Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 100-119)



  100. For cheaper housing?
  (Mr Hayler) We think it is to deal with their travel to work and better housing.


  101. Are these people leaving for similar jobs or jobs that are more poorly paid, or are they actually moving for promotion, and they have gone looking for promotion outside London because it is a double gain: cheaper housing costs and extra salary?
  (Mr Hayler) It is, but the principal reason they give us—and this is from surveys of actual leavers—is for housing reasons rather than promotion and job. So the reason why they leave London as a teacher and stay in the profession is predominantly because of housing factors. The kinds of housing solutions and interventions you then have to employ vary according to what type of position they are in their cycle. We argue that relatively small improvements in how long people stay in jobs, whether in the hospital sector or the teaching sector and others, makes quite a material difference to the quality of that service, and therefore we are not saying that you simply provide accommodation through an RSL at an intermediate rent and that stops people from leaving London—people leave London for quality of life reasons and all kinds of other reasons—but you can make a difference if in this range of workers, modestly employed people, you improve the social rented side, the low-cost ownership side, and so on, at different points where they are.

Dr Pugh

  102. When the Government conducts housing needs surveys do you think it is now essential that they consider the needs of key workers?
  (Mr Hayler) Absolutely. There is a fundamental point here about what is the housing market for a key worker: is it borough-based or not? Clearly, it is not a borough thing. Not only may you not be able to solve housing pressures within your borough boundary, you clearly cannot tackle labour sectors from a borough perspective. You are going to have to think in terms of roles of boroughs not just in how they assess and understand but how they collaborate along with the GLA.

Mr Streeter

  103. Can we talk about affordable housing to buy? Obviously the problems we are describing this morning affect not just Cambridge and London but many other parts of the country, including my own area in the West Country, and in particular in south-west Devon, where, for example, the average house price is £157,000 and the average salary £16,000, and those figures do not quite compute. In relation to people's natural desire to own their own homes, particularly local people, key workers and so on, do you think that the current options on offer in terms of low-cost ownership and shared equity schemes can play any part at all in providing affordable housing for local people and key workers, or do you have any better ideas to help solve this particular problem?
  (Mr Studdert) From a Cambridge perspective, a range of solutions must be tried; there is no one panacea. There should be a lot more experimentation in different options which suit local circumstances, but I think also one must not forget that a lot of the problem is a question of supply. In places like Cambridge a lot of it is just to do with over-restrictive planning policies. I think where one can actually increase the supply without harm to the environment, one should certainly do it, and we need to be a lot more skilled in building well so that new development is seen as being an asset rather than a threat. By increasing the supply in places where it is needed, we are never going to bring prices down, but at least we will stabilise the market, and also, in releasing more land, that gives us more opportunities to release a proportion of that land for affordable housing, including key worker housing, and in Cambridge we are looking at up to 50 per cent of housing schemes that would fall into that category. I just think one has to try a range of solutions.

  104. Are you trying intermediate schemes?
  (Mr Studdert) We are. We are putting in a bid to the current Challenge Fund for an intermediate scheme that also involves some pre-fabrication as well. That obviously has to be done very quickly, within the timescale that we have been allowed. So we are taking all the opportunities we can. But I think there are issues, particularly in areas like Cambridge, where local employers can be put under some pressure to contribute towards providing housing for their employees—and that would be private sector as well as public sector—and there should be opportunities to do that as well.

Mr Cummings

  105. We understand that funds to the Housing Corporation are expected to rise from £770 million in the year 2001-02 to £1.3 billion in 2003-04, which is virtually a doubling. Do you believe this will make any significant difference in the Cambridge area?
  (Mr Studdert) I think it could, but particularly if we are being smart in how that money is used in the intermediate sector, from the evidence we have put in, we have quoted a figure of 60-70 per cent of social housing cost comes from government subsidy, and that is obviously a very high proportion of subsidy for that sort of housing. One can obviously get an awful lot more low-cost home ownership in intermediate housing for a given amount of money than one can social housing. So in areas where there are particular pressures for this intermediate sector, I think we need to look at intelligent ways of making that money go as far as possible. That is certainly a great help.

  106. Do you have any smart ideas to ensure that?
  (Mr Studdert) I think it comes back to this problem of trying all sorts of different arrangements, and using local knowledge, local institutions who have ideas. I think one should be trying as many options as there are, and it is obviously a new field. We are very much newcomers to this game, as a lot of other people are, and one should not be putting too many restrictions. There are things like self-build, etc, which I think can be quite important as well—at the margins, but these are other things which should be tried.

  107. The new £200 million Challenge Fund which was announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review is also to be focused on areas of population growth in the East and South East. How do you believe it should be spent?
  (Mr Studdert) As I said, we are putting in a bid. I think there are difficulties with the way that Fund has been set up. We were only given six weeks' notice to put in a bid. We put in a joint bid with Bedfordshire Pilgrims Housing Association and one or two other local housing associations to provide housing on what is currently a private sector site, which is going through the planning system, to provide within the 30 per cent of affordable housing that we will negotiate a mixture of shared ownership and rented housing, using a pre-fabricated, timber-framed system. The difficulty we have in putting together bids like this at such short notice is because of our shortage of land, and because of our dependence on the private sector to bring forward the sites. We are not wholly in control.


