Agenda item

The Environment and Community Panel and Regeneration and Development Panel have been invited to attend for this item.



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The Environment and Community Panel and Regeneration and Development Panel was also present for this item.


The Chair explained that the report would be considered in open session but the appendices would be discussed in exempt session when a resolution would be required to exclude the press and public.


The Panel received a presentation from the Executive Director, Place (copy attached to the minutes).


The Chair thanked the Executive Director for the presentation and invited questions and comments from the Panels, a summary of which is set out below.


The Portfolio Holder for Business addressed the Panel and outlined the broad political objectives.


The Monitoring Officer explained the reason why the appendices to be discussed in exempt session were placed at the end of the agenda.


Councillor Long outlined the  decision of companies to provide affordable homes/private rented homes.  Councillor Long commented that this was a good report to support the decision of the new Administration to deliver homes.


Councillor Kemp supported the report but commented on the proposed maximum loan of £50m, the Council’s optimum level of £65m and this leaving the Council with too little flexibility for borrowing for other projects.  In response, the Assistant Director, Resources explained that in relation to the prudential borrowing limit, the Council looked at the Treasury Management Strategy and this would be taken into account.  The Assistant Director explained that the capital programme in the medium term required up to £200m, the £50m was based on flexibility and not the capital programme for the longer term and was subject to review going forward.


The Monitoring Officer explained that checks and balances would be the role of the new Shareholder Committee and there would be a report to decide the creation of a facility to draw down if required.


Councillor Ryves asked a number of questions and made comments, a summary of which is set out below:


-       Were the correct questions asked of the consultants.

-       £50m debt leaving little flexibility for other borrowing.

-       Subsidy PWLB – 2022 Act.

-       Difference in figures reported by the two consultants.

-       Borrowing by the Companies – if Council provided guarantee loan could be obtained.

-       Legacy companies.

-       Cost centres – management fees, etc.

-       Experience of other Councils.

-       Level of risk.

-       Increase in interest rates/impact.


In response to the comments and questions from Councillor Ryves, the Monitoring Officer responded to the comments and questions raised by Councillor Ryves.


The Portfolio Holder for Business explained that there was significant risk but advice had received from consultants,  The Portfolio Holder disagreed with the questions and comments from Councillor Ryves and undertook to provide a response in exempt session.


The Leader explained that the objective was to provide homes for local people and the Council would therefore continue to build homes with a caveat that they would be for local people.


Councillor Long commented on West Norfolk Housing Company who had developed a housing scheme on an old nightclub site in King’s Lynn to meet an immediate local housing need.


With regard to West Norfolk Property investment had been made to provide private rented sector housing to meet the market need.


Councillor Ring added that the private rented sector was failing and there had been discussion in Cabinet regarding the Borough Council’s role to fulfil the market need. 


The Assistant Director, Resources responded to questions and comments from Councillor Ryves regarding interest rates.


Following questions from Councillor Sayers on the loan arrangement, the Assistant Director Resources outlined the process to be following for loan agreements to companies.


The Executive Director, Place responded to questions from Councillor Kemp on the companies being eligible to bring back empty homes into occupation. 


The Portfolio Holder for Business outlined the constraints faced by the companies, but added that these could be reviewed and test the viability with officers.


Councillor Ratcliffe declared an interest as a ward councillor of companies and added that her personal view was that this had been a steep learning curve for new Councillors to look at the risk issues and other Councils financial problems. Councillor Ratcliffe stated that a lot of work and scrutiny had gone into the companies to encourage investment in West Norfolk to benefit residents.


Councillor Ware concurred with the comments made by Councillor Ratcliffe and added that as a lawyer and Director of the companies she would ensure that full independent advice was received to underpin the legal and financial documents to go forward.


Councillor Long commented that he was pleased to hear the Director’s views and willingness to take the companies forward.


The Chair summarised the debate and highlighted the importance of looking at the building blocks to provide the output of affordable housing for local people.


The Chair clarified his comments made at a previous meeting with regard to consultants.


The Chair drew attending to Recommendation 3 and added that in his view the delegation was open ended and commented that the recommendation could be better worded.


Councillor Long comment that he could understand the view of the Chair but it was a recommendation to Full Council.  Any recommendations from the Panel would feed into Cabinet and Full Council so there would be an opportunity for any Councillor to attend and ask questions.  Monitoring would be undertaken by the Shareholder Committee and that forward plan appeared on every Corporate Performance Panel meeting so there would again be an opportunity to request an item to be placed on the Panel’s work programme.


The Portfolio Holder for Finance reminded the Panel why the Shareholder Committee was set up.


The Chair added that reference to the Shareholder Committee could be added to Recommendation 3.


The Monitoring Officer referred to Recommendation 3 and explained that any Grant Agreement would be considered by the Shareholder Committee and all decisions made by that committee were subject to the call-in process.


The Chair advised that the recommendations would be considered in exempt session.


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