Reply from the Chairman of the Transport, Local
Government and the Regions Committee to
the Chairman of the Committee
Proposal for the Regulatory Reform (Housing Assistance)
(England and Wales) Order 2002
Thank you for your letter of 22 January. As you know
the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee is currently
inquiring into the problem of empty homes. The Regulatory Reform
Order, which your Committee is currently considering has a bearing
on the solution to this problem, in particular as it manifests
itself in failing housing markets.
The new Local Government White Paper (Strong Local
Leadership: Quality Public Services) sets out the Government's
desire to reduce the number of plans and strategies that local
authorities are required to produce. On housing, it includes a
commitment to "Publish guidance to bring these plans together
under the umbrella of a housing strategy." You may wish to
ask the Government why local authorities' policies on housing
renewal assistance (referred to on page 34 of the Explanatory
Document) could not be incorporated into their housing strategies.
During our empty homes inquiry we heard evidence
on the proposals for the Housing Assistance Regulatory Reform
Order. Manchester City Council that, "It will give us far
more flexibility in terms of renewal," (Q217). Chris Brown,
Chair of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Regeneration
Panel, also told us, "I think they are probably a step forward.
They are phrased in an enabling way rather than a rules based
The Explanatory Document makes particular reference
to the Home Swaps scheme in Salford, on page 22. We received evidence
from Salford City Council that it has taken eighteen months to
get the relevant approvals in place to enable that pilot scheme
to proceed (Q442). Deregulation to allow greater discretion to
local authorities over such schemes will save a great deal of
time and money spent on legal fees in future.
DTLR will need to ensure that these new powers fit
with other Departmental activities, for example, wider regeneration
policies, planning and compulsory purchase orders.
Finally, I would like to take the opportunity to
draw your attention to another issue which has arisen during the
course of our inquiry, namely the current inability of local authorities
to use personal data held on council tax registers to identify
the owners of empty homes. We are considering proposals that the
Government should introduce a Regulatory Reform Order to allow
local authorities to use the data as part of their attempts to
bring empty homes back into use.
23 January 2002