Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Housing cheats have nowhere to hide in Leeds

A council that is already leading the fight against people who sub-let their council homes – making profit off council tax-payers and causing problems for genuine tenants – is to receive a £50,000 boost.

The government yesterday announced extra money to tackle ‘housing cheats’ – with Leeds City Council set to benefit.

The council has already been cited as one of the best authorities for tackling sub-letting, where council tenants sub-let their council home. The practice breaches their tenancy agreement and can also cause problems with anti-social behaviour for other tenants and residents.

Leeds is one of the few authorities that has taken a proactive stance on sub-lettings outside of London. The council has already begun regular inspections of council homes to make sure tenants live there, has set up sub-letting reporting hot-lines, conducts awareness campaigns, and now asks tenants for a photo so that housing officers visiting a property can use it as proof of identity.

Council figures showed that between April and October this year, 41 cases of so-called ‘housing cheats’ were investigated. Of these, 24 are still being investigated and seven properties have so far been recovered.

The council will use the money to boost detection of sub-letting, including:
• Looking to create a form of ‘tenant ID’ so that whenever a housing officer or contractor visits a property, they know they are dealing with the genuine tenant
• Visiting every council home once a year to check the tenant is living there
• Giving support to victims of sub-letting
• An awareness campaign to tenants and residents to inform the council
• Better training for front-line staff on how to investigate cases
• Work with registered social landlords to tackle sub-letting in their properties

Councillor Les Carter, Leeds City Council’s executive board member for housing, said:
“Leeds is already ahead of the game in finding and punishing those who think they can get away with sub-letting their council home.
“We’re already regularly inspecting council homes to make sure tenants live there, we already have sub-letting reporting hot-lines, and we’re already raising awareness of the problem.
“This £50,000 is welcome, but tackling the housing cheats is something we’re already looking at and receiving national attention for.”

ENDS
For media enquiries please contact:
Michael Molcher, Leeds City Council (0113) 229 3937
e-mail: michael.molcher@leeds.gov.uk

Inner-city park set for £2million investment boost

Ambitious plans to invest almost £2million in an inner city park, which includes ancient woodland dating back more than 300 years, will take a step forward next week.

Middleton Park near Beeston in south Leeds, is just four miles from Leeds city centre. With 630 acres, 200 of which are classed as ancient woodland, the park is hugely popular with local residents and has a wealth of history, but over the years it has fallen into serious disrepair.

Next week, members of Leeds City Council’s executive board will be asked to approve an ambitious plan to inject nearly £1.8m into the park’s infrastructure with the aim of bringing the park up to the same standard and popularity as that of two of the city’s more well-known parks - Roundhay Park and Golden Acre.

The plan proposes a wide range of improvements including:

New park entrances with information boards, signs, gates, art works and other features.
A new visitor centre.
A new bandstand and performance area.
The redevelopment of the existing rose garden, with information boards,
Improvements to footpaths and the creation of new seating areas
New art work, including a horse gin!
New heritage trails with direction signs.

At the council’s executive board meeting, members will asked to approve the design and cost report for the scheme which includes a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £1.465m, £287,000 from the Wades Charity and £125,000 from Leeds City Council.

Over the past year, the council has been working closely with The Friends of Middleton Park, local councillors and residents and the Wades Charity, to put together the improvement plan. If members approve the report on Wednesday, officers will then develop a further Stage 2 bid which will be submitted to the HLF for the £1.4m.

As well as its rich natural history, Middleton also has a fascinating local history including coal mining, dating back to the 1660’s and the Middleton Railway which is the world's oldest working railway, founded in 1758 and originally used for transporting coal. It now carries visitors between Hunslet and a halt on the edge of the ancient woodlands.

Two areas of the park have been designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument due to the presence of historic coal mining remains, and a community archaeology project to record and understand the archaeology of the area is underway. The park also has golf courses, two bowling greens, a children's play area and other recreational areas.

