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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580-592)



Christine Russell

  580. We have already had evidence from earlier witnesses that some Neighbourhood Renewal Programmes are still being delivered in silos—I think that was the expression—and that mainstream resources are still not being targeted. Would you like to comment on that? Secondly, would you like to comment on an argument that I have heard mooted that local authorities in receipt of Neighbourhood Renewal funding may then be tempted to move some of their resources away from those areas because they are getting money from Neighbourhood Renewal programmes?
  (Mr Montgomery) We have invited into being these coalitions called Local Strategic Partnerships. They are to be made up of not just local authorities but also their sister organisations from elsewhere in the public sector, hopefully also the private sector and certainly voluntary community and resident representatives too. It would be fair to say that as these LSPs draft their local neighbourhood renewal strategies they should be seeking to bend all the main programmes available to them in support of renewal strategies for particular neighbourhoods that are either in decline or on the brink of decline. I would be disappointed if there was not an inter-agency approach reflected in those strategies to the needs of the most deeply deprived neighbourhoods. I do see some risk of local authorities facing budgetary pressures possibly doing the substitution of funding by using NRF, but we are commissioning work to track the resource flows into these neighbourhoods to try and identify where that is going because it is our explicit aim to get additional benefit into these areas of consequence of our giving them NRF rather than just allowing substitution funding to go in.

  581. Talking about value for money as my colleague mentioned earlier, when we were in the North West in Manchester and Bootle we saw rows of houses that had had thousands and thousands of pounds of public money spent on them within the last ten years and they have now been abandoned. How should we ensure, and your unit in particular ensure, how public money is not going to be wasted in the future? Perhaps you have just started mentioning the monitoring. Maybe you could elaborate a bit more.
  (Mr Montgomery) We want to work extremely closely both with DTLR, housing colleagues and with the Housing Corporation to look at instances where house building is continuing apace despite the availability of under-used homes. I am reasonably confident that the new requirements on local authorities to include in their housing plans detailed statements about housing assessment, housing need and how they will work with their own planners to ensure that the planning regime takes account of under-used properties before allowing new build through those mechanisms we should be able to get a better set of results but I would be disappointed if there was poor value for money as a consequence of not having the read-across between housing and planning.

  582. Do you accept that demolition is inevitable in some areas and have you done any assessment of the likely level of demolition that may arise over the next ten years?
  (Mr Montgomery) In a sense our programmes are committed to a bottom-up way of working so we would have to aggregate from local plans what the likely demolition totals might be. Certainly some New Deal for Communities strategies on the grounds such as the one in Bristol, for example, are entirely predicated on large scale demolition accompanied by significant amounts of renewal of existing stock. There will be demolition as a consequence of a lot of our work but I am not able to say what the total numbers would be like at this point.

  583. Can I take you back to the point you were making earlier about what causes neighbourhoods often overnight to become very unpopular. Certainly from the evidence we heard and saw in the North West the trigger often was the druggies moving into an area. We equally, all of us here, see in our surgeries every week the desire of the public to have a more visible policing presence in their neighbourhoods, but in this inquiry we have heard evidence from a witness from the police saying that they are not exactly embracing the concept of neighbourhood wardens with a great deal of enthusiasm and there are worries about the training particularly of those wardens. Would you like to comment on that? What assurances can you give that neighbourhood wardens will be well trained and have the types of skills that are necessary to do the job?
  (Mr Montgomery) A substantial training investment goes into the creation of neighbourhood and street warden schemes. We have two senior police officers seconded to the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit to design and implement this very training. Both programmes have the support and involvement of Home Office officials and have been endorsed by the Association of Chief Police Officers. That having been said, the wardens programmes as currently cast do not give those wardens the power of arrest or some of the law enforcement powers that are envisaged in some of the Home Secretary's recent statements. New iterations of the wardens programme might well look at training these officials differently if they are to have the power of arrest. Really these are people who will be on the streets to try to make sure that existing public service providers respond quickly to litter, graffiti, abandoned syringes, reporting abandoned vehicles and being visible in the sense of reassuring people, but they do not have the power of arrest and they probably have not been trained in that way. It may be that the new additional warden programmes proposed by the Home Secretary are trained in a different way because they may have some power of arrest.

