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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 173)




  160. You are not offering people a choice where they want to live; you are offering them a lot of choice in the areas they do not want to live.
  (Deborah Shackleton) Yes, but we are offering more choice than we did and we are trying to offer more choice in terms of quality and selection. Our thinking is about trying to improve the quality of our existing homes and offering existing tenants more choice.

Dr Pugh

  161. If the problem of unpopular neighbourhoods and empty homes does not get solved in the reasonable expectation of the future, what will be the effect on the business plans of the housing associations? I would have thought they would be in some difficulty.
  (Deborah Shackleton) Yes. The percentage of our stock which is pre 1919 and which was done up 25 years ago is significant. We definitely need some assistance in the transition to providing fewer, better quality homes.

  162. Do you agree, Mr Athar?
  (Mr Athar) Yes. The issue of our own restructuring will make it very difficult for particularly smaller RSLs to survive. Some community initiatives and development opportunities and some of the models which I have been involved in can help to save those neighbourhoods provided we do all work together.

  163. Will there be quite severe pressure by your funders to get rid of this unpopular housing stock possibly to private landlords?
  (Mr Athar) I have not experienced that, but it is likely.

  164. Would you agree?
  (Deborah Shackleton) Disposal to private landlords is the disposal of last resort. We are piloting stock swaps with other social landlords. We cannot put in the kind of investment in neighbourhood management that we would want to in every area where we own property, so we are looking at swapping with some associations. We would try to sell to owner occupiers if we could because the investment they bring will help to sustain neighbourhoods. At worst, if nothing is done, if there are no resources, it is costing £3,000 per home per annum in loss of rent and void costs and council tax, on a void property that is useless and is making things worse. We cannot sustain that.


  165. You said smaller housing associations might go bust. Presumably you are perfectly all right but would it matter if some housing associations went bust?
  (Deborah Shackleton) We are not perfectly all right. We would have to spend less on repairs. We had a £20 million repairs budget. If we are spending money on empty properties, there is less money to spend on the things we want to spend it on. As to whether it would matter if there were fewer housing associations, the diverse, vibrant housing association movement has proved very successful in providing a range of housing, so it would be disastrous if that were to be stopped.

  166. The question was would it matter if some housing associations went bust.
  (Deborah Shackleton) I think it would matter to lenders because it would undermine the certainty they have in the movement as a whole. It would matter to tenants of those associations, the staff and their employment prospects.

  167. At the moment the credit rating of housing associations is pretty important, is it not?
  (Deborah Shackleton) It is.

Christine Russell

  168. Could I ask about the wider issue of neighbourhood renewal? Can I ask you both what the experience of your associations is with neighbourhood renewal? What kind of partnerships do you feel are needed to tackle the redevelopment of these unpopular neighbourhoods?
  (Mr Athar) The Ashiana Housing Association where I worked was a small community housing association and therefore has been involved in a large number of projects. You visited some of those yesterday. They recognised at the outset that just providing housing is not going to be enough. Therefore, looking at a role for tenants as well as involvement of the wider community and supporting some of the wider community initiatives, particularly around employment, was a critical part of its work. As a result, this has achieved quite a lot of success and provided a lot of opportunities. If we are to deal with neighbourhood issues, the role for ourselves has to be very important and neighbourhood renewal has to be one of the core factors. Without taking a holistic approach to these neighbourhoods, I do not think we can deal with the issues we have been talking about.

  169. Yesterday, when we were in Kensington, I think I recall we were told there had been 11 RSLs operating in some of the neighbourhoods. Could you share with us your experience of working with other RSLs? How do you coordinate together when you are making investment or disinvestment decisions in a particularly unpopular neighbourhood?
  (Deborah Shackleton) We manage that better in some local authorities than others because some are incorporating strategic working. In Kensington, in principle, we have agreed with all those 11 housing associations that the community based association will become part of the Riverside group taking on an increasing amount of the housing management functions. It will make it easier for people to apply for tenancies. What we are looking at is taking a lead role in some areas. It is expensive. Neighbourhood management is more than housing; but we are trying to do some of this management and stock swaps so that other investors can take a lead in other areas.


  170. You are really saying housing associations should no longer manage housing, but should take part in other functions the local authority provides, looking after the parks and generally managing the neighbourhood?
  (Deborah Shackleton) It depends on the nature of the local authority services and their commitment but if all we thought about was providing repairs and collecting rents, we would not be doing a proper job. In some cases, we can take on a wider role; in others, we can be part of a partnership where somebody else does it.

  171. You are providing a service based on the rents people are paying, whereas in other parts of the same situation the general council tax is paying for those same services. Is it not hard on your tenants that they are having to pay twice, once through council tax and once through the rents for services that perhaps the council should provide anyway?
  (Deborah Shackleton) At the moment, we are not providing mainstream council services in any area. Community 7 will probably be the first and we are hoping there will be some appropriate budgetary management. We are providing breakfast clubs, football strips for children, football clubs, funding for some credit unions, for financial stability. It would be great if other organisations were to offer to pay but it probably is a good use of our tenants' money to provide facilities which sustain their community.

Dr Pugh

  172. Is not that exactly what local authorities do in some places?
  (Deborah Shackleton) They do indeed, but the issue to a degree is whether we, as a housing association working very closely with our tenants, seeing what it is they are particularly interested in, can provide some complementary community investment which supports their needs.


  173. Do you see the same problem in Rochdale?
  (Mr Athar) I do not think we are providing anything additionally but it is a question of looking at neighbourhoods where, as a housing association, you have total control. It is quite important that we do work together with the local authority to provide all the services for that area. I do not think it is a question of duplicating those services but working together, looking at the sensitivity. That has been quite successful in a number of areas and it has been at the heart of some of the achievements we have seen.

  Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very much for your evidence.

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