Luton Borough Council have developed the Luton Investment Framework (LIF) which in their view, sets out a compelling and credible 20-year plan for major transformation to take place in Luton in order to achieve strong and sustainable growth in the town. Find out more here.
The Council has appointed a dedicated ‘inclusive growth’ commission to ensure residents across Luton are the ones that benefit from the town’s growing economy. The commission invited stakeholders to provide evidence from their perspectives on the issues and the challenges facing the Town.
Lenwell were invited to present evidence to the commission on our view of the private rented sector, set out below is a summary of views that we presented to the commission.
In broad terms Lenwell supports the overarching ambitions within the Luton Investment Framework. We share the view that Luton has great potential and is much maligned; the Investment Framework demonstrates much needed leadership to promote the many positives that the Town has to offer for its residents, but also importantly for investment in the Town. 3 years on since the Investment Framework was launched, Lenwell is also supportive of the decision to establish an independent Commission to take evidence from a wide range of stakeholders representing varying sectors and interests of the local economy.
Lenwell is particularly supportive of the Commission’s engagement with the housing sector. Access to good quality, affordable, safe and secure housing, which is well managed, is a key essential of any community and in its deliberations, the Commission needs to reflect on the current state of the sector in this regard and in any recommendations that it chooses to make.
Lenwell feel that it is important that the Commission needs to make an honest and frank assessment of the local housing market.
It is clear that there are very significant issues facing the Town in relation to the imbalance in the supply and demand for housing across all tenure. It is also clear that these imbalances cannot be reconciled within its own boundaries due to the limited availability of suitable development land.
This does and continue to present challenges to the Council to work with other neighbouring authorities to deliver on those demand and supply issues, however what remains within the Council’s own control is to maximise the use of its own powers to affect what happened within the Borough boundaries. There are specific concerns about the volume of 1 bed flats that are being granted planning permission which is providing an further imbalance in the provision of accommodation in the Borough.
Specifically, it is the role that the private rented sector plays in delivering a quality housing offer that we wish to make comment.
The private rented sector has seen significant growth in recent years and now stands are around 25% of the total of housing stock available. In our view the Council has failed to take the lead in developing an effective relationship with the private rented sector and steps need to be taken to establish a better and importantly more effective relationship if a genuine and ultimately a tangible improvement in the quality of the housing in the sector is to be achieved.
There are clearly issues of the poor condition of at least some of the private rented stock. The Council have plans, albeit currently unfunded plans, for refreshing the Borough wide housing condition survey, which in our view needs to happen. If the Council is serious about looking to improve the quality of the existing housing stock it needs an up-to-date picture of the scale of the challenge. From our experience of the private rented sector the survey when complete, is likely to reveal some worrying issues about the quality of some of the rented housing in the town.
The data from the housing condition survey will provided evidence of the state of the private rented stock, but what will be essential from those findings is a clear set of actions to tackle the issues that it describes.
There are also issues of about the quality of some of the Landlords and Agents that operate in the Borough in terms of their compliance with the current legal framework and also the effectiveness of the Council to use its ‘enforcement powers’ effectively to ensure standards.
Lenwell operates in 6 local authority areas and from our experience, Luton has some of the poorest Landlords and Agents and some of the least effective enforcement. Again, re-enforcing the point that the Council must take the lead where it has powers to do so, historically the use of enforcement powers in the private rented sector, there seems to be a lack of adequate capacity within the Local Authority resources to effectively manage the sector. On the ground, enforcement seems sporadic and ineffective.
Whilst we know that the Council share our concerns about the quality about the importance of good quality housing across all sectors, we would ask specifically for the private rented sector:
In summary, we are looking for the Commission to come forward with a series of recommendations which are SMART and which the Council would commit to adequately resourced and that performance against those SMART targets are effectively and publicly monitored. Without those commitments, the step change in the quality of housing in the town that is needed and is aspired to in the Investment Framework will not happen.