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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540-558)



Mrs Ellman

  540. Are you satisfied with the role that the North West Development Agency has in relation to housing where it appears not to want to be proactive but to leave housing to other agencies?
  (Dr Perry) I think we do regard the North West Development Agency as being proactive in that it is working pretty closely with us. It is not calling for large sums of money to be put into its funds, which I think is very sensible because for the sake of argument we are a national agency called the Housing Corporation and we are supposed to know about housing, and we have a good track record on spending, but we would want our spending to be locked within the regional economic strategy and the sub-regional strategy which local authorities and the RDA have worked out. The only distinction at the moment between regions is in a sense what position they are in on the path of understanding the importance of housing markets within their overall strategy.

  541. Does that mean that you are satisfied with the position in the north west?
  (Dr Perry) Yes, we are very satisfied with our relationship with the NWDA.

  542. How do you view regional housing statements? Are they able to cover the variety of need within their region?
  (Mr Hadden) The purpose of regional housing statements is to bring together views from all the interested players, stakeholders, interested parties, as to what the housing circumstances are within those regions and to help to try to form priorities both in terms of geography and also in terms of the type of new development or housing activity that should be funded either through the ADP process, the Housing Corporation's funding programme, or through local authority finance. Regional housing statements we see as a very useful tool. We accept though that there is some way to go before they become strategic documents. We really want them to become more strategic and by that I mean by really highlighting the priorities in terms of geography and type of activity. That needs a lot of work in terms of bringing all the players together and coming up with some agreements as to what those priorities are, and we are working hard in trying to get those agreements.

Helen Jackson

  543. Do you see one of the problems with strategic planning being that big local authorities have the brief to determine their own housing policy and the Regional Development Agency cannot really develop an overview between different local authorities within that region?
  (Dr Perry) I think, with respect, they probably could. A sensible large city would not regard its boundaries as being impermeable. They know that what happens in their city depends on what happens in the housing market round about. Indeed, even the biggest city is not a single housing market. Before I took this job I was a metropolitan local authority Chief Executive for 11 years and we clearly saw merit in working within the West Midlands in that instance to try and develop strategies which included the housing market and the labour market dimensions. This is starting to come together.

  544. We saw instances where the actual boundary between local authorities made a huge difference to the housing market either side of that boundary, whether it was the education policy or the rates or the council tax. How do you develop a housing strategy in that situation?
  (Dr Perry) Part of the answer is for the local authorities concerned to reflect upon what is causing some of those discontinuities at the boundary. We know that housing markets, as you rightly say, depend on other factors, and probably it is right to say that there is no unique housing solution to housing problems because they are a reflection of wider social and economic factors and those have to be addressed by the partners, the public agencies and the private sector, at the same time as you are working on the housing. Whether it is the RDA or whether it is some of the emerging geography of sub-regional partnerships across the country, which I have some experience of and which are really good, the problems are starting to be addressed.

Ms King

  545. Moving to areas with high waiting lists, I wonder if you could tell us how you encourage RSLs to work with local authorities to bring empty properties back into use, (a) in general and (b) specifically to help families who are homeless?
  (Mr Hadden) We expect housing associations to work very closely with local authorities. Looking at empty housing strategies in particular, we have encouraged local authorities to have their own empty home strategies and to involve RSLs, housing associations, in developing those strategies and in the implementation of those strategies. A long time ago when this was becoming an issue in my days as a Director of the Corporation's West Region, we supported Reading and Southampton Councils to undertake surveys of empty properties and to create their empty property housing officers and their strategies which would involve working very closely with housing associations as the vehicle for getting those properties back into use, buying them from the absentee owner and letting them out to people on the waiting list. We have some very good examples of where the RSLs and the Housing Corporation work very closely with local authorities to effect those strategies.

  546. What do you think could be done to enable RSLs to make more use of properties that are actually government properties? NHS properties are a common example.
  (Dr Perry) So far as the NHS is concerned I do not think there are many empty NHS properties. In fact it is the reverse. We are working very closely with the NHS Housing-Co-ordinator, John Yates, to bring partner RSLs on board with NHS trusts to develop housing for key workers and that is operating quite well. Mr Yates has managed to broker about 4,000 homes for NHS workers in the past year. We are working with him at the moment to try and develop preferred partners in different areas so that NHS trusts do not have to shop around too much before they find one. So far as other government properties are concerned, Mr Hadden and I had a meeting recently with Addington Homes who bought the entire MOD estate and they are very active (which is not widely known) in fostering low cost home ownership. There are a lot of homes that they have bought from the MOD in places where there is key worker demand and where the physical state of the properties makes them more suitable for young families just starting off on the home ownership ladder. They have got mortgage packages negotiated and we were quite encouraged by the contribution they are making and possibly there could be more publicity for what they are doing.