  108. Is that not a bit of an unfair whinge? You have been going on for some time, as have others, about the lack of affordable housing, and then the Government accepts you have a problem—surely you should be getting on with it?
  (Mr Studdert) Yes. What would be great would be to have a three-year rolling programme, which is obviously happening in other sectors, so that one can plan properly for that money being spent, and obviously the Challenge Fund is very welcome, but as a "quick fix", it is obviously only going to go so far. We welcome particularly the idea that a lot of this funding is going to areas that are under pressure for growth. In a way, I think the over-centralised system of local government finance has discriminated against places like Cambridge. For instance, we raise something like £55 million a year in business rates but we only get £5 million of it back to spend. It is about time that places like Cambridge were recognised as being in need of some help.

Mr Cummings

  109. Obviously that could be said of anywhere throughout the country. I could say that about my area. The point I wanted to make is, knowing full well that initiatives by this Government and perhaps previous governments are very likely to be pulled from the hat—developed and made manifest overnight—are you saying that you have nothing at all in the top drawer to respond to these particular initiatives?
  (Mr Studdert) As I say, we have within six weeks put together this one bid, which was pretty good, I think. We have to move as smartly as we can in relation to the opportunities that come forward, but if all our sites are coming forward on the back of private sector schemes, there are always going to be timetable problems. For instance, our largest brownfield site at the moment, which is actually on a site owned by the Government, which is going to deliver something like 380 units altogether, of which 30 per cent will be affordable, has been held up for about three years with the PFI scheme. We would have had that site coming through three years ago if it had not been for the wonders of that mysterious process. We do the best we can.

Mr Streeter

  110. Can I ask specifically how many social housing units, how many units of affordable housing, Cambridge Council has provided in the last 12 months?
  (Mr Studdert) I cannot say off the top of my head.


  111. You can give us a note. That would be helpful. Can I go back to Addenbrooke's? I understand from our notes that you have about 850 flats on site. Are those suitable, or do they badly need modernising?
  (Mr Day) No; they have been modernised. We modernised them in conjunction with a housing association, and they are suitable for the sort of staff that use them. That is mainly either medical staff who have to be on the site because of their service commitments, or students, nurses and doctors in training, and increasingly overseas nurses, who are recruited and coming into the country and find it preferable to live in the hospital's accommodation whilst they find their feet in the local community, or indeed decide whether or not they will stay in the local community or go back whence they came.

  112. Within the hospital estate would there not be scope for putting up some more dwellings, possibly pre-fabricated ones?
  (Mr Day) There is absolutely no scope within the hospital estate at the moment. We are in the process of acquiring further land for essential hospital building. Part of that process will include housing.

  113. How much housing?
  (Mr Day) The exact amount is to be determined.

  114. As far as the London situation is concerned, is there not scope for getting a few more pre-fabricated dwellings on to school sites? I do not want playing fields to be used, but there are a lot of schools that have odd shapes. Is it not possible to get some more building on to those sites?
  (Mr Gregory) Yes, it is, but the most efficient way to use pre-fabricated schemes is to put them on to quite large sites, though, as you say, there are school sites and hospital sites and other small sites where we can use pre-fabricated buildings.

Christine Russell

  115. You did say a few moments ago to the Chairman that you were not sure how many affordable homes had been built in Cambridge.
  (Mr Studdert) I have had a figure passed to me by a colleague of 120 in the last 12 months.

  116. How many of those came through the planning gain route, and what success are you having in Cambridge negotiating with private sector housing developers?
  (Mr Studdert) In terms of figures of property on the ground, it has been very modest. Over the last 10 years it is only about 84 houses, but we have a lot of others, several hundred, in the pipeline that are coming through; some of these slightly larger brownfield sites that have been held up for one reason or another. So what we have at the moment is modest, but we have aspirations for more coming through.

  117. Do you have a target figure? 25 per cent, 30 per cent?
  (Mr Studdert) At the moment it is 30 per cent. There is another opportunity that we are taking advantage of to the west of Cambridge. There is Camborne New Settlement, which is in South Cambridgeshire district. That is about eight miles outside Cambridge, beyond the Green Belt. We do have nomination rights into 50 per cent of the affordable housing that is coming through that scheme, which will deliver about 400-500 houses in total over the next 10 years. That is where a lot of the development is happening.

  118. Is there any evidence in your negotiations with developers that, because you are demanding the contribution for affordable housing, as a result, perhaps the quality of landscaping is slipping, the developers are less willing to provide children's play areas or traffic calming schemes?
  (Mr Studdert) No, there is no evidence of that. For the schemes that are coming through at the moment we are also trying to ensure that the affordable element is pepper-potted within the scheme rather than being a ghetto in the back corner of the site, so that there is a genuine mixed community and there is no external evidence of different sorts of tenure, which we think is quite important. Developers are responding positively to that. Also, developers are beginning to respond quite positively to the increase. I had a meeting with a developer yesterday about some of the potential Green Belt release sites that were coming through, and they seemed quite happy with the idea of talking about 50 per cent affordable housing.

  119. You mentioned in your submission that you felt better use could be made of existing, publicly owned sites. What do you have in mind in Cambridge?
  (Mr Studdert) It is difficult. Quite a lot of our stock is relatively low-density, semi-detached houses that were built during the Thirties or during the Fifties at densities well below 20 to the acre. We have taken opportunities where we can to redevelop and to densify some of these sites, but obviously, where you have existing sitting tenants, that becomes difficult to do on a large scale, but we recognise that there is potentially more that could be done to make more efficient use of some of the low-density areas of Cambridge.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 17 January 2003