Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)




  100. Can I welcome people to the second of our sessions on empty homes? Before we start the first witness session, can I express my thanks and the Committee's thanks to all of those who made our visits to Liverpool, Rochdale and Chester so successful? Can I invite the Abbey Hey Residents' Association to identify themselves?

  (Mr Unwin) My name is Richard Unwin and with me I have Bernadette Newing. Mrs Newing is chair of Abbey Hey Residents Association and I, along with her, come to give hopefully useful evidence to you. I have some plans which I would like to pass round the Committee.

  101. Do you want to say something by way of introduction?
  (Mr Unwin) We both live in Abbey Hey and we have recently formed in the last year a residents' association. It was partly prompted by the major problems that we have been encountering in the area. It is an old established neighbourhood with a lot of private housing, both semi-detached, detached and terraced, and relatively little council housing. It is surrounded by open green space and has been regarded as a very popular place to live. It has good schools but in the last few years the amount of empty property amongst the terraced property, which you will see highlighted green in the file we presented, is suffering greatly, 25 per cent being empty. People are suffering negative equity and as older people move out who have brought up families in the terraced houses they have either been taken over by landlords, housing associations or frequently allowed to go to waste. The problem is one that we think would drive out the economically active people in the area to the extent that it will become a desert.

  102. Do you want to add anything?
  (Mrs Newing) I would like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to speak here today. On behalf of my group and the residents who live in Abbey Hey, we are very concerned about the decline. The decline is largely due to the unpopular terraced houses that are being not necessarily boarded up but left empty without boards. These are becoming open to criminal activities. Everybody agrees it is a very beautiful area, very unique. We have a lot of green, open spaces and they are under threat at times, but I feel, along with the residents, that if we can overcome this problem with the empty properties it will be a very desirable area in which to live.

Helen Jackson

  103. We had the opportunity of driving round and looking at the area that you represent and some of the neighbouring areas as well, many of which were in a more serious state of decline than Abbey Hey which is a very pleasant community to be part of. To what extent do you feel that Abbey Hey is different from some of the neighbouring areas where the council have had to consider fairly large scale demolition and clearance?
  (Mr Unwin) Which areas are you referring to?

  104. Parts of Openshaw and Lightbowne.
  (Mrs Newing) Abbey Hey is a very community orientated area and it still has a very strong community that has the commitment to stay there. Young people who live in the terraced houses who want to move to semi-detached homes want to stay in the area. It has been, for a very long time up until recently, classed as a desirable area and people from those neighbouring areas wanted to move into Abbey Hey.

  105. Is part of what you are saying that you wish they had not moved into Abbey Hey but that Abbey Hey had been able to retain its own community characteristics?
  (Mrs Newing) Yes. We have some very undesirable families that have moved into Abbey Hey. We do not have many council properties and those are well maintained. We suffer little or no trouble from those. The trouble we suffer is from private landlords who let these undesirable families into the area. They are operating antisocial behaviour orders at the moment. Councils and housing associations will not allow them into their houses and private landlords are letting them into the homes in Abbey Hey.

  106. Do you feel it is partly a police matter but also a barrier and that the registration of privately landlords as good, social landlords would be one way of addressing it?
  (Mrs Newing) Yes, I feel very strongly about that. We have very close ties with the councils and housing associations. We meet regularly with them to discuss any problems we may have and the big blight is the private landlords who are letting us down. We have some of them whose houses have been purchased for under £10,000 and they are not registered.

  107. I come from Sheffield but one of the things that pushes the neighbourhood up is the feeling that your property values are going up and that it is a good place to buy houses. You will make a bit of money if you sell. What is your view of house prices in the Abbey Hey area and why should they be different from house prices elsewhere?
  (Mrs Newing) House prices are declining in the Abbey Hey area and that is largely because of the undesirable people moving into the area, not keeping their houses up to standard. They are letting them go into decay. If you have a nice house next door to a house that is not nice, nobody will buy it.

