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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 660-679)

MS SALLY KEEBLE, MP AND MR MICHAEL FAULKNER

WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2001

  660. About what asylum seekers? Shall we just put "pause" in the record?
  (Ms Keeble) Obviously we do not have a particular responsibility for housing asylum seekers.

  661. Would you like to give us a note on this because I am conscious of the time?
  (Ms Keeble) Okay. Can I just say one thing about the work of the Home Office, we do work closely with the Home Office on a whole range of different areas, in particular in the neighbourhood and street warden schemes, there is very close working there and in the neighbourhood renewal areas as well.

Mrs Ellman

  662. How does the government monitor how well regional housing policies, government offices and Regional Development Agencies work together on housing issues?
  (Ms Keeble) We obviously monitor the way in which the regional strategies are implemented and also how the regional plans come forward for housing.

  663. Do you look at how those bodies work together?
  (Ms Keeble) In what sense?

  664. Work together in relation to housing issues?
  (Ms Keeble) We certainly look at the way in which the different agencies cooperate in preparing the strategies for housing. We also monitor the work that local housing authorities do and also we obviously, through the Housing Corporation, we look at what the housing associations do as well.

  665. What is the role of Regional Development Agencies in housing issues?
  (Ms Keeble) The Regional Development Agencies responsibility would really be through their role in looking at regeneration and they would also have to take into account the housing market as part of their assessment of the overall economic reforms of an area, the housing market as part of the local economy.

  666. Is the government looking at how Regional Development Agencies are linked with housing authorities in making that assessment?
  (Ms Keeble) We would expect them to work together in putting together the regional plans, yes.

  667. Do you monitor them?
  (Ms Keeble) I am not sure about monitoring arrangements I can certainly give you a note on that.

Mr Betts

  668. Some of us believe that the changes to PPG3 were very important and a welcome step. We have been a bit disappointed that information we received from the RICS and the Empty Homes Agency on our trip to the northwest where we were told that in many cases it was not being implemented, there was a lot land available, brown field sites in some authorities crying out for redevelopment but housing authorities next door or even the same authority were approving planning permission in green field areas. What is your view about this? What do you think has happened?
  (Ms Keeble) There is obviously some outstanding planning consents and we do not have plans to revoke those, there is always going to be a lag time in the policy coming into effect. I would question whether the assessment that it is not working is based on recent decisions or whether it is the carrying forward of consents that were given before the PPG3 was actually passed. In terms of building it it is still quite a new PPG.

  669. Are you monitoring the situation about new permissions being given which might appear to be contrary to the PPG3?
  (Ms Keeble) New permissions, we will be monitoring them over time, yes.

  670. Are you monitoring them now?
  (Ms Keeble) We will be monitoring them.

  671. Are you monitoring them now?
  (Ms Keeble) Yes, I am sure we are.

  Mr Betts: Can I follow that up, as well as authorities not giving new permissions on sites where brown field sites exist they are also supposed to be revising their housing development plans and where land that was allocated for housing in the new PPG3 falls outside the scope of that they should be removing those applications and chasing the destination of that land. Is that happening? Are you monitoring that? Can you can tell us how much lands is being removed for housing allocation as a result?
  (Ms Keeble) Yes, it is happening. However, there is a problem here because whilst the local authorities change their plans that does not mean that existing planning consents are necessarily revoked.

  672. I understand that. I am talking about allocations for the future, where land is zoned for housing under the past PPG3 it should not be zoned under the current policy therefore it should be removed as land so designated and that land is owned for future use?
  (Ms Keeble) That has happened in some areas, particularly ones that I can quote are Halton, Oldham, South Lakeland and Bolton. It is happening.

  673. That leaves an awful loft authorities where it is not happening. Could you give us a note on how many authorities have taken steps?
  (Ms Keeble) We can certainly do that.

  Mr Betts: How much land has been so far removed?

Christine Russell

  674. Can I just ask you if you are really monitoring. There has been really quite a disastrous planning appeal decision in North Cheshire that is going to permit loads of new houses to be built when there are huge tracks of brown field sites in the middle of Warrington that could well do with regeneration and yet this is a very recent decision. What monitoring is going on? All of the local authorities round Cheshire are very nervous after that very recent decision.
  (Ms Keeble) Yes. It would be quite wrong to comment on an individual case and obviously planning inspectors also have to make their decisions on a case by case basis. The Greenfield Direction means local authorities would have to notify the Secretary of State if there are housing proposals on larger green field sites, even where those sites were allocated, the plans, there is monitoring and report back. I would say that where there is an individual case that decisions will have been taken I think in this case by an individual planning inspector.

Chairman

  675. Do you think your government regional offices are really up to actually predicting how many houses are needed in a region?
  (Ms Keeble) There is obviously quite a long process before you finally agree on regional allocations, and in some areas that is still under discussion. I would just say that there are quite some complications about housing allocations.

  676. Take the northwest, it has too many houses, a very substantial number of houses that cannot be filled and yet the prediction is that a lot of new ones should be built.
  (Ms Keeble) Yes. That particular one has not been settled yet. I think the reason why is that it is a region that wants a higher allocation and the reason, as I understand it, that they want it is because they say whilst they have an oversupply of housing or what would appear to be an oversupply of housing, they have the wrong type of housing, and they therefore want a more diverse range of housing stock, so that is the reasoning behind that. That particular case is still being looked at.

  677. In the Southeast, let us take another example, I understand that Hastings wanted to use some of the empty homes to bring them back into use and cross off the number of houses that the government office wanted provided in that region. Should Hastings not have been able to use the existing empty homes, are bringing them back into use to avoid having to build all that many new homes?
  (Ms Keeble) What they have done in the Hastings case, this is why that is being scrutinised, is that there has been some double counting of the properties concerned, so that is why there has been an issue round the Hastings plan.

  678. This Committee has been pursuing the question of gap funding for some time, the new schemes, almost all, are very much biassed against housing. We were told that in some of these areas where we renewables should be taking place gap funding could be quite important. Can you give us any good news on gap funding?
  (Ms Keeble) This is obviously tied up with the state aid discussion as well. There have been careful discussions in Brussels and there is some progress being made on that, albeit very slow.

  679. Is it progress on the housing side? I think it was Chris Brown who gave us evidence that some of the schemes in Manchester were being vetoed because 75 per cent of the scheme was housing, and that was not acceptable under the new rules.
  (Ms Keeble) I was not aware of that, I have to say.


 
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