PT FOI request shows negotiations between city council and housing firm to move homeless people into estate where tenants are being evicted

A company which is evicting dozens of families at St Michael's Gate so the city council can move in its homeless people tried to increase the council's rental costs despite having already agreed a deal.

Friday, 2nd December 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 6:04 pm
Residents of St Michael's Gate and neighbours gather for a protest against the evictions. Pictured (left) is Jelana Stevic with a petition and a copy of a PT front page EMN-161113-172443009

Newly released emails following a Peterborough Telegraph Freedom of Information request shows Stef & Philips, one of two firms behind the eviction of a number of tenants from 74 homes, asked the council to bump up the money it should pay from £966,338 to £983,675 per year.

The request came on October 25, more than three weeks after the council had published a decision notice on its website stating it would rent the properties.

An email from a Stef & Philips director, whose name has been redacted, states: “May a [sic] suggest a small change to the nightly rates to compensate for the loss of rent.”

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This was due to the council reducing the number of properties it would lease from them.

The request, though, was rebuffed by the council. In an email on October 27 Oliver Hayward, the council’s assistant director: people commissioning and commercial operations, wrote back: “The position the council finds itself in following quite a protracted, but necessary, decision making process is that we are able to spend with your organisation up to [EMAIL CONTENT REDACTED] per annum as previously agreed.

“Any price increase will need to go back through the process as it is treated as a new decision, and given the interest around this matter there is no guarantee that the decision will be given. I would request that we hold prices as we previously agreed.”

The published deal on the council’s website was for the 74 properties to be converted into 98, which the council would lease, but the authority has confirmed that this number has now been reduced to 88.

This is from lowering the number of Houses of Multiple Occupation to four (which now account for 20 properties)and because Stef & Philips has removed two long-term tenancies at the estate from the lease.

A council spokeswoman said that as a result of the changes, its annual lease has dropped slightly to £966,151 with the vast majority refunded to the council through housing benefit payments from government.

The rates on leasing the properties has, though, been increased by approximately 16p per bedroom per day.

The spokeswoman said the rate paid still “reflects good value” and is “far less” than putting homeless people in hotels.

The PT’s FOI also reveals that while negotiations were ongoing over the St Michael’s Gate properties, Stef & Philips asked to extend the council’s lease from two years to five years. An email from a Stef & Philips director gives nine reasons for the request, one of which is that the properties it is leasing the council are the first of “many more we are willing to provide”.

The council last week said it was not aware of Stef & Philips utilising any more properties in the city.

Eventually, a three-year deal was reached with a break clause after the second year.

The latest tranche of emails have been released by the council after its first response to the PT’s FOI request was insufficient.

This was because it had forwarded us its response to an earlier FOI about St Michael’s Gate which was not as wide-ranging.

In the latest emails the council’s FOI team only found one sent by a councillor, but this has been redacted.

The council said: “Correspondence that a councillor has sent in their capacity as a representative of residents of their ward does not form part of information held by a councillor in their role as a member of the council.” Therefore, the email is not covered by the Freedom of Information Act.

Cabinet member for resources Cllr David Seaton, who signed off the deal with Stef & Philips, said his discussions were face-to-face.

Internal correspondence has also been redacted. The council said this was because it was not part of the PT’s FOI request.

One further email contains a copy of a Land Registry document which says the St Michael’s Gate properties were bought by Paul Simon Magic Homes for just over £8 million on June 30. Paul Simon Magic Homes is the landlord of the properties, while Stef & Philips is the managing agents. The two companies also share a director.

Media coverage ‘has died down’

The emails also include discussion about the media coverage being generated over St Michael’s Gate.

On October 7, a week after the PT exclusively revealed the deal, an individual at Stef & Philips emailed: “Our impression is the media furore has died down or at least reached a plateau. Would be good to have your views.”

Raymond Murphy, the council’s assistant commissioner, emailed back: “The media attention may continue for a little while locally, but hopefully has plateaued.”

Since then, the story has been covered nationally in print, radio and TV, as well as on Russia Today.

The PT’s FOI request also included a list of meetings between the council and Stef & Philips, of which there were seven between May 18 and November 10.

Notes from the second meeting, on May 26, state: “Stef & Philips advised that they were confident of securing the entire development in the very near future and envisaged that it would be with vacant possession of all units.”

PT Editor Mark Edwards said: The ‘media furore’ has not died down - we can assure them of that.”