Crossgate Community Partnership: Minutes

Minutes of the Meeting 2nd May 2017

1. Attendance
Present: Roger Cornwell (in the Chair), Stephen Ashfield*, Maureen Boettcher*, Liz Brown*, Janet Charlton, Jonathan Elmer*, Ann Evans, Odile Fong, John Knowles, Brendan McKeown, Maciej Matuszewski*, Jean Meredith, David Ramsden, Jean Rogers, Simon Squires, Ann Stokes, Sarah Thin*, Sarah Wilkinson
(Retiring Councillor) Nigel Martin
Roger Cornwell welcomed all present to the meeting, and explained that he intended to invite all candidates in the forthcoming County Council elections (marked with an asterisk in the attendance list above) to introduce themselves, and to participate in the meeting, while avoiding party politics. He would attempt to bring the meeting to an early close, so that members could meet and talk to candidates informally.
2. Apologies for absence
were received from: Alan Doig, Simon Priestley, Carole Reeves, Doug Scott, Clare Wright,
(Retiring Councillor) Grenville Holland,
3. Minutes
The minutes of the previous meeting were agreed as a correct record.
4. Police and Residents Meetings
Roger has been in correspondence with Sgt Kay Howarth, as has Mike Costello. The police accepted the proposal that they now hold a single PACT meeting for Durham City, supplemented by "officer engagement with individual residents' groups as required and convenient." The meeting asked that PCSO Rebecca Carey, as University Liaison Officer, attend and / or report to CCP meetings when possible.
5. Planning application for 24, The Avenue
Roger had noticed that the application on the Council's planning portal had been amended, and that the applicant now stated that the proposed development was now intended as rental property for young professionals, rather than for students. The meeting expressed some scepticism about this: it was not thought that the small units proposed would be attractive to such tenants. In addition, Ann Evans commented that while students might be living to some extent communally, despite the individual tenancies, genuinely separate lets would exacerbate problems of access, particularly to refuse bins and in case of fire. Roger argued that if this was indeed the intention, the Council could ensure units were not let to students by imposing a minimum age condition in any planning consent. The meeting reiterated its preference that there should be a development of domestic, family houses, which were from the start designed as such, but asked Roger and Ann to collaborate on a letter asking that, if the Council was minded to consent to the application, such a condition should be imposed.
6. 16 and 24 Nevilledale Terrace
a) Sarah Wilkinson reported that the time limit for alterations to bring the property into line with its planning consent has now elapsed. She had e-mailed Sarah Eldridge (Development Management Team Leader), Cllr Paul Taylor (Chair of the Area Planning Committee) and Stuart Timmiss (Head of Planning). She had received a telephone reply from Sarah Eldridge, who told her the landlord claimed to be having trouble obtaining scaffolding; Sarah Eldridge felt they were playing for time, and would start taking steps to enforce.
b) Sarah had taken the opportunity to ask about no. 24, on which the landlord's appeal is with the Inspector, and is expected to take 4 - 5 weeks. The Council did not anticipate that she would be permitted to let it to students next year, although it is shown on the website of Stuart Edwards Estate Agents as let.
7. Business Rates for Student Lets
As instructed by the previous meeting, Roger had written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the chairman of the Local Government Association and our MP, Roberta Blackman-Woods, requesting that councils should be given powers to bring all HMOs, including Purpose Built Student Accommodation, within the scope of Business Rates in the same way as hotels, self-catering and holiday lets. He had received no reply from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The reply from the Local Government Association, and a reply received by SNCF (Saint Nicholas' Community Forum) from Secretary of State both referred to the expectation that the Government will shortly be consulting on a Fair Funding Review. The meeting therefore approved Roger's suggestion that, after the elections, we urge the new Council to support bringing HMOs within the scope of Business Rates through the Fair Funding Review.
8. Bollards in Waddington Street and John Street
Kevin Turrington had been in touch with Danny Harland about progress on this; he hoped the bollards would be in place by the end of May, before 250 additional employees start work on the County Hospital site. The meeting thanked Kevin for his continuing work on our behalf on this issue.
9. Enlargements of Existing HMOs
The meeting discussed whether landlords were frustrating the Council's Interim Policy on Studentification by enlarging existing HMOs. Ann had spotted an example of this strategy in Archery Rise, where a house which was already an HMO was being enlarged from 3 to 6 occupants. The landlord maintained that this did not require planning permission. Liz Brown had spotted two more cases in the current list of planning applications. In addition, alterations were in course at a further property in Archery Rise which had recently changed hands.
The meeting felt that we did not have enough facts to make a decision on this, but Ann was asked to investigate, and if reports given to the meeting were accurate, to pursue.
In addition, it was noted that the policy is an interim one, and if it is being circumvented, we can propose amendments to make the final policy more effective.
10. Pavements: Cleaning and Repair
Ann said that the state of the pavements was still atrocious, and gutters were still blocked. She had contacted Alan Patrickson, manager at the County Council, who said: "Oh, I thought they'd done it." This was not satisfactory.
Nigel Martin explained that the Council's CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system enabled cases to be given a number, so that they could be tracked. The plan was that Councillors should be given access to this, enabling them to track issues in their ward. Roger added that when he reports issues using the "do it online" section of the Council website, he usually receives an e-mailed reply with a reference number, allowing it to be followed up.
With this information, Ann agreed to continue with her complaint.
11. Reports from local Councillors
Nigel Martin gave his last report as local Councillor: he had challenged the Council's method of calculating the the density of student HMOs in a given area. As reported in January, in the course of a planning meeting considering the conversion of a house in Dalton Crescent from C3 to C4 (i.e. multiple occupation by students) it had been revealed that when Council officers were assessing the number of HMOs, they looked at the register of exemptions from Council Tax in June 2016. Given how fast the situation changes, this was unsatisfactory. Stuart Timmiss had now replied, proposing to set a more suitable date. Nigel thinks that this, too, is not good enough: the interim policy talks about the density of HMOs in the present tense, implying that the data must be accurate in real time (and the Inspector who allowed Jackie Levitas's appeal seemed to be making the same point in noting that the data were not contemporaneous). The Council argued that it was "not easy to interrogate the computer system."
Nigel was thanked for all his work on our behalf during his time as Councillor.
12. Date of next meeting
Our next meeting will be held on Monday 5th June.