Chris Grayling

  547. I want to ask you a bit more about dealing with the owner problem. Can you tell us a bit about your experience of authorities where they have tried to move populations in order to deal with housing problems?
  (Dr Perry) I am trying to think of any that have.

  548. We have too few houses in some parts of the country and too many in others.
  (Dr Perry) There are a number of initiatives where certainly housing associations which have properties which are available in the Midlands and the North are working with particular London boroughs to offer those houses and there are some well publicised successes and some well publicised lack of successes.


  549. Are we talking about 100 people moving or are we talking about 1,000 people moving?
  (Dr Perry) At the moment it is hundreds rather than thousands.

  550. You think it is even hundreds? It is not twos and threes?
  (Dr Perry) I do not think we have those figures to hand. We could find out and write to you, Chairman. One of my former authorities, Wolverhampton, is currently talking to Lambeth Council about providing homes in Wolverhampton for Lambeth people.

Sir Paul Beresford

  551. I was interested in your answer about what the arrangement between local government and RSLs. There seems to be an abysmal failure in London. Many of the local authorities in London have vacancies well into four figures which is bad, and then when you look at the vacancies declared for the RSLs who have a smaller stock, proportionately they are as bad if not worse. Just to give one example, Newham has declared as a council 317 vacancies—this is at the 1 April 2001—but the RSLs 464. Should the councils not be helping the RSLs?
  (Dr Perry) In the London context there are very few RSL properties which are empty because they are available and no-one wants them. There is quite a lot of decanting which takes place. Associations have to hold properties vacant in order to temporarily house tenants who are having their own homes improved. Across the whole of London there are about 4,500 empty properties like that which in the context of the whole of the RSL stock in London is pretty small. I could not say that it is absolutely every property that is of that kind but we are certainly not aware through our regulation or through our investment teams that there is a problem of empty homes in London not being wanted.

  552. The figures are quite staggering. There is Hackney with difficulty on housing and it has got 1,526 empty properties that they have declared, and just under 1,000 vacant over 12 months, and the RSL have 942. As a proportion of the stock I would have thought that was horrendous.
  (Dr Perry) I do not have a breakdown of those figures but I would be happy to seek further information and write to you.

Ms King

  553. Do you support the moves of some London boroughs and the proposals they are developing to help people from areas with very high waiting lists move up to areas in the north, say, where there are very low waiting lists and there is a high housing availability?
  (Dr Perry) Yes, we do. We encourage associations and local authorities to do that. As the Chairman pointed out, it is not exactly a flood at the moment.

  554. How will that happen?
  (Dr Perry) Essentially we are talking about individual people. People have got to want to move. That means that the association which has the empty property needs to do quite a successful selling job on the location, the area, the type of housing.

  555. In Tower Hamlets, for example, there are 15,000 families on the waiting list. I am sure quite a few of them might be delighted at the prospect of a three-bedroomed property somewhere else, but how can they have that option?
  (Dr Perry) Most local authorities in London will have details in their neighbourhood housing offices of associations which have properties available. Part of the reason why this has not become a flood is that you are talking about individuals who have family connections in areas. There has been, it is said, some reluctance to uproot themselves and their families and move north. I was in Newcastle recently and they are taking the initiative of offering not only to particular homeless people or tenants who want to move but almost to their extended family—bring the entire family up with you. It is all down at the end to individual people being persuaded that a new life in another part of the country is what they want.

Sir Paul Beresford

  556. Are they offering jobs for these families or are they moving to unemployment?
  (Dr Perry) I do not think in many cases you are talking about a buoyant job market where you have got lots of empty properties but quite often you are talking to people who are already on full housing benefit.

Mrs Dunwoody

  557. Being miserable in Lambeth or being miserable in Wolverhampton is not exactly the ideal combination is it?
  (Dr Perry) I think, Mrs Dunwoody, sometimes it is the option of being—

  Mrs Dunwoody: Miserable in a bigger place.

  Ms King: Absolutely. We visited a family with 16 people and two bedrooms. I think they would welcome the option. They would not necessarily exercise it but they would welcome it. In Tower Hamlets they do not have that.


  558. I am afraid I have to stop the Committee now because we have overrun on this session. Can I thank you very much for your evidence.
  (Dr Perry) Thank you very much, Chairman. We will send the information that we promised.

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