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


Examination of Witness (Questions 466-479)

MR BILL STEVENSON

WEDNESDAY 5 DECEMBER 2001

Chairman

  466. Can I welcome you to the Committee. Can I apologise we are running a little bit late. Can I ask you to introduce yourself to the Committee.
  (Mr Stevenson) I am Bill Stevenson, Chairman of Bellway Urban Partnerships.

  467. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction or are you happy to go straight into questions?
  (Mr Stevenson) Very briefly, our industry would like very much to re-invest in the areas we are talking about, areas of market failure. As earlier speakers have been saying, in fact the techniques and the support mechanisms are simply not there, so we cannot do it as things stand.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. Anne McIntosh?

Miss McIntosh

  468. What do you think can be done to get middle income earners to move within the city, to the outer urban areas as opposed to the city centre itself? What do you think can be done to attract people back?
  (Mr Stevenson) These are areas we generally refer to as the "doughnut" and the only way we can do it is by radically changing them. One of the papers you have referred to is the Hulme Estate in Manchester, which was radically changed. That did draw back people in considerable numbers and that was part of a doughnut that succeeded, so it can be done but the scale and quality of what has to be done is considerable.

  469. Do you think that where new housing is built at a lower cost than traditional two-up two-down pre-1919 houses were built, that makes the older house less attractive and therefore it is having an effect on the market?
  (Mr Stevenson) I think there are a lot of folk who argue that if you provide new homes then you are merely increasing the rate at which others become empty. I think the truth is that they are becoming empty anyway and the big danger is that these people are moving further and further afield, so we see individuals working in city centres and they travel even greater distances to get to their homes beyond the doughnut.

  470. In the memorandum you submitted as evidence you allude to a north-south divide. Do you accept that the quality of certain terraced housing in the south is also not of a sufficiently high standard?
  (Mr Stevenson) It obviously varies from area to area. I think the north does seem to have a greater number of terraced homes which are less acceptable, partly because of their design and partly because of their construction. The south very often has rather larger terraced houses built to better standards with better materials and so on, which is why they are surviving better and they are more desirable.

Chris Grayling

  471. Can I talk to you a bit more about Hulme. We visited the area which I remember as being severe and it has turned back into a very attractive urban environment. What do you think were the factors that made Hulme work and can we do it elsewhere?
  (Mr Stevenson) Yes. But, as I said, the prime characteristic is the sheer scale of that which was done there. It was a huge project. It embraced all the elements you need to rebuild a district. It is not just housing, it includes lots of other facilities. It also ensured that all those investing developed very high-quality design solutions at a time when the figures indicated you should not be doing that. In other words, the figures were so bad there was a strong commercial argument for producing the lowest quality solutions but because that was not done the value generation in that area was considerable, and that is the way forward. You have got to create high-quality, comprehensive solutions if you are going to succeed in the long-term, and that is how Hulme succeeded.

  472. We have had conversations within the Committee about the experience in parts of Salford, in parts of Liverpool and in the East End of London where there has been significant new development in property which tends to become high-value islands in the middle of areas that you have not raised otherwise. Is it your view then that the whole strategy of approach in regeneration projects of the kind we have seen in other areas, in order to lift up the areas around, requires a complete mix over a broader area?
  (Mr Stevenson) You need a very big area and you need a very varied mix. You have to start off in a corner and work your way to the more varied mix. You do have to have a plan that is going to embrace substantial areas.

  473. Is there anywhere that Hulme would not work?
  (Mr Stevenson) There always has to be some demand for homes. If you are attempting to do something in an area in which it is quite obvious nobody wants to be at all, then it will not work. We have experience in Hull which continues to be a depopulating area—it was when I went there 12 years ago—despite which, we have been able to provide 1,400 homes with all the related facilities and we have at least stopped the depopulation of Hull, to an extent. Even in an area which appears to be depopulating you can reverse it.

  474. What is the minimum scale you need?
  (Mr Stevenson) It is to do with the size of the problem. If the problem is very big then the scale has got to be very big. For a scheme to survive on its own surrounded by problems you have got to be very much in excess of 1,000 homes, perhaps nearer to 2,000, because the larger the scheme the more the infrastructure it supports—it supports schools and parks and neighbourhood shops and so on. You do have to be some considerable size.

  475. Is it your experience that the Government is willing to take steps to address that cycle?
  (Mr Stevenson) They used to but we have lost the gap funding regime which enabled us to do these things in the past, having said which I have been talking to various agencies to find new ways of making this happen and the indications are that there is a determination to find a solution, albeit it is very hard to find.

  476. One of the things we saw when we went to the North West was that you can have pockets of fairly high-priced new or newish developments within a relatively short distance of older style depressed areas with large numbers of empty properties. These are co-terminous areas. What is happening? Why can you have a normal market so close to a dead market?
  (Mr Stevenson) It is simply to do with the stock in question, it is not wanted. The districts are unattractive, the buildings are unsuitable for modern usage; people do not want them any more.

Chairman

  477. But one or two of the terraces we saw in North Manchester were not that different to the ones that you built. The point was yours were new bricks, theirs old bricks but the space inside those sort of properties was not that different.
  (Mr Stevenson) You need to look at the overall environment in which they are placed. My personal view is that they are very depressing environments and it is not the kind of location that many people wish to live in any more.

  478. They do in lots of parts of London, do they not?
  (Mr Stevenson) I do not think these environments are as bad as the ones you often find in the North of England.

Christine Russell

  479. I think you have answered this question in part; you have built up a good reputation for development on brown field sites—certainly in my constituency in Chester you have had at least three successful schemes on old industrial sites—but I would like to press you a bit more as to whether or not the existence of empty homes around the immediate site would affect your willingness to develop on a disused site in the middle?
  (Mr Stevenson) I would not tackle a site in the middle surrounded by vacated properties. I would want to include those in the process because otherwise you are creating an island, and experience in the past has always indicated that you might succeed in the short term but eventually those islands collapse. I recall a situation in the West End of Newcastle where many years ago we did invest in an area which then collapsed because the surrounding area was failing.


 
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