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

Memoranda submitted by South East England Development Agency, South East England Regional Assembly and South West Regional Assembly

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 173-179)




  173. Can I welcome the second set of witnesses this morning. Can I ask you to identify yourselves for the record.
  (Mr Bevan) I am Paul Bevan, Chief Executive of South East England Regional Assembly.
  (Mr Dunnett) I am Anthony Dunnett, the Chief Executive of South East England Development Agency.
  (Councillor Clarke) I am Chris Clarke, Vice Chairman, South West Regional Assembly.

  (Ms Houlden) I am Bryony Houlden, Chief Executive, South West Regional Assembly.

  174. Does anyone want to say anything by way of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight to questions?
  (Councillor Clarke) Firstly, I would like to say how glad we are to be seen because we feel that our region has been overlooked in all the talk about abandoned houses in the North and the pressure of prices in the South East. What our region is facing is a growing population anyway. There is very high inward migration which comes from several sources: people are relocating for job reasons and for skills needs; they are relocating for social reasons; they are moving into our region to retire; they are buying second homes there. In addition, as a rural region, most housing developments are contentious because of the rural nature of the region and that means we are stuck between very high demand and the problem of trying to keep apace and we have low availability of brownfield land. Some estimates say that, in our region, house prices have increased 40 per cent in the last year and some estimates put the average price now at £140,000. We have a map which we can leave or offer which shows the intensity of some of that in Cornwall and Devon. Salisbury, for example, has a very high price level. What we are finding is that, in some places, the gap between income—we are a low wage region—and what people need to buy a house is £20,000. It is unbridgeable for them. We missed out on our Challenge funding, we missed out on Housing Corporation funding. We need attention for our region to help us deal with these pressures.
  (Mr Bevan) I have a simple point on numbers that I really want to open with. In the South-East region, our housing target regional planning guidance is 28,000 dwellings per annum and we are delivering at the moment 22,000, a shortfall of 6,000. Of that in terms of affordable housing, our target is 12,000. The delivery at the moment is at the maximum 6,000, depending on how you count, and net zero because we are losing 6,000 a year to right to buy.

Mr O'Brien

  175. In the letter of submissions that you have sent to the Committee, you said that more money being made available is welcome. I would imagine that reference is to the new plans in the comprehensive spending review. Then you say that an increase in land and house prices makes it difficult to provide social housing. How much do you think the shortfall is?
  (Councillor Clarke) In the South West?

  176. Yes.
  (Councillor Clarke) We have a gap of around 10,000 of which 6,000 needs to be affordable housing, that is per annum.

  177. Does that apply right across the region?
  (Councillor Clarke): In the South West, yes.

  178. Is the money required to tackle the regional needs far beyond the means of any Government?
  (Councillor Clarke) Certainly I can give you a personal opinion: I believe that only a proportion of the pressure can be met by the supply side because the gap is so large. I touched, for example, on second homes. We have some parishes where 50 per cent of homes are second homes and therefore you have people cashing in their chips from very high pay areas and pushing it way beyond reach. So, I am not sure that the answer to your question is that it is beyond Government means, but I personally believe that it is beyond just planning issues and market forces issues. You also need other fiscal devices. We have places where, even on shared equity, someone on an average income does not have a hope of getting somewhere to live and that is why we have these growing commuter distances.

  179. What action do you think the Government should take?
  (Councillor Clarke) Certainly in our case, the Government should first of all recognise the South West as being a place of pressure because that recognition is not presently there. It would be reasonable for us to have a share of the Challenge Fund and a better share of the Corporation Fund. The other thing though is looking at new and different models. I was interested to hear the view expressed that teachers have aspirations to own their own house and bus drivers do not. I am not sure that is true. There is a fundamental right here that many people share: that is people's aspiration to own a home. However, other fiscal devices will be needed and, as you know, the pressure to do that is growing now because of the way pensions are collapsing and people want their equity.

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