THE DECLINE IN THE ATTRACTIVENESS
OF INNER URBAN AREAS
59. In some areas, the original economic rationale
for the development of the housing has disappeared and the housing
stock changes much more slowly than the economy. For example,
"Bolton's private sector housing policies
are a legacy of its industrial past-a past shared with many of
our neighbouring authorities. A high proportion of the stock was
built for purposes that are not longer relevant to modern day
housing expectations. Homes were created at high densities in
terraces, close to the mills and factories that provided the urban
poor with their main sources of employment."
60. Economic decline is not the only problem. During
our visit to the North West we visited a number of areas, all
showing signs of low demand-Liverpool, Bootle, Burnley and Manchester.
It was clear that the reasons for the low demand vary from place
to place. In Burnley, for example, the problem was caused, at
least in part, by economic decline. In others, like Manchester,
the problem had occurred in spite of, or even because of, economic
growth; as the city centre economy has grown certain sections
of the population become more affluent, can afford to exercise
housing choice and move out to the suburbs.
In Kensington in Liverpool, we heard how this outward migration
has resulted in a significant loss of population in the 25-45
61. The type of housing available can also be a problem.
Councils have been struggling to let poorly designed 1960s and
1970s properties for many years. Some of that stock has now been
demolished, for example the deck-access flats cleared in Hulme.
Other types of property are now becoming increasingly unpopular,
such as the 1930s council housing our predecessor Committee saw
in Halton Moor in Leeds during its inquiry into the Urban White
Paper, and the pre-1919, back-pavement terraced housing we saw
in our visit to the North West. We went into several empty houses
in Lightbowne in Manchester. All were in good internal condition
but were small; none had a front garden.
62. Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council's memorandum
described this pre-1919, back pavement terraced housing stock:
"Many of these dwellings were never built
to be in continued use for this long. Targeted refurbishment programmes
have been successful in extending the useful life of these properties
but, inevitably growing obsolescence and market change challenges
their continued sustainability. Generally speaking, the older
a dwelling is then the higher the maintenance costs and the greater
the need to return more often to improve it. It is these 'high
maintenance' terraced houses which prove to be most vulnerable
to becoming empty for long periods."
However, the Local Government Association's memorandum
"Terraced housing that in one part of the
country may be empty, no longer popular, even as a starter home
and for sale for less than £5,000 will be considered highly
desirable elsewhere in the country and will sell for over £250,000."
The generally lower house prices and low demand in
the north and midlands mean that it is not viable for private
investors to invest large sums of money in the refurbishment of
a house. The House Builders' Federation's memorandum stated, "There
comes a point where continuing expenditure on poor quality housing
stock is unsustainable."
63. The sheer volume of identical houses, whether
pre-1919 terraced or 1930s council properties, can also make an
area less attractive than if there were diversity and choice of
size, design and tenure. The M62 Study found that the significant
factors in areas at risk of a fall in demand for housing include:
- "a predominance of one tenure;
- monolithic provision (for example, thousands
of two or three bedroomed houses in one locality); and
- concentrations of a particular dwelling type
(for example high rise flats or back of pavement terraces."
64. Manchester City Council's memorandum described
empty homes as being "focussed very much in areas characterised
by monolithic housing supply,"
which as we saw, gives no opportunity for people to move within
the local area as their families and lifestyles change.
This is in contrast with "thriving neighbourhoods" such
as those in "South Manchester, where the property portfolio
is more diverse."
Liverpool City Council's memorandum added:
"The City's housing stock is currently significantly
unbalanced with over 80 per cent of homes in council tax bands
A and B, resulting in substantial over-supply at the bottom end
of the rented and owner occupied market and real shortages of
better quality homes... This restricted choice at the higher end
of the market is encouraging outward migration of households from
However, we saw in Bootle and Liverpool some more
substantial, larger houses amongst the unpopular stock.
65. Tameside's memorandum also points to problems
caused by a "predominance of one tenure"
constraining choice. Burnley's problems,
for example, are found in inner urban concentrations of private
sector owned properties. In the social sector, the M62 Study observed
that, "The increasing concentration of lower income households
and the changing profile of tenants has affected the reputation
and attractiveness of many estates."