Councillor John Procter, Leeds City Council’s executive board member responsible for parks, said:

“Middleton Park already receives 2 million visits each year, mainly from the local south Leeds residents; however it has not had the sizeable capital investment that we have been able to secure for other parks such as Roundhay and Kirkstall, and as a result is the only large park in Leeds that has yet to achieve Green Flag status.

“We’ve spent the past year working closely with the Wades Charity and the Friends of Middleton Park to develop this major improvement plan and we are committed and hopeful that we will be able to secure the funding we need.

“The park has a fantastic historic heritage and huge potential and I firmly believe this funding bid will help us restore the park to the position of pride it so richly deserves in our city.”

The design and cost report for redevelopment of Middleton Park through a Heritage Lottery Fund Parks for People Grant will be presented to Leeds City Council’s executive board on Wednesday 9th December. The meeting will start at 1pm and is held at the Civic Hall. Copies of the full report are available on the council’s website: www.leeds.gov.uk.

Ends

For media enquiries please contact:
Sara Hyman, Leeds City Council press office tel: (0113) 224 3602
Email sara.hyman@leeds.gov.uk

Recognition for Leeds Youth Offending Service

A service whose volunteers work with young people and help them turn their lives around has achieved a top accreditation award.

Leeds Youth Offending Service, which works with young people and families to prevent and reduce offending across the city, has achieved the Investing in Volunteers Quality Standard, recognising the excellent work it does with volunteers.

Investing in Volunteers is the UK quality standard for all organisations involving volunteers, aiming to improve the quality of the volunteering experience and for organisations to acknowledge the enormous contribution made by volunteers.

Leeds Youth Offending Service was assessed against a range of best practice standards and proved to excel in all aspects of working with its volunteers.

Investing in Volunteers is unique in that it is the only standard that focuses on volunteers. It is based on four areas of volunteer management; planning for volunteer involvement, recruiting volunteers, selecting and matching volunteers and supporting and retaining volunteers.

It is the only quality standard that has independent external validation with a UK Quality Assurance Panel that makes recommendations to the UK Volunteering Forum, the awarding body. Investing in Volunteers is managed by the UK Volunteering Forum and delivered by Volunteering England.

Leeds YOS recently undertook an evaluation of its services for volunteers through a questionnaire. A typical comment from a volunteer was: "The staff at the YOS are very, very supportive and they always reassure me that they only a phone call away. If I don't understand anything they are always there and help me"

Volunteer Manager Robert McNichol said:
"I'm very proud of the quality and commitment of our volunteers. Collectively they give hundreds of hours of their free time every month to support and help young people in Leeds turn their lives around.
“We have just completed a new round of recruitment and are in the enviable position of having a waiting list, which we will be looking into from spring next year."

Councillor Stewart Golton, Leeds City Council’s executive board member for children’s services, said:
“This standard shows that we nurture and support our volunteers, meaning we can help young people across the city make a positive change in their lives.
“But ultimately it is a tribute to all our volunteers’ selfless and tireless hard work.”

ENDS
For media enquiries, please contact:
Michael Molcher, Leeds City Council press office (0113) 224 3937
Email: michael.molcher@leeds.gov.uk

5000 jobs created or secured as massive investment continues in Leeds

As many as 5000 jobs should be created or secured over the coming years as a massive investment programme continues across Leeds.

Senior councillors will be told next week that most of the work will be in the construction trade and in businesses which supply the building industry.

The detail is in a report being presented to Leeds City Council’s executive board on Wednesday December 9.

It’s estimated that around 4500 jobs have already been created or secured as a result of work being led by the authority’s public private partnership unit.

Its job is to attract fresh investment into the city and over the last 10 years it has secured funding to the tune of £617 million for projects that are now complete or are still being built.

Those include 29 new schools and 80,000 street lights.

One of the team’s notable successes is the independent living project. It will provide new accommodation for 340 adults with learning disabilities or mental health needs. £51m has been invested in the scheme.

