Anger over housing panel vote taken behind closed doors

Nichole Brennan East Brighton
Nichole Brennan East Brighton

Tenant reps and politicians responded angrily to what they said was the undemocratic way that the chair of a council housing panel was changed without a vote.

Two candidates each had four nominations but, instead of holding a vote, officials decided the result behind the scenes.

One residents’ representative walked out of the Brighton and Hove City Council housing panel meeting on Monday (June 3) and others voiced their anger.

They were upset that new East Brighton Labour councillor Nikkie Brennan was appointed to chair the East Area Housing Panel before the meeting had even started.

Until the local council elections on Thursday, May 2, Rottingdean Coastal Conservative councillor Mary Mears chaired the panel.

Both councillors were put forward, with four nominations each.

Assistant director of housing Martin Reid said that the decision had been made by the council’s Democratic Services Team.

Councillors were told on yesterday afternoon that Councillor Brennan would chair the quarterly panel.

Walk out

The panel met at the Vale Community Centre, in Hadlow Close, last night.

Woodingdean Conservative councillor Dee Simson criticised the way that the situation was dealt with after Manor Farm Tenants and Residents Association rep Lyn Bennet walked out in anger.

She said: “It’s a shame it wasn’t communicated with tenants reps this afternoon at the same time as it was to councillors, then they wouldn’t be coming in and be so shocked by what’s happened, which they obviously are.

“The error is in miscommunication. At least they could have come in knowing what has happened.”

Councillor Simson said that she was annoyed that there had been no vote but instead the numbers were anticipated from the nominations.

And Councillor Mears, a former leader of the council, was critical of the way that the process was handled.

She told Mr Reid that housing panels had run since 1997 and the chairs were always elected by councillors and tenant representatives.

She said: “For the last four years under a Labour administration, the panels were done as they were done.

“You can’t have an area to include tenants if you don’t communicate with them.”

She added: “There was a question about nominations, which happens, but there was no vote anywhere.

“Officers are assuming the outcome of the vote.”

‘Disgusting’

Woodingdean Tenants and Residents Association rep Janet Gearing described the situation as “disgusting”.

She said: “Mary has done it for so many years now and if there hasn’t been vote then Mary should be chairing this tonight until the vote is done.

“She is still the area panel chairman here until there has been another vote. It has been disgusting.”

Craven Vale Community Association representative Alan Cooke suggested that the vice-chair, Roberts Lodge Residents’ Assocation’s rep Chris El-Shabba, take control of the meeting – a situation welcomed by Councillor Brennan.

But Mr Reid said that the advice from the council’s head of law and the council leadership was that Councillor Brennan should chair the meeting.

He apologised for the lack of communication and said that any ambiguity about the process would go back to the council’s constitutional working group.

Upset

Mrs El-Shabba said that she would be taking the matter further. She said: “I just feel us as residents will take this matter further.

“I have fought constantly about residents being involved. I have done this for many, many years. I refuse to be treated in this manner.”

Councillor Brennan said that she felt very uncomfortable but Mrs El-Shabba told her to “stay put” in the chair.

The new councillor said: “I am not one of these people who likes to sit and argue over things all evening. I like to get things done.

“I am very much about problem solving and I want to genuinely help my residents.

“It doesn’t matter what colour I’m wearing, I’m a community-minded person who isn’t into this crossfire arguing.”

Council statement

Brighton and Hove Council said: “We are very sorry for the confusion caused at Monday’s East Area Housing Panel meeting.

“Our protocol for appointing the chairs of area panels is through a vote on the nominees by local ward councillors and, where there’s no clear decision, through the Housing and New Homes Committee.

“In the absence of an appointment through the new committee, the position should fall to a member of the administration.

“As such, it was agreed that Councillor Brennan should be appointed as the chair of the East Area Panel.

“The situation has uncovered an ambiguity in the protocol and we are asking the group of councillors looking at the council’s constitution to review the process.”