Tory revolt halts bid to drive out rogue landlords in Wisbech - Fenland Council now to appoint ‘task force’ to see what can be done

Cllr Steve Tierney and Cllr John Clark.

Cllr Steve Tierney and Cllr John Clark. - Credit: Archant

A back bench revolt forced Fenland Council to abandon its plan to bring in tough new policies to crack down on rogue landlords in Wisbech.

Cllr Will Sutton

Cllr Will Sutton - Credit: Archant

Wisbech Town Council leader and Fenland Cabinet member David Oliver believed new licensing of rented homes would “improve standards and would have a knock-on effect in reducing crime and anti social behaviour”.

But opponents including fellow Wisbech councillor and deputy mayor Steve Tierney believed the policies would see “tenants nudged into nearby towns and villages, moving problems elsewhere.”

And he claimed “black market landlords will go deeper underground, inflicting more harm and becoming harder to catch”.

Last summer the council received 438 survey responses and 67 emails and held 14 public events for the community about selective licensing: it would have seen 2,400 rented homes in seven Wisbech wards brought under new controls.

Cllr David Oliver. Picture: Steve Williams.

Cllr David Oliver. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

Landlords would have been required to buy five year licences for £575 – more for those in multiple occupation- and be able to show they were ‘fit and proper’ persons to rent out property.,

The council felt housing would be improved, rogue landlords could be stopped, and overcrowding and exploitation of migrant workers brought to an end.

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Many didn’t see it that way but after a series of postponements the refreshed policy was due before Cabinet last week with officers claiming most had “broadly supported” the scheme although many landlords felt it was not necessary, the costs were too high and the council should focus solely on ‘rogue’ landlords.

Behind the scenes the Conservatives – with a massive overall majority on Fenland Council- were in disarray over selective licensing.

Matters came to a head earlier this month at the regular private meeting of Conservative councillors with Councillor Tierney lined up against Councillor Will Sutton, cabinet member for housing.

With the vote lost, cabinet had no option but to pull the original recommendation to implement the scheme.

Instead a watered down compromise was eventually agreed that will now see a “task force” set up to explore alternative ways of tackling problems with private rented accommodation in Wisbech.

The formation of the task group was announced by Fenland District Council leader John Clark at the cabinet meeting last Thursday.

Cllr Clark said: “Some members have brought to the cabinet’s attention that they recognise the issues that Wisbech experiences in relation to the poor condition and management of private rented properties, especially houses of multiple occupation. “However, they are uncomfortable with the current selective licensing proposals.”

Instead he said Councillor Mike Cornwell had been asked to chair the new task group to look at alternatives, including what funds might be able to “deliver private rented housing enforcement”.

No time scale has been given but Cllr Clarke it would report back “in a timely manner”.

In a series of blogs Cllr Tierney had set out his opposition to selective licensing, and in one article talked of fellow councillor Sam Hoy who he described as a “colleague of mine, who works for a letting agency and so would have useful knowledge to guide the policy; she has been silenced with the threat of legal action”.

He said Cllr Hoy had been refused permission to speak on selective licensing “even though she owns no properties, gains no bonus or additional monies from sales or lets. “Meanwhile, councillors who are landlords in other towns are allowed to speak and vote because they don’t have a financial interest, except for the obvious one of benefiting from the additional bureaucracy, expense and hamstringing of their direct competitors in the next town? What a crock.”

* The majority of owner occupiers, private rented tenants and housing association tenants supported selective licensing; however 85 per cent of landlords were against the proposal. Overall result of the council’s survey was 49.5 per cent (212) in favour, 43 per cent (184) against and 7.5 per cent (32) voted ‘don’t know’.