The Wealden Residents Action Group, WRAG, is the umbrella organisation for all community groups in the Wealden area including Sheltered Accommodation Groups, SHRG.  Representatives from all groups meet and WRAG focuses on issues that affect groups such as grass mowing, working with Wealden District Council. 

For more details about WRAG see:

 

http://www.wrag-online.co.uk/about_wrag.html

 

 

Minutes from Wealden Residents Action Group (WRAG) Meeting,
Held 29th January, 2015.
Present:
Ray Edmonds (RE), George Hedges (GH), Laurence Keeley (LK), Derek Lee (DL), Barry Marlowe (BM), David Pryce (DP), Colin Stocks (CS), Jo Stonebrook (JS), Ray Whiteway-Roberts (RW).
Apologies:
Anna Batchelor (AB), Ian Bruce (IB), Malcolm Palfrey (MP)
1. Minutes of Meeting Held 10/12/14
A The minutes were accepted as an accurate record.
2. Public Transport
BM was welcomed to the meeting to discuss public transport in the Wealden area. He briefly described the background to the Wealden Buss Alliance (WBA) and the state of public transport in the Wealden area:
The Wealden Bus Alliance (WBA) has been created to promote the use of public transport in the Wealden area. It is currently funded by Wealden District Council (WDC), and is supported by local councils and a several Community Transport organisations, user groups, and local councils.

Good public transport is important for employment, leisure, and protection of the environment. Unfortunately, de-regulation of bus services in the 80s has resulted in a reduction of usage of bus services across the country. The exception is London, where bus services remain under local authority control, and levels of use have increased.

12% of people use buses to commute.

It is the WBA's remit to encourage greater use of buses. An example is the Forest Explorer, which was trialled in 2014, and provided a scheduled service to take visitors to the Ashdown Forest from rail stations in the area to key visitor attractions, thereby reducing the number of vehicles in this important conservation area.
A wide-ranging discussion followed, and the following observations were made:

Fares have increased significantly recently, and will increase a great deal more following cuts being implemented by East Sussex County Council (ESCC).
There is a significant challenge involved in effectively publicising the availability of Community Transport services, such as Wealdlink.
The WBA is discussing the provision of a commuter bus service in Uckfield and Crowborough, in order to reduce parking and congestion issues.
Rail services are creating significant challenges, including fare differences attracting disproprtionate numbers of commuters to certain stations, insufficient numbers of carriages on some services, and local parking spaces being occupied by commuters.

It was agreed that articles promoting the use of public transport, with a particular emphasis on Community Transport, would be included in the next edition of Community News.
3. Threshold and Community News
It was agreed at the last meeting that these two publications would remain separate.

The next edition will include an article about the garden competition. GH suggested an "around the groups" article, focussing on community gardens.

JS agreed to write an article about Adam Field in Alderbrook.

A future edition should include an article about digital inclusion.

BM suggested that it would be worth including a piece about Universal Credit in the same edition that includes an article about digital inclusion, because effectively accessing Universal Credit will almost certainly require access to online resources. DL agreed to draft an article on both subjects.
4 Rent
GH reported that he had asked David Gibson not to attend the meeting because the current rent situation is an important topic of discussion, and David has been told he must not advise WRAG on housing rent matters.

WDC had proposed a 5% average rent increase, with a £10/week cap. WRAG and the Sheltered Housing Residents Group (SHRG) have both objected to this level of increase, which is significantly in excess of DCLG guidelines, guidelines which WDC have used in previous years to justify large rent increases.

WRAG and SHRG also object to the accuracy of briefing notes that have been sent to tenants. The briefing notes gave misleading information regarding WDC's sources of finance.

Despite negotiation between WRAG and SHRG, and Councillor Graham Wells, agreement wasn't reached, and WDC will impose a large rent increase, in which the weekly cap on the additional amount any resident will have to pay is £5. WRAG and SHRG both consider this to be excessive.

WDC have also reduced the Community and Environmental budget, without consultation with WRAG and SHRG.

GH noted that the original self financing business plan, on which both WRAG and SHRG were consulted, was based on the need for convergence. Convergence is no longer a target, but WDC have not explained on what basis the current business plan has been developed.

GH proposed that a press release be issued explaining why WRAG and SHRG believe WDC has negotiated in bad faith. A vote was taken, and was supported unanimously.

GH also proposed that the next Wealden Homes Partnership be boycotted by WRAG and SHRG in protest at the position being adopted by WDC. The meeting voted in favour of the boycott.

GH is to try to organise a meeting with leader of WDC councillor Bob Standley and housing portfolio holder councillor Graham Wells to discuss the situation.
5. Insurance
The insurance requirement for grit bins, notice boards, etc. has been clarified. The requirement is for £5M public liability cover, NOT £10M, and the insurance currently purchased by WRAG for community groups provides the necessary level of cover.

