Stephanie Holt-Castle (Interim Director of Environment, Planning and Enforcement) and Helen Page (Head of Countryside and Community Development Group) were in attendance for this item.
1. Mrs Hohler (Deputy Cabinet Member for Community and regulatory Services) introduced the report that set out the emerging proposed policy changes of the Kent County Council Gypsy and Traveller Services. In particular, the report outlined the approach to developing an Asset Management Plan and a Draft Pitch Allocation and Site Management Policy. The paper also described the intention to develop a new draft Gypsy and Traveller Service Charges and Rent Setting Policy, and by the end of the financial year 2019, an Unauthorised Encampment Strategy.
2. Mrs Holt-Castle informed Members that a consultation took place in October 2017 on a draft Gypsy and Traveller Pitch Allocation Policy to meet residents’ needs and changing demands on the service to ensure sustainable provision for the future. The results of the consultation indicated that Kent County Council had not taken the correct course of action and therefore, extensive work had been carried out over the past 18 months to rectify the issues and develop further proposals to inform two future draft policies and two draft strategies. The draft Pitch Allocation and Site Management Policy, the draft Gypsy and Traveller Service Charges and Rent Setting Policy and the draft Unauthorised Encampment Strategy were due to be brought back to the Committee in autumn 2019 ahead of the respective public consultation.
3. With regard to Asset Management, Ms Page said that a survey had been carried out on 3 of the 8 existing sites managed by Kent County Council and a lifespan project had been devised for each site that calculated the cost of all assets and how much it would cost to replace those assets; this calculation would then be used to inform the annual service charge for residents for the maintenance of communal areas and the rent charge within the Policy. Ms Page said that the plan was to emulate the work across all 8 sites to help inform the Asset Management Plan. There would also be a planned maintenance Programme for each site that would help to reduce the emergency maintenance costs that the service was currently incurring.
4. In terms of the Pitch Allocation and Site Management Policy, Ms Page said that the consultation highlighted the disparity between the application process for social housing and KCC Gypsy and Traveller pitch accommodation. The draft policy addressed the disparities by introducing a banding (prioritisation) system similar to that used by other councils nationally and offered a fairer process. Kent County Council would also be working with District Councils on their Home Choice Based Lettings to enable applicants to apply for bricks and mortar properties. The respondents from the 2017 consultation also referred to the practices of social housing in terms of the Councils vetting procedures and residents would also be required to pay two weeks rent in advance to manage the risk of residents going into arrears.
5. An Unauthorised Encampments Strategy had also been devised as numbers of unauthorised trespassers had risen by 50% since 2018/19. The increase in work had created additional pressures for the Gypsy and Traveller Service and the Strategy helped to address the resource issues to ensure performance of the service could be sustained.
6. Officers responded to Members comments and questions as follows:
(a) In response to concerns regarding the statutory obligations placed on district councils to provide accommodation to the Gypsy and Traveller community through the Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA), Ms Page said that work was being done to review the local letting plans and transit sites in Thanet as part of the emerging Local Plan, however, Ms Page agreed to brief the Member outside of the meeting for further clarity on the matter and to circulate statutory guidance to Members of the Committee.
(b) Ms Page said that the term ‘steady state’ meant that KCC was investing money back into the sites to avoid dilapidation, the cost of which would be covered by the rent. Mrs Page assured Members that KCC was not offering a subsidy and that all proportionate costs were allocated appropriately.
(c) In terms of anti-social behaviour and criminal activity displayed by residents on the sites, Ms Page said that KCC had a licence agreement that every tenant had to sign if they wanted to live on one of the pitches. Within the licence agreement there were terms and conditions around acceptable standards of behaviour and enforcement processes were in place, all of which would be addressed within the Pitch Allocation Policy.
(d) Ms Page said that the Asset Management Plan would help to inform the rent charge, however KCC were looking to make it fair and equitable and in line with other forms of social housing. The rent from the Gypsy and Traveller site residents was considerably low compared with other social housing charges; by aligning it with the national cost, this would reduce preference over sites and the Policy would also introduce banding and eligibility criteria to ensure that KCC offered pitch allocations to those who met the correct standards.
(e) The Chairman asked that a briefing be held for all Members of the Council on the emerging policies of the Gypsy and Traveller Service.
7. RESOLVED that the emerging proposed policies and strategies, and Asset Management Plan, be noted.