  584. Finally, perhaps Moira Wallace would like to say something as well, which Government policies so far have been the most effective at addressing the problems of antisocial behaviour, difficult neighbours?
  (Ms Wallace) Do you want to say anything?
  (Mr Montgomery) The neighbourhood wardens and street wardens programmes, even though they are fairly new, have already started to deliver really quite impressive results reducing crime generally, specifically helping to reduce burglary, crimes against vehicles, and we are greatly encouraged by them which, I am sure, is part of the reason why the Home Secretary chose to announce his intention to roll them out more widely. We are seeing in places like East Manchester and in the neighbourhood renewal part of Brighton crime reduction in the order of 25 to 30 per cent.

Mrs Dunwoody

  585. There is a fundamental difference between somebody who checks on litter and someone who has the power to arrest?
  (Mr Montgomery) Yes, there is.

  586. You are not suggesting, are you, that the power of arrest would enhance the role of wardens? It might make them not only more visible but it might put them at risk.
  (Mr Montgomery) I would have thought that if you give wardens the power of arrest you would recruit them from a rather different pool than you would recruit the existing wardens.

  587. Pay them the same as policemen?
  (Mr Montgomery) You might want to think about the remuneration and you would certainly want to think carefully about whether they should be living on the estate that they are patrolling, as the current wardens do.

  588. And is there some policy document that enumerates precisely this extension of the role of wardens, because we are talking about something completely different and it would be helpful if we knew?
  (Mr Montgomery) That dialogue is going on now between my colleagues and the Home Office.


  589. Can I just press the Social and Exclusion Unit. A couple who perhaps ten years ago on a low wage saved desperately to buy a house, get the deposit, pay the mortgage, perhaps in some regions like Manchester paid £25,000 for a house, and over the years they started to spend some money on it, perhaps spent another £5,000, and they now find their property is worth perhaps £5,000 or £6,000, they are absolutely trapped in that property, their children are tending to get older and bigger and want a bit more space. Are they not totally, totally excluded from the property market and the chance to move out of that neighbourhood as they intended to do? Do you think that Neighbourhood Renewal Schemes have any impact on people in that sort of trap?
  (Ms Wallace) I would not pretend for a minute that it has been solved yet. I think the thing that has happened in the last couple of years and is now being taken forward is that people are trying to grapple with the complex issue of why the quality of life in that place has declined, why the value of that house has gone down and what can be done about it. I think the thing that our work has brought out and that Joe's unit and the DTLR are now taking forward is that it is not a problem that you can solve with housing answers alone, there are many, many reasons why that area may have become unpopular and stigmatised. It may be to do with more housing than demand, and already you are into the question of why is the demand low, which goes into issues of jobs or it could be schools, transport, the quality of shops or the quality of the environment. What I would say has changed is that people are now focusing on the problem and trying to develop practical solutions to it, but it is very, very complex and the answer may be different in different places and it involves very close joint working and that is a huge challenge.

  590. Do you not think that once there is a failing housing market it is the fear that people will not have a good investment in housing that stops new people moving into the area and if you could put a floor on the market you could remove that fear and then people would happily move into some of these areas?
  (Ms Wallace) I think it is certainly one of the issues you could explore, and I have seen that some people have raised it with you, but it is by no means the only answer because it is not just about house values, it is about what kind of schools are my children going to go to, what is the quality of life?

  591. If you look at Manchester as an example, some of the best schools in Manchester are in the areas with a failing housing market, so it is hard to believe that it is schools.
  (Ms Wallace) I am not suggesting that there is a simple template that you can apply to everywhere but there will always be a reason, and frequently many reasons. One of the things we are saying is people need to work together at local level and we need to support and drive them to do that to identify the reasons because simply pure housing solutions alone will not shift this.

Sir Paul Beresford

  592. I do not often disagree with my Chairman but would it be the converse is the possibility, that if you put a floor in on the market you are actually going to encourage the people you wish to stay to go? If you put a floor on the market they will have the opportunity of doing that.
  (Ms Wallace) I think that is possible too. I do not wish to suggest that I have looked at this idea and said it is the right one, all I am saying is I have noticed it has been raised with you and clearly the falling value of people's houses is an issue.

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

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