Examination of Witness (Questions 466-479)|
WEDNESDAY 5 DECEMBER 2001
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
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?
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
(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.
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
(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
(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
(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
areait was when I went there 12 years agodespite
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 supportsit 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
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.
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
(Mr Stevenson) I do not think these environments are
as bad as the ones you often find in the North of England.
479. I think you have answered this question
in part; you have built up a good reputation for development on
brown field sitescertainly in my constituency in Chester
you have had at least three successful schemes on old industrial
sitesbut 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
(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.