In May this year, the project secured a prestigious award in recognition of its excellence. The team’s work on schools, housing and social care has also attracted national and international interest.

Elsewhere, a scheme to refurbish more than 1500 homes in Swarcliffe, at a total cost of £113m, is nearly complete and Allerton Grange, the most recent school to open as the result of the team’s work, welcomed pupils in September.

Now, attention is turning to a number of new projects which will see a further £978m being spent in Leeds and West Yorkshire over the coming years.

They include an additional 1100 new homes (£129m), a waste treatment facility to reduce the amount of rubbish going to landfill (£130m) and a scheme to provide a new divisional headquarters and a training centre for West Yorkshire Police (£100m).

Councillor Richard Brett, joint leader and executive board member with responsibility for the public private partnership (PPP) team said:

“This team is the jewel in Leeds’ crown.”

“To have secured more than £600 million worth of investment in Leeds in just 10 years is a fantastic achievement and can’t be overstated.

“Not only is this money making a vast difference to the lives of many residents across the city, it is helping businesses survive the economic downturn.

“To be in a position where as many as 5000 jobs are likely to be created or secured in the middle of recession is great news.

“It’s perhaps no wonder that the PPP team is attracting international interest and is the envy of other councils up and down the country.”


Ends

For media enquiries please contact:
Andy Carter, Leeds City Council press office on 0113 395 0393
Email andy.carter@leeds.gov.uk

Cash boost to help small businesses during the recession

A business support scheme to help small, independent council business tenants during the recession will go before council chiefs next week.

The Leeds City Council scheme is aimed at helping tenants in Kirkgate market and other markets, as well as those in estate shops and small council owned industrial units to survive the recession. It will provide expert business advice and financial help with rents along with loans and grants to those eligible for support.

On Wednesday, 9 December, council officers will present the scheme to members of the council’s executive board who will be asked to approve the plans and to give the go-ahead for £250,000 which will be set aside for the scheme.

Members will also be asked to agree further funding to improve facilities and the overall environment at Kirkgate Market to make it more attractive for new and existing customers.

Suggestions include painting and refurbishing parts of the market and installing new customer rest areas with tables and seating, improved signage and market maps. The maps could be located inside the market and at other places in the city centre such as the train station, to promote the market and ensure that customers can find what they are looking for quickly. Further consultation will be undertaken with the market tenants.

Councillor Andrew Carter, leader of the council and executive member responsible for city development, said:

“In the current recession, a number of the council’s small independent business tenants are facing hardship. Some simply need good independent business advice and business planning; others may require rental support, loans or grants.

“The aim of the scheme is to provide financial support and business advice to businesses willing to submit their accounts and agree a business plan with an independent business advisor. Every effort will be made to make this as simple as possible.

“We believe the scheme will help ensure the survival of our business tenants during the recession. Further capital investment in Kirkgate indoor market will help it compete more effectively with its competitors by helping to retain existing customers, attract new customers and improve the amount of time they spend in the market.”

The council is also applying for a £1.3million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to improve the area surrounding Kirkgate Market around Lower Kirkgate between the market and Warehouse Hill.

Councillor Carter said:

“If successful, the HLF grant will help transform an area blighted by a poor environment and vacant shops. Our aim is to make it into a place which will attract new shoppers by reusing empty buildings and floor space and by creating better pedestrian links between Kirkgate and other parts of the city centre.”

A separate report on the proposed HLF scheme will be presented to executive board in the future.

A copy of the full Business Support Scheme for the council’s small business tenants and investment in Kirkgate Markets is available on the council’s website: www.leeds.gov.uk.

The full report will be presented at a meeting of the council’s executive board on Wednesday 9 December, at Leeds Civic Hall. The meeting starts at 1pm.

Ends

For media enquiries please contact:
Sara Hyman, Leeds City Council press office tel: (0113) 224 3602
Email sara.hyman@leeds.gov.uk