Examination of Witness (Questions 80-99)|
WEDNESDAY 24 OCTOBER 2001
80. How do you define that?
(Mr Thompson) We have a set of criteria about sale
price which we give to the developer that we agree with the Housing
Corporation that they would use for shared ownership or low-cost
home ownership, dwellings that are built by RSLs, Registered Social
Landlords, so we have a set of prices. But what we are getting
from developers is money, "Please go and build your affordable
ownership outside our area; we give you a commuted sum, we don't
want to build." The question was, how do we challenge that;
by the Secretary of State being aware of this trend and supporting
local authorities when they say to a developer, who they wish
to invest in the inner city, where there has not been accommodation
built in many years before, "No; in your development we want
a component to be built which is affordable, not the money to
build elsewhere." Because that given to Birmingham means
that affordable ownership is out of the City centre.
81. Has Birmingham refused planning permission
because someone will not co-operate with putting the affordable
housing into the area, and, if they have, have the Government
planning inspectors backed it up?
(Mr Thompson) No, unfortunately, we have not.
82. You have succumbed to the blackmail?
(Mr Thompson) We have succumbed to the developer's
view that he, or she, will withdraw interest altogether if forced
to build a mixed tenure development.
Chairman: Thank you very much.
83. Could we stay in the inner-city area, where
you have got quite high local communities of ethnic minorities
and black people. You mentioned briefly, a few moments ago, about
the change in aspirations of some of those communities; could
you expand a little on that and the consequences for those inner-city
areas in Birmingham?
(Mr Thompson) Birmingham's black and minority ethnic
population, particularly the Asian population, has owned, does
own, in the inner-city ring immediately outside of the central
area, typically in pre-1919 terraced properties. First generation
and second generation Asian households have maintained that as
a form of ownership and a form of living that is appropriate to
them; the Council has had in the past a renovation grant scheme
that has underpinned that. However, we are finding that third
generation Asian households and third generation Afro-Caribbean
households in the north of the City, east of the City is primarily
Asian, are saying, "I will not tolerate an ownership future
in pre-1919 terraced streets, I would like to have a choice of
ownership of new homes, new house-building, new-build owner-occupation,
of all types of affordability, preferably in my neighbourhood."
The difficulty is that that opportunity does not currently exist,
and so young, economically active Asian and Afro-Caribbean households
are leaving the inner area to move out of the City completely.
We would be characterised by our outer suburbs being predominantly
white and council housing suburbs, so that movement from the inner
ring to out of the City is the preference. What we are saying
in Birmingham is, there needs to be an approach which recognises
those characteristics of a housing area and those needs and invests
appropriately; and what we would say is that we are probably coming
to the edge of a clearance programme of some substance of pre-1919
homes to build new ones.
84. Have those pre-1919 homes had substantial
public money spent on them modernising them?
(Mr Thompson) They did, 25 years ago; it was enveloping
of all the roofs and all the windows and it was grants following
through from that, and we should celebrate that, that was a success,
it had a 25-year life and 25 years further on, with houses that
were already 100 years old, it is time to either reinvest that
way again or move on to new homes.
85. I was going to say, there seemed to be a
bit of a contradiction there, because you were saying that there
is a keenness and a willingness from the third generation to actually
remain with their families in their own communities, and I think
I am aware that in London and in my city, Chester, pre-1919 terraced
houses are exceedingly desirable, in fact, probably more desirable
than boxes on the outskirts. So there seems a bit of a contradiction
here. And, following what the Chairman was saying, I would like
to pursue that a bit more, as to, is the answer to reinvest again
in those pre-1919 dwellings?
(Mr Thompson) The first point is to have a view of
areas of the city that have similar characteristics; mine is a
housing market approach, otherwise you will get into very precise
approaches without having a longer-term vision about that neighbourhood,
that area, and it is hard to generalise. But in many of Birmingham's
pre-1919, particularly `front of pavement' terraced houses, they
have reached the end of their life.
(Mr Thompson) Structurally, in terms of condition,
in terms of the maintenance costs, to keep them in that form.
Pre-1919 villas, larger, three- and four-bed homes, do have a
future, tend to be built later and to a better standard. So within
that terraced, owner-occupation stock lie a number of communities
and a number of solutions, and what I am guarding against are
individual bespoke solutions, we must look at the areas in which
populations sit; what we find in black and minority ethnic populations
in Birmingham, they are in the inner ring, outside the central
business district, are vibrant and expansive communities, the
children of which want to own and want to have affordable, local
ownership opportunities which are not there. So, what do they
do, they leave Birmingham; because immediately outside are suburbs
which are not attractive.
87. I just wondered if you had seen this in
Birmingham, I do not think it has happened in Hackney but it certainly
is evident in Tower Hamlets, where housing planning policy has
even opaquely contributed to segregation of communities, and how
you would try to tackle that?
