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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 593-599)




  593. Minister, may I welcome you to the Committee and apologise that we are running a bit late. Can I ask you to identify yourself and your team for the record, please?
  (Ms Keeble) I am Sally Keeble, I am Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. This is an official, Michael Faulkner.

  594. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight into questions?
  (Ms Keeble) I did have a statement but given that we are running short of time you might prefer just to go straight to questions.

  595. No, give us your statement since you have prepared it.
  (Ms Keeble) Okay. The issues around abandonment and low demand are clearly complex. We have come a long way in our understanding but still have more work to do. We set ourselves a target in January 2001 to turn round the incidence of low demand by 2010 and this timescale reflects the complexity and intractability of the problem. I just want to set out some of the measures that we have taken so far to deal with it. The PAT 7 report on unpopular housing produced nearly 40 recommendations and we are making progress on these. We are taking forward a range of measures to help local authorities and other stakeholders tackle problems linked to low demand and abandonment. For example, we recognise the activities of some private landlords and the effect that they have on the decline of neighbourhoods, so we are consulting on a discretionary licensing scheme in particular for private landlords in areas of low demand. We are reforming the way that local authorities help poor homeowners to repair their properties by giving them more flexibility in how they use the funding. We have already made it easier to declare renewal areas and carry out group repairs, and have further work to do on that as well. We have set ourselves a target to bring all social housing up to a decent standard in ten years. We have made the funding available to do this and we are encouraging local authorities to develop housing strategies to cover all housing tenures. We are also pressing ahead with our neighbourhood renewal agenda. By improving the quality of local services, engaging tenants and residents and improving the livability of neighbourhoods we can help to make them more desirable places to live again. Finally, we are using the planning system which is obviously a key to ensuring that we get redevelopment in low demand areas and we are using this both at a regional and local level.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.

Mr O'Brien

  596. Minister, you referred to the low demand areas and the problem areas, but in many of the high demand areas where voids are low compared to other international comparisons, have you any idea as to how we can reduce still further the voids? Is it cost-effective to try to do that in high demand areas?
  (Ms Keeble) Yes. Can I say I think there is a different issue in the high demand areas from the low demand areas and it is quite important to distinguish those. Certainly in the high demand areas there is an issue about empty properties and the need to make sure that they are brought back into use where they can be to make sure we have effective use of the housing stock and also we tackle the problem of homelessness. We have required local authorities as part of their HIP submissions to make reference to what they are doing about empty properties and it is also being looked at as a performance indicator for local authorities. There are measures being taken there but I would say I think it is a different scale of problem from the problems that we see up in the North where you have a complete collapse of the housing market and I think a different scale of action is required.

  597. That brings me to my next question. The vacancy rates appear to vary across tenures and regions and you say in the northern region we have more than our share of vacancy. Is this acceptable to your Department, the fact that we have this discrepancy across tenures and regions? What are you doing about it?
  (Ms Keeble) No. We are looking presently at the particular needs of those low demand areas. Of course it is a problem if there are empty properties in a high demand area. If you look over the past two years' figures at the vacancy rates in certain regions, in particular Yorkshire, Humberside, North East and North West, those have climbed to a particularly high level at a time when the vacancy rates elsewhere in the country have been declining. What is more, up in those regions the vacancy rates are not just in residential properties but in commercial properties too, and it is because of real difficulties in the market and different patterns there. That is why we are looking at measures like the licensing of private sector landlords and the renewal and regeneration strategies. We have been talking with the local authorities there very carefully about the problems that they are experiencing and have had discussions with them about their proposals for a Market Renewal Fund, which I am sure you have had brought to your attention as well.

  598. The Council of Mortgage Lenders told the Committee that the vacancies vary between private landlords and owner-occupiers and the rented sector.
  (Ms Keeble) Yes.

  599. Is there a possibility of introducing a private leasing arrangement to help people who have empty properties to rent those properties and keep them to a reasonable standard?
  (Ms Keeble) In terms of the different tenures, we are concerned across all the tenures and the discussions we have had with the local authorities and others are about looking for strategies that go across all the different housing tenures. Where you have a problem of low demand it does not just affect the council properties, it affects the private sector properties as well. The strategies for renewal and regeneration and the work that is being done, sometimes by local authorities and also, I have to say, by registered social landlords, are there to help the owner-occupiers, the private sector, as well as the local authority and the social sectors.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 16 January 2002