of the residents of the houses have been kept separate from survey of
       those directly affected by the scenarios, i.e. residents of flats and
       bungalows. Although not directly affected by demolition, the
       respondents in the neighbouring houses favoured demolition by a large
       margin.

Conclusions from the Tenant Consultation

4.26   The survey indicates that demolition would be a popular option
       amongst the majority of residents, but that local connections need to be
       respected and that these should be taken into account in future plans
       for redevelopment and re-housing arrangements.

4.27   Although not directly affected by demolition, the respondents in the
       neighbouring houses favoured demolition by a large margin.

Overall Conclusion and Recommendation


  Scenario                    Financial                   Tenants
                                                          (Base 104 respondents)

  Do nothing                  Ongoing responsive          87 – Not a good
                              repairs                     idea
                                                          14 Good Idea
                                                          7 - Not sure

  Repair Only                 Estimated £2.8m             67 – Not a good
                                                          idea
                                                          21 – Good idea
                                                          16 – Not sure

  Strengthening Works     Estimated £9.6m –               42 – Not a good
  and Full Improvements £17.5m)                           idea
  to WHQS                                                 42 – Good Idea
  (incorporating Repairs)                                 20 – Not sure




                                                                               8
  Demolition                   £2m (with the possibility   71 – Good idea
                               for this cost to be borne   25 – Not a good idea
                               by a future site            5 – Not sure
                               developer)



4.28   The views of the tenants and residents coincide with the financial
       reality of the situation. On the basis that:

             „doing nothing‟ is the least acceptable option from the point of
              view of both the tenants and residents and the Authority as a
              Landlord;
             funding is not available for repair and improvement scenarios
              without significant implications for the rest of the Council‟s
              housing stock;
             even full repair and improvement only delays the issue of the
              flats going beyond their sustainable life;
             demolition is a popular option amongst the majority of tenants
              and residents,

       the recommendation of this report is therefore that Gatefield and Napier
       Square/Nelson Street are demolished.

Options for future development of the site

4.29   It is recognised that as tenants are moved out and occupancy levels
       fall, and as a result of the inherent design of the communal areas
       (enclosed stairwells, deck access walkways, etc), management of the
       complex will become increasingly challenging. This will also impact on
       the surrounding residential area. Such a situation will not be
       sustainable in the long term.

4.30   Demolition of Gatefield and Napier Square/Nelson Street could be
       undertaken by the Council or by any organisation either working in
       partnership with the Council or purchasing the site from the Council.

4.31   If the Council were to undertake the demolition, the costs can be
       funded from the Housing Revenue Contribution (CERA) to the Housing
       Capital Programme (currently CERA is £4.5m 2009/10). The Major
       Repairs Allowance – the annual capital grant from WAG (currently
       £7.6m per annum) cannot be used to fund demolition. Similarly, Home
       Loss payments (currently up to £4,700) and other discretionary
       allowances would need to be funded from Housing Revenue. These
       costs could be spread over several years if demolition is phased.
       There would be a further option to fund the proposal through Prudential
       Borrowing; however, the costs of this would fall on the HRA for a
       number of years. This borrowing would not be “supported” by WAG,
       i.e., the Council would need to fund the interest payment from the
       existing Management and Maintenance Allowance. Costs could also


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       be funded from any capital receipt following demolition/ regeneration.
       However, the opportunity for this may be limited depending on the
       costs of regeneration.

4.32   There may also be financial advantages to the Council to undertake the
       demolition in terms of the ongoing requirement to pay negative housing
       subsidy to the WAG, on each unoccupied dwelling. There are also
       implications regarding the ability of the Council to utilise capital receipts
       from any sale of the site. If the site is sold with the complex already
       demolished, then the Council can retain 100% of the capital receipt; if
       the site is sold with complex intact (i.e., for a purchaser to demolish) it
       could be that only 25% of the capital receipt could be retained with 75%
       having to be used for debt redemption.

4.33   The site will require a significant scheme of redevelopment. Below are
       two options for consideration:

       Option 1

       Relocate all tenants, demolish and sell the site with vacant
       possession

       This option would provide a private developer with the most attractive
       site. It would be free from encumbrances and be ready to develop from
       a known position, rather than acquiring a site that is not clear and
       having the unknown factor of demolition costs and potential for
       contamination.

       Option 2

       Redevelopment of the site with a preferred Purchaser/Registered
       Social Landlord (RSL) to deliver affordable housing

       There is the opportunity of „packaging up‟ the Hightown Flats site with
       the Barrack‟s field site on Brynycabanau Road (a Council owned non
       HRA site) in order to make this proposal more attractive and financially
       viable. This would be subject to planning consent. There may also be
       further opportunities to package the development in a wider scheme
       which includes other potential sites for affordable housing across the
       Borough. Working in partnership with a Purchaser/RSL to develop
       affordable housing would also support the Council‟s 2009-12 priority to
       deliver affordable housing in the Borough. These proposals for
       affordable housing are currently being developed by the Council

       If this option was preferred, then this could also afford the Council the
       option of giving the current tenants and residents first option on any
       subsequent Council nomination rights for affordable housing on the site
       (subject to numbers). This would support tenants‟ and residents‟ views
       that local connections need to be respected and taken into account in
       future plans for redevelopment and re-housing arrangements.


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4.34   Option 2 is preferred option and is recommended on the basis that
       such an arrangement must be financially viable.

