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

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 220-233)



  220. If it is wider and more flexible, how would you like to see the key workers' situation resolved? If you give a subsidy to vast numbers of people on low pay in the South East you are not going to resolve the problem, so what is the most effective economic solution?
  (Mr Dunnett) I clearly recognise the difficulty of opening up a definition to include absolutely everybody who needs a subsidy. What I think should be reviewed is if locally people agree to include additional areas of key services for the public good such as bus drivers, postmen, care workers, leisure centre operators or whatever, that can be subject to local agreement as to the availability of affordable housing and how far it should be done. We should remember that with the amount of contracting out being done in the South East, a substantial number of so-called private sector people are undertaking public sector tasks.

  221. So you are in favour of public funds being used to micro manage the local economy? Would that be a fair way of putting it?
  (Mr Dunnett) No, I would not put it that way.

  222. I know you would not put it that way but that is more or less what you said.
  (Mr Dunnett) I do believe there is a role for the public sector to become involved in increasing the supply of housing and increasing the supply of land which is the real issue. It is the affordability and cost of land and making that available for key workers, yes.

  223. If the public purse is involved, should it be involved in trying to help low-paid workers find homes or does it involve more socially rented housing?
  (Mr Dunnett) We have a huge issue with respect to the payment of public workers in the South East in the first place with the ACA and the recent statement changes such that there are huge cuts being taken. £800 million has been taken out of local authorities in the South East for next year with regard to movements with respect to the most recent Government statement. So somehow or other people have got to be enabled to take housing forward, whether it is in their salary or whether it is in us looking for alternatives to tackle the land equation which is driving the housing problem.
  (Mr Bevan) The definition of key workers is a bit of an academic one. We are so far short of meeting affordable housing targets that adjusting the definition of key workers is pointless. The important thing is to provide more for all who need them.

Sir Paul Beresford

  224. You are all looking at the short term at your level. If we go back to your point about infrastructure, really the answer lies in the government waking up and getting the DETR and the capital to move on putting infrastructure in so that we have a long-term solution.
  (Mr Dunnett) Absolutely.

Dr Pugh

  225. The £200 million Challenge Fund is supposed to tackle the housing needs of the South East. What kind of housing in your view should it be spent on, in a word?
  (Mr Dunnett) Affordable housing in areas of economic pressure.

Mr Streeter

  226. I want to refer back to the problem of the South West very briefly—and I am very glad that you are here. I certainly agree with the comments that have been made that we should be including in Challenge Fund money and a bigger slice of the Housing Corporation budget should go to the West Country. The pressures are very real. For example, in South Hams the average price is now £157,000 and the average salary is £15,000. How do you afford that? I also agree on legislation on council tax. Could you be a bit more specific about the kind of action other than those things that you really want to see happen here because the RDA, which you oversee, has a large number of resources and people. This is one of the biggest issues facing the West Country and it is not going to go away over the next few years. Do you have any ideas at all as to the kind of research that you want the Government to do. Are you looking for a new form of legal tenure? What is the solution to this problem?
  (Councillor Clarke) It would be helpful for the Government to look at some of the research we already have. I am glad you have picked up that point because some of that has been overlooked. Yes, I think that new forms of tenure do seriously need to be looked at and I do not think we should overlook this aspiration which has become very well embedded in the British way of life, and in equity terms alone it is an aspiration which ought to be shared. In terms of key workers, my colleague will comment in a moment but, for example, it is only in the last couple of years or so that teacher recruitment has become an issue in many parts of our region because it has been an environmentally attractive region to which people have aspired to move and live and work, but nevertheless now these pressures are such that recruitment for that kind of job is becoming difficult.
  (Ms Houlden) In terms of the different forms of tenure, South Hams has already been experimenting with placing covenants on properties being sold so they do remain in the local market.

  Chairman: How many?

Mr Streeter

  227. They have not done it yet.
  (Ms Houlden) They have got it in place but they have not delivered any through it.

  228. They do not know how to do it.
  (Ms Houlden) We will have to wait and see. There is an issue around that of sharing of best practice because I do not think there has been much government concentration on sharing of good practice. Lots of local authorities are having to reinvent the wheel all over the place. I think that is a particular problem. In terms of key workers, we should not get too hung up on the definitions. In South Hams, again they have got a problem with lifeboat personnel and they would not naturally be defined in that group. We do have problems already recruiting occupational therapists in and around Bristol which leads to bed blocking because there is no one to assess when people can leave the beds. It is building up a range of different problems which we need to try to address.

Mr Cummings

  229. Do you believe the Government is right to create housing developments in the Thames Gateway, Ashford, Milton Keynes and the Stansted-Cambridge corridor? Do you believe the developments should be spread across all of the South East?
  (Mr Bevan) I mentioned earlier that I think the focus on these areas is problematic because that probably where the least pressure is. Longer term of course we are talking about a communities approach, building sustainable communities, and new development or housing that goes in alongside jobs and other community infrastructure and transport is of course important but, equally, that holistic approach needs to be applied in areas of economic pressure in the South East and the tools given to local authority to enable them to do that, along the lines of the urban design plans that were mentioned earlier.

  Mr Cummings: Are you saying that it is right for the Government to concentrate in these four areas or are you putting in some caveats?

Sir Paul Beresford

  230. Or would it be right if they put in the infrastructure?
  (Mr Dunnett) The four areas cannot be taken forward without the up-front infrastructure of housing, health, and all the community services which are absolutely essential. That must be done up front.
  (Mr Bevan) It is right but not enough.

Mr Cummings

  231. Are you agreed or not agreed?
  (Mr Bevan) I am agreeing but I do not think it is enough.


  232. I am going to have to cut you off at that point. In one word, should the Government be stopping right to buy or not?
  (Mr Bevan) Yes.
  (Councillor Clarke) In some places.
  (Mr Dunnett) In some places.

Mr Streeter

  233. That is the wrong answer!
  (Mr Dunnett) For a point of clarity on something I mentioned earlier. I mentioned that we did not have the funding for BLAT. We have the funding for the piloting of BLAT; we do not have the funding for significant roll out. Thank you.

  Chairman: On that point, thank you very much for your evidence. Can we have the next set of witnesses please.

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