66. Alongside long-term factors in the economy and
housing stock are neighbourhood factors that can trigger rapid
neighbourhood decline. In Manchester, we visited Lower Beswick,
an area of 257 back-pavement terraced houses only 1 mile from
the city centre. The Council described how, in the mid-1990s,
crime (including drugs), prostitution and the concentration of
certain private sector landlords had led to a high turnover of
residents and neighbourhood abandonment.
More generally, a study undertaken for the then DETR by Heriot-Watt
University into low demand and unpopular neighbourhoods, interviewed
residents, asking them both about their homes and their local
neighbourhood. It found:
"Three-quarters of residents recently leaving
the case study neighbourhood gave neighbourhood-related reasons
for their move, particularly relating to anti-social residents,
dirty/run down area and crime/inadequate policing."
FACTORS WHICH CAUSE THE SUBURBS
TO BE MORE ATTRACTIVE
67. As some inner urban areas have become less attractive,
opportunities to move to the suburbs have increased, often as
a result of planning policy. Huge dormitory villages largely consisting
of recently built homes surround many of our northern cities.
Alan Wenban-Smith argued that in some areas, building on greenfield
sites had caused the problem of empty homes.
South Yorkshire Housing Association's memorandum also noted,
"One of the unintended consequences of this
private sector house building has been the loss of vitality of
housing in some older neighbourhoods as many purchasers have been
able to leapfrog the older housing-which has been the initial
destination of first time buyers-and buy the newer housing, often
on the periphery of existing communities."
68. Neighbourhood facilities are "seen to be
superior" on the "urban fringe" compared to declining
inner urban areas.
The memorandum from the University of Birmingham's Centre for
Urban and Regional Studies, described how this has happened, in
the post-war period:
"The major new developments around Britain's
towns and cities have been on the urban periphery, initially in
new towns and subsequently in private sector developments beyond
the boundaries of the major cities. Investment in transport, schools
and a range of other facilities has tended to follow the growth
in population associated with new housing investment, Consequently
the quality and range of facilities in those areas has become
strikingly different to that in the older urban centres."
69. Increased commuting has reduced the need to live
close to an individual's place of work. Alan Wenban-Smith noted,
"One of the interesting things which has come out of some
of the recent research is that places in the North West which
are suffering high levels of migration also have high levels of
As the supply of housing in the suburbs has increased, home ownership
has become easier for many of those on relatively modest incomes.
The M62 Study described how "The growth of two income households
and the development of cashback deals for new build means that
the accessibility of newly built home ownership is much greater
than it has been even when households have relatively
A Leeds resident wrote, "There is a mentality amongst people
that they need to be on the mortgage ladder straight away."
131 EMP23 Back
Letter from the public, 12 Back
Manchester City Council, EMP23 Back
Q 165 Back
Qq 536 and 537 Back
The Public Accounts Committee's Report into Regulating Housing
Associations and the Management of Financial Risk (January 2001)
concluded that low and falling demand was a growing problem for
registered social landlord's financial risk management, HC 470 Back
Q 534 Back
Q 416 Back
Q 162 Back
Q 166 Back
Q 414 Back
Q 530 Back
Q 530 Back
Q 532 Back
This is particularly apparent in the owner occupied sector however
within social housing low demand can be identified by a small
or non-existent waiting list, tenancy offers being frequently
refused, high rates of voids available for lettings and high rates
of turnover (source: Guidance Notes on the Completion of the 2001
Housing Investment Programme: Housing Strategy Statistical Appendix).
Decisions within the social sector, for example in relation to
anti-social tenants (see paragraph 73) can effect choices in the
owner occupier sector. Back
Council of Mortgage Lenders, Q 386 Back
Note of visit to the North West Back
See for example Lightbowne, in note of visit to the North West Back
See note of visit to the North West Back
Op cit, Paragraph 1.4 Back
Note of visit to the North West Back
See EMP28 Back
Op cit, Paragraph 1.9 Back
Note of visit to the North West Back
DETR Housing Research Summary, Low Demand and Unpopular Neighbourhoods,
No 114, 2000 Back
Q 264 Back
Q 284 Back
Paragraph 1.9 Back
Letter from the public, 5 Back