Managing Tenant Movement

4.35   There are 181 flats and maisonettes in the complex and 5 bungalows.
       Of the 186 properties there are currently 111 secure tenancies, 5
       homeless/temporary tenancies, 2 leasehold properties sold under the
       Right to Buy, 2 flats used as a Council office and 66 vacancies. Re-
       letting of vacant properties was suspended in 2008 as the standard
       vacant properties inspections identified that further expenditure was
       required prior to re-letting the properties. It was considered that no
       further work should be undertaken until the result of all the surveys was
       known and a comprehensive solution could be determined.

4.36   If the recommendation to demolish the site is supported, there will be a
       requirement to transfer tenants permanently out of the properties. The
       Housing Service currently has procedures in place to manage this
       process, as and when required, including:-

          Confidential home visit to address concerns and assess
           preferences and individual needs (preliminary work has been
           undertaken as part of the survey of tenants);
          A commitment to try and source suitable and preferred
           accommodation in terms of size and location;
          Supporting tenants to enable a smooth transition. This would
           include the use of the Council‟s Tenancy Support service;
          Arranging removals for tenants which also includes disconnection
           and reconnection of services at no cost to the tenant;
          Continued consultation with the tenants will take place throughout
           the process.
          If demolition is recommended, there is a statutory duty to pay Home
           Loss Payment to secure tenants. This can be up to £4,700 per
           property.
          Other discretionary allowances may also be considered.

4.37   The transfer of such a large number of tenants and their families will
       require significant project management to ensure a smooth transition
       for all families and a project team would be established to manage the
       process.

4.38   The volume of allocations that would be required across the Borough to
       re-house the population of Hightown flats would have significant
       consequences for general day to day allocations. To facilitate the
       relocation of tenants, it is recommended that Management Move points
       are awarded to tenants to give them priority over the general Waiting
       and Transfer Lists. The use of both our own Council stock and that of
       Housing Associations through the nominations process will be fully
       utilised.



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4.39   It is recognised that Hightown is a community in its own right and that
       tenants will be concerned about the loss of community spirit. Where
       tenants express a wish to be re-housed near to other members of the
       community the Service will seek, where possible, to facilitate this
       request.

4.40   Should the site be successfully redeveloped to provide affordable
       housing, the Council has the option of giving the current tenants and
       residents first option on any subsequent Council nomination rights for
       affordable housing on the site. The eventual number of the new
       properties available via the redevelopment option may be less than
       number of decanted tenants and consideration would need to be given
       as to how the properties were allocated in such a situation. However it
       is anticipated that not all decanted tenants would wish to move into the
       new properties as they may have become settled in other areas of the
       Borough.

4.41   It is not possible, at this stage, to predict timescales for tenant
       movement but it is recommended that should demolition be supported,
       the process of decanting tenants is commenced immediately so as to
       minimise the impact on tenants and not to delay the future
       development of the site.

Other considerations

4.42   Garages. The site has 100 single vehicle garages constructed either
       as separate blocks or forming the ground floor to the flats. The
       garages are let to various parties being, council tenants on site, council
       tenants off site and to private individuals. 42 garages are vacant.
       Initial Legal advice has confirmed that the agreements constitute a
       tenancy but due to them not referring to a dwelling there can be no
       security. Legal advice has stated that possession can be obtained
       without proceedings and dealt with by way of notice.

4.43   Privately owned flats. At present there are two privately owned flats
       on the site which were acquired under the Right to Buy scheme. Other
       than carrying out consultation, there has been no contact with the
       owner occupiers. It is recommended that officers commence
       negotiations with the owners to acquire their interest.

4.44   The Clinic and Community Centre. There is an area of land owned
       freehold by Wrexham County Borough Council and occupied by the
       Local Health Authority on the basis of a Lease which expires in 2070.
       The Community Centre is occupied as an operational building. It is
       important to consider these facilities given their location in relation to
       the Hightown Flats site. The clinic and community centre are also
       constructed from the same Bison system as the flats and while they do
       not present the same risks as the flats, they are visually unattractive
       and could restrict the full potential of the whole site. At this stage we
       have not consulted the LHA nor investigated the costs associated with


                                                                                 12
        acquiring the Health Authority‟s interest should this be required. As
        part of any redevelopment it may be necessary to include the Clinic
        and Community Centre within any proposals. Consultation will need to
        take place with the Chief Leisure, Libraries and Culture Officer
        regarding the Community Centre

4.45    Two flats are used as offices by the Council‟s Community Safety Team
        and are let on an internal occupancy agreement. This Team would
        need to be relocated.

4.46    It is recommended that should demolition of the structures be
        supported, Officers commence consultation with the Local Health
        Authority.


5.      EQUALITIES IMPACT ASSESSMENT

        As part of the initial consultation process a full tenant profiling exercise
        has already been carried out, with those tenants and residents who are
        affected by the proposed redevelopment. This information was used to
        identify any particular communication or access issues which might
        have prevented tenants or residents from taking part in the consultation
        process, including the ethnic origin of tenants, any language
        requirements they may have and whether they considered themselves
        to have any disability. All information collected will be used to inform
        any impact assessment and further consultation that will be undertaken
        as a result of this report and subsequent Committee recommendations.


6.      RESOURCE IMPLICATIONS

        The resource implications are outlined throughout the report and
        specifically in paragraphs 4.8 – 4.10; 4.31 – 4.32.


7.      LEAD MEMBER COMMENT

        The Lead Member has been consulted on the proposals.

BACKGROUND PAPERS                              LOCATION                 WEBSITE INFO.

None.




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