All community groups will be asked to provide information about the type of event cover they require, so that WRAG can ensure the insurance policy purchased next year meets all groups' needs.
6 Date and Time of Next Meeting
The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, 13th May, at 7pm, in the Uckfield Civic Centre.
Copyright © 2015 Colin Stocks, All rights reserved.

Minutes of WRAG Meeting 10th December, 2014

Present: Maggie Evans (ME), David Gibson (DG), George Hedges (GH), Laurence Keeley (LK), Derek Lee (DL), Malcolm Palfrey (MP) , Colin Stocks (CS), Jo Stonebrook (JS).

Apologies: Ian Bruce, Marie de Lacey, Gill Roache, Sue Wheeler.

1. Minutes of Meeting Held 17/9/14
The minutes were agreed.

2. Scrutiny Panel
The scrutiny panel has met, but not all members were able to attend, and it was therefore not quorate.  Howver, topics for scrutiny were discussed, and the preferred option was to examine the policy around the management of fixtures and fittings that are left in properties when tenants leave.
Chris Stephens and Amanda Hodge will be attending the next scrutiny panel meeting to discuss topics with the panel, and it is expected that the first topic for scrutiny will be decided at that meeting.
Administrative assistance for the panel will be funded by Wealden District Council (WDC).

3. Community News
It was agreed that WRAG needs to be much more involved.  David Gibson and Ellie Boultbee have been doing most of the work developing articles and editing the publication.  An editorial group is required that will decide on themes, articles, and format.  Three issues of Community News are produced each year.
If you are willing to be involved in the editorial group, please let WRAG know.  GH, MP, DG and EB will be involved, so there will be plenty of support.  The first editorial meeting should be arranged for January.
Please also let WRAG have your opinions about Threshold and Community News (if you receive these publications).  Your opinions will ensure that the content of these publications meets your needs.  A similar request for feedback will be printed in future editions of Threshold and Community News.

4. Rent Consultation
This complex subject was discussed at length during the meeting.  WDC provided WRAG and SHRG with consultation documents earlier in the year, and representatives from the tenants' organisations and from WDC met on two occasions to discuss the content.
A number of proposals for rent increases were put forward by WDC, all of which involved increasing rent levels, with the goal of achieving the maximum number of properties paying "formula" rent.  Formula Rent is typically about 45% of market rent.  The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has produced a formula for calculating rent, in Appendix A of the DCLG policy document.
WRAG and SHRG agree that formula rent is a reasonable target, but do not agree with WDC's proposal for reaching it.  During negotiations in previous years, WDC have proposed rent increases in line with DCLG guidance.  Often, this has exceeded the level of increase that WRAG and SHRG consider fair or reasonable.  For the 2015/16 financial year, DCLG guidance is to increase social rents by the consumer prices index (CPI) + 1%.  The relevant value of CPI here is 1.2%, which is the CPI in September 2014.  See section 2.16 of the DCLG document.
Many rents across WDC are already at formula rent, but some are not.  During the original consultation, rent increase scenarios proposed by WDC included:

  • increase rents in line with DCLG guidance;
  • increase all rents to formula, regardless of the increase;
  • only increase rents to formula if they are already with £1 of the formula rent;
  • only increase rents to formula if they are already with £2 of the formula rent;
  • only increase rents to formula if they are already with £5 of the formula rent.

None of these have been selected by WDC, which has instead proposed that all rents increase to formula rent, subject to a maximum £10 per week increase (limited to 48 weeks only).  This corresponds to a 5% average increase, significantly above the 2.2% (CPI + 1%) recommended by the DCLG.
WRAG and SHRG were united in disappointment at the disrgard for the DCLG guidance this year, given WDC's insistence on following DCLG guidance in previous years.
It was agreed that WRAG and SHRG would ask WDC to reconsider setting the rent increase for next year at the level proposed by the DCLG.
Although WDC have engaged with WRAG and SHRG during the consultation process, it was agreed that the financial models used are very complex, and hard to understand.  WDC have offered to provide financial training to WRAG and SHRG representatives, which will help the groups to understand the issues surrounding self-financing, but it was felt that there is insufficient expertise to know what questions to ask during subsequent consultations.
GH therefore proposed that WRAG should fund consultancy on an as-needed basis, to provide the group with independent financial advice.  CS seconded the motion, and it was carried unanimously.

5. Insurance
WRAG's treasurer, Ray Whiteway-Roberts, was unable to attend the meeting, so an update on the insurance issues was not available.  Ray will be asked to find out whether Joan Hughes Court Social Clkub can be added to the group insurance policy.

6. Tenant Involvement Grants Budget Consultation
DG distributed detailed proposals to create a community groups grants panel to decide on applications, and outlined criteria that will be used to assess applications for grants.
GH proposed acceptance of DG's plans, CS seconded.  The plans were unanimously supported.

7. Dates of Future Meetings
WRAG meetings will be held on the following dates:
Wednesday, 22nd July, 2015
Wednesday, 16th September, 2015 (AGM)
Wednesday, 11th November, 2015