(Mr Thompson) If you look, and again it is my message,
at housing market areas, at areas with similar characteristics
of whole cities, then you start to look at those policies which
sustain communities, and in Birmingham certainly if you left it
to a purely planning approach you might get a degree of segregation
that was unnecessary, in east Birmingham, where the Asian community
lives and, as I have said, there is an expansive community, there
needs to be housing provision in outer east Birmingham to prevent
that community having to leap over the top. How will that happen;
if you look at outer east Birmingham, which is one of our eight
housing market areas, you see that the low demand in predominantly
white, elderly estates means that there are clearance opportunities
and opportunities for inner east Birmingham to expand into outer
east Birmingham, a natural evolution by that community, if you
take a market overview and do not leave it to some of the more
mechanistic processes of planning and housing departments. So,
therefore, in Birmingham we are now brokering the fact that we
are going to be seeing a wave-like movement of younger households,
that would otherwise leave the City, into the next band of accommodation
which is being cleared which is appropriate for them to own in.
88. You advocate a Housing Renewal Fund and
housing renewal areas; how would this be different from the existing
(Mr Thompson) Existing programmes from housing departments,
when they view housing needs, look at council housing, privately
rented sector, the Registered Social Landlord movement and owner-occupation.
Generally, they measure their needs separately and have historically
a variety of policies for each one of those forms of ownership,
or tenure. The housing market renewal approach looks at areas
with similar characteristics in cities, looks at their future
viability, throughout all of the tenures that exist there. Government
sponsorship is definitely focused, as we have heard earlier, to
each of the forms of ownership or rent, and it would be an approach
which could have resources directed in a different way. At the
moment, we do not have housing resources with an area focus in
this country; we have housing resources that are given annually
to housing departments, and councils decide on the needs. We have
historically had focused housing resources, but at the moment
the focus in the country has been from SRB to economic regeneration
area focused resources, with an economic edge, or we have some
focused resources around health, Health Action Zones, some around
education, Education Action Zones. My submission is that we have
lost area-based focused resources, and each year Government dishes
out about £1.7 billion in capital, and you could have area-based
resources around housing market areas, where you intervened using,
and I am advocating in my paper that there could be some top-slicing,
we have no top-slicing of housing resources in this country to
stimulate area-based, focused work.
89. What about New Deal for Communities?
(Mr Thompson) New Deal for Communities has in part
a housing outcome but not exclusively a housing outcome; housing
may be a lesser or greater degree of New Deal for Community Areas.
Again, in the two New Deal areas we have in Birmingham there is
primarily an economic focus: jobs, education coming second and
health third; housing follows on.
90. But that is because the local communities
decided that was what they wanted?
(Mr Thompson) They did; but the guidance notes, two
years ago, with the New Deal Pathfinders, were that housing could
be a lead but it would only be one of several characteristics,
and, Shoreditch, in the south of Hackney, where I worked, indeed,
housing was a mainstream, but I understand, of the 18 Pathfinders
for New Deal, they were not all housing-led by any means. But
a housing focus, using existing resources, a range of agencies
that are acting separately, focusing on the long-term future of
housing areas, is not apparent in the way that local housing authorities
behave now in their planning.
91. Much of the evidence we have had indicates
the importance of wider regeneration objectives, as well as just
straight housing; now is what you are saying going against that
(Mr Thompson) No. I do not believe you could ever
have, as we have had some in the past, purely bricks and mortar
housing-led regeneration any more, the criticisms are well known
and well understood of purely a bricks and mortar approach; there
would have to be a rounded approach to the wider needs of an area.
But the lack of integrated working, the lack of collaborative
working, between the tenures, between the agencies that work to
each tenure, from our perspective, demand an area-based perspective
and, where intervention is needed, a plan, a plan which draws
together particular resources, for example, for land acquisition,
property acquisition, where there is no demand, and no future
for whole areas of housing, and I am speaking about very large
areas of housing, where resources need to be directed.
92. Housing agencies do not seem to work very
well across local authority boundaries; does that indicate a need
for stronger regional guidance?
(Mr Thompson) In response to one of the questions,
I would agree with that, yes, they are mostly descriptive, currently,
and shy away from saying some areas have a future and others do
not; please, local authorities, have the courage of your convictions
to define those areas, and, in those areas with no future, have
a plan for a new future, which may mean ownership, it may mean
different land uses, but at the moment we do not have that particular
focus for those areas with no critical future role.
93. I am just trying to understand what you
were saying about the plan. Local authorities have to come up
with a housing strategy plan, as it is, so what are you talking
about that is different, are you talking about just bringing every
agency together just on housing?
(Mr Thompson) Yes. You have to have a plan, and that
plan is usually for the whole of the local authority area, which
identifies some neighbourhoods which need additional work, usual
council housing neighbourhoods, not entirely; it looks at each
one of the tenures of this country separately, very often, without
any integrative conclusions. What I am saying is that we need
to look at local authority housing areas as homogeneous neighbourhoods,
with similar characteristics, on a scale which deals meaningfully
with the future of that neighbourhood. They are usually areas
with complex tenure issues where demand is falling, or where there
is recycling of occupancy between those tenures, they can be areas
where there is a range of agencies working independently but not
together, and where there is money going in separate silos or
directions toward the city but they need to be integrated for
certain neighbourhoods at risk. In Birmingham I can only see two
or three neighbourhoods that are at risk and need that degree
of housing market intervention, widespread intervention. I would
be talking about the need to clear council housing where there
is no demand and building affordable ownership instead, in those
areas, or other forms of land use, health, educational land use.