  108. Do you feel there are other issues, like schools or better public transport, more emphasis on cleaner streets or policing? Which of those issues do you feel would help?
  (Mrs Newing) We have excellent schools in the area, an excellent comprehensive and primary, both of which are over-subscribed. We have waiting lists for people to come into them. If the houses were more desirable, people would move into the area purely for the schools. We have bus routes into the city centre and we are very accessible.

  109. You feel it is the issue of housing and private landlords that needs to be addressed?
  (Mrs Newing) Yes. That is my view.

Mrs Ellman

  110. How much demolition do you think there should be? In your submission you talk about removing some of the terraced houses and replacing them.
  (Mr Unwin) This is not easy. A lot of the houses will be owner occupied; some will be on the market; some will not. If I had to take a figure, probably about 20 per cent and that would allow for some take-up from parking. Some families who want to stay in the area have tried to buy next door and knock through because if they have a large family this would work. It is the constriction of space and the lack of open space and I would guess about 20 to 25 per cent would be realistic.

  111. 20 to 25 per cent of what?
  (Mr Unwin) Of the total figure of terraced houses in the area I have shown on the plan.

  112. If that proposal was taken forward, would it have community support?
  (Mr Unwin) Yes. There will be difficulties in terms of those people who might feel they were the ones who were picked on in the sense that houses will have to be demolished, like compulsory purchase, but on the other hand, this is a long term solution. More people have cars in terraced streets now and there is no garden in front of these houses so we believe you would have to make it liveable in.

  113. Who do you think should take the decision about demolition? Should it be someone representing the community as a whole on a block by block basis? You have said there are increased problems from individual people who did not want their houses demolished.
  (Mr Unwin) This is an idea we have had put forward based on experience and talking to people in the area and people on the residents' association, many of whom live in the terraced streets. I suspect it would have to be probably government funded. There is quite good evidence of Manchester regeneration. Their success rate has been very good.

  114. How do you think that local people can be helped to maintain confidence in properties and in staying in the area?
  (Mr Unwin) At the present time?

  115. Yes. What would you like to see done to improve stability?
  (Mr Unwin) In the very short term, Bernadette and I discussed this and we think probably some form of morale booster would be required, new street furniture provided in Abbey Hey, for instance. As you can see, Abbey Hey is quite an easily defined area, with the railway line as a boundary, with the road and reservoirs. Perhaps we could have a logo and things like that. There has been a lot of work all over the United Kingdom and I notice in London they have rules and regulations for litter. Litter tolerance is very important. We have a lot of the area clear of litter and this is the sort of thing we would try and get better control over. The other thing is to back the police up and we thought very long and hard with the chief constable to make sure we kept this particular standard.

  116. Your appeal succeeded?
  (Mr Unwin) It succeeded.

  117. What about negative equity?
  (Mrs Newing) This is a big problem. For example, a young couple in the area married, had a family and purchase their house nine years ago at £27,000 and have sold it for £15,000. They have moved in with their mother-in-law in Abbey Hey, in a semi-detached house because they want to stay in the area. They want a semi-detached house in the area but an Irish company came along and offered to buy the house for £15,000 cash. It had been on the market for two years so they accepted the offer. This is another problem: estate agents moving people in from Southern Ireland.

  118. Have you any ideas about how to counter negative equity, to help preserve values?
  (Mrs Newing) Selective demolition would bring the area up because I think people would want to retain property and it would stop negative equity because it is a nice area to live in.


  119. What about a house that is knocked down which was bought for £20,000? What compensation should someone living in that house get? Should they get £20,000 back or should they just get the value when it was knocked down?
  (Mr Unwin) I am not normally one who believes in intervention in the market but if we sustain these areas possibly some agreement could be reached with one of the regeneration bodies to provide some kind of floor below which properties cannot go. That would allow people to have confidence. That is long term and it would need considerable negotiation and would involve considerable expenditure. I am not aware of the level of taxation that would need to be diverted and, without wishing to be apocalyptic about the whole thing, if you lose economically active people in a large part of this area because of the disenchantment with negative equity, the chaos in the area will be so great that sustaining value in the long term would be extremely difficult.

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