94. Just to pick you up on that point, a question
I asked at the start of the morning's proceedings. Would it be
your view, historically the purpose of local planning in this
country has been to plan and manage the development of city areas;
where you have got cities or towns where there is clearly, frankly,
too much property for the demand today to live there, should plans
actually manage the reduction in size of an overall community,
Birmingham or Liverpool or Manchester, wherever, should there
be a managed programme of reducing the size by 10 per cent, pushing
land back into the Green Belt, and so forth?
(Mr Thompson) Yes, I am advocating that there should
be a view about the long-term future, whether it be a planning
department or a housing department; for me, it is usually the
housing department has the greatest intelligences about the issues
you are asking, about housing viability. And there should be a
plan for those areas, which, of course, is brokered with the residents
of those areas. But, at the moment, if I looked at that south
west part of Birmingham, where Longbridge employed so many people,
you would have characteristics of high unemployment, single, carer
households, long distances to employment, no viability for those
major council estates, whereas there is a technology corridor
between Birmingham University and Worcester and a need for new
income households, different types of households, to have affordable
ownership choices in the same area.
Chairman: Do you think really city fathers could
actually come forward and say, "We've got a plan for the
decline of your area"?
95. It is all very well to say you are going
to broker it with the people in the area, but what you are saying,
in effect, is, "This group will never work again, even though
they may even be in their fifties, this group, who are going to
come in, who need the houses, are those who are in the high-tech
industries and we need to provide for them." Fine; but what
local authority is going to have the courage to do that, if it
is courage, foolhardiness, to say something like that?
(Mr Thompson) You have to compare that against not
recognising low demand, and what housing departments do is simply
put the most vulnerable on their waiting list, the least vulnerable
refuse, and the most vulnerable, who cannot refuse, are put into
96. But why is that an alternative? You see,
it seems to me you are taking the two ends of the scale. Somewhere
in-between there lies a plan that says, "Before this area
is allowed to decline any more, we must use the other agencies
to bring in employment, to bring in land use planning," that
will provide a stimulus. You are just assuming that the alternative
is accepting decline, and I do not think many of us who are elected
Members would accept that?
(Mr Thompson) It would be wrong to say that. You have
to diagnose each area carefully. What I do not want is a lack
of recognition. Your perspective was, where there is a viable
future for an area then you invest in it; I would agree with that.
I am saying that in a city the size of Birmingham there are areas,
conversely, that we should be honest enough, with the resources
we have, to say that, "We will adequately rehouse you elsewhere,
and that will be in a place which has a future; but this place
has a different future." We are getting a correlation in
some of the peripheral estates of pressures on health, pressures
on the education service and policing pressures.
97. And so your answer to that is to decant
those people elsewhere, and then say, "Of course, we're brokering
it with the people in the area." Forgive me, but I might
have a few reservations about that?
(Mr Thompson) Yes, but I am talking here about a Midlands
city, where the demand for council housing, in significant areas
of that city, is nil.
98. I am sorry, I am obviously not getting over
what it is I am trying to say. The way that you deal with the
situation is to say to people, "You're in decline, we need
your land use; tough. The problem for you is that you are now
going to have to go some place else." You have been setting
out in considerable detail how all the agencies have to work together,
how you must not put money in individual silos, fine; you will
not get any argument from an elected Member about that. But then
you go on to say, "But the logical conclusion of that is
that we will manage our housing stock on the assumption that some
areas are to be, in effect, cleared and their population decanted
somewhere else, because they do not fit in with the economic factors
that I think we need in the future of this city"?
(Mr Thompson) All the plans that I am proposing to
you are about a long-term view, so the brutality of the image
that you are drawing, or the immediacy, is not there; it is about
how you invest and how you manage those areas over the next 10
to 15 years. Of course, you would not clear in that brutal way
you are describing, because you would naturally get, and quite
rightly get, communities reacting. This is about the viability
of whole neighbourhoods over the next 10 to 15 years, and in letting
homes and in investing in those areas that will be done in the
next few years very carefully in the way that is appropriate to
a change of direction.
99. It is still very hard for the people living
in that area to face up to that sort of change, is it not?
(Mr Thompson) If you looked at those areas, you would
get a high number of voids, blocked-up dwellings, you would get
a huge number of people on the transfer list, you would get a
churning, a huge turning over of those people who live there anyway,
if you asked them how long they had lived there they had only
lived there a year and a half and they were on the transfer list;
they have fundamental instability. That is the council housing
component. You would get similar characteristics from the housing
associations who had some pepper-potted new-build, and from privately
rented, if it was an area of inner-city mixed tenure at risk;
you would get voids and vacancies and landlords who were scratching
their heads and in need of a longer-term view.
Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very
much for your evidence. Thank you very much.