Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Sixth Report


III. FAILING MARKETS

FUTURE TRENDS

70. The demographics of the areas experiencing housing market failure suggest that demand could fall further. The M62 Study found that areas 'at risk' of changing demand for housing contained significant concentrations of elderly people dependent on benefits[175] and high rates of economic inactivity and unemployment.[176] The Heriot-Watt study concluded that "the population of these areas are likely, on current trends to become even poorer and less stable."[177]

Effectiveness of measures to improve the situation

71. Central and local Government and its agencies intervene in low demand areas in a variety of ways. Some of those interventions are intended to deal with the consequences of the problem and to try to stop it from getting worse, including measures to address crime and anti-social behaviour and schemes to fill empty homes with people moving from areas of high demand. The national strategies, described in the previous section of the report, have also been attempted but have generally been less successful in failing housing markets. The Government's main policy to address the problems of deprivation in all housing markets, is the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal but it has been inadequate and there has been little attempt to develop solutions which assess the problems in the context of the wider conurbation and use regional policies to bring together supply and demand.

CRIME AND ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR

72. Crime and anti-social behaviour is both a cause and consequence of low housing demand and one of the biggest concerns to the members of the public who wrote to us, desperate to see it addressed. Witnesses told us how eviction policies were simply moving people with anti-social behaviour problems around, that measures introduced to address anti-social behaviour in recent years were not being used to their full extent and about the Government's proposals for licensing private landlords. More generally the letters from the public suggested a sad resignation at the fact that the criminal justice system seems incapable of dealing with the situation.

73. Abbey Hey Residents' Association's memorandum described how housing association and council lettings and enforcements policies take a tougher stance on anti-social behaviour and make it easier to evict tenants who cause a disturbance. However, they are now causing the most "difficult" tenants to be concentrated in the private rented sector,[178] where the standard of vetting tenants is generally lower. David Cowans confirmed that this is happening and that "There is also evidence that the people with the most chaotic lifestyles, just move between public sector landlords, so they move between local authorities, they move between registered social landlords and in areas of oversupply, it is pretty easy to do."[179]

74. Matthew Baggott, the Deputy Chief Constable of West Midlands Police was concerned, "I would not like to see people just evicted under a tenancy agreement and moved somewhere else where the problems will re-create themselves,"[180] without their behaviour being addressed. He described the range of measures that now exist to tackle anti-social behaviour:

    "They [anti-social behaviour orders] are part of the range of options that you have. The important thing is to understand what is going on in the family and what sort of intervention is taking place. For example, with a young person, it may be the approach is through behaviour support through the Primary Care Trust, that may be the best way. It may be support for the mother through some family education work. It may be a tenancy agreement. It may lend itself to an anti-social behaviour order. It may be the youth offending team. What is lacking at the moment in many of these neighbourhoods is a mapping exercise that says exactly what is going on and how do we join it up better in relation to that individual or the family."[181]

75. David Cowans said, "Some of the changes that have been introduced have been good; anti-social behaviour orders have been a good thing, not that they are taken up anywhere near the level that they need to be."[182] Research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests that local authorities now have sufficient powers to deal with anti-social behaviour but are constrained in using them by factors such as political difficulties, training and their ability to handle complex cases.[183] Matthew Baggott explained that the use of anti-social behaviour orders is currently accompanied by "bureaucracy and delay... where the relationship is good and businesslike between local police commanders and housing officers and chief executives, for example in places like Coventry, the anti-social behaviour orders are put in place very quickly and very effectively."[184] The Government has recently announced that it intends to bring forward amendments to the Police Reform Bill 2002 to amend the use of anti-social behaviour orders, including proposals to extend their use to registered social landlords, to introduce a system of interim orders and to explore whether there is scope to link them to eviction proceedings.[185]

76. Anti-social behaviour is a menace and measures to deal with it do not yet appear to have been fully and effectively implemented. Some policies such as evictions by social landlords have had unintended consequences, moving the problem around, sometimes concentrating it in the private rented sector, rather than tackling the causes. The Government's recent proposals for improving the processes for implementing anti-social behaviour orders are timely.

77. As well as considering new measures to improve the processes by which anti-social behaviour orders are set, the Government wants private landlords to be given greater responsibility to deal with anti-social behaviour by their tenants, through its proposals for the licensing of private landlords. It is proposed that, amongst other things,

  • licensed landlords should provide tenants with a written statement of their rights and obligations which could include specified clauses on anti-social behaviour,
  • landlords should address complaints from neighbours and other residents, and
  • landlords should work with the local authority to ensure references are checked for new tenants.

The consultation paper also proposes that local authorities, the police and others should offer "support and guidance" to landlords.[186] Local authorities should ensure that landlord licensing schemes link into local agencies such as the police and youth offending teams, who can provide the appropriate response to anti-social behaviour problems.

78. Whilst the measures described above are welcome, it is unlikely that they will deal with the scale of problems caused by crime and disorder and it is bewildering to the local population in these areas not to be afforded the protection that seems to be the right of the rest of the community. It is not for us to solve this problem but it suggests that more funding should be provided for the police in such areas and that the public would willingly pay more in taxes.

MOVEMENT FROM HIGH TO LOW DEMAND AREAS

Between regions

79. A number of schemes have been developed to offer people the opportunity to move across the country from areas where housing need is high to places where large numbers of houses are standing empty. The number of people benefiting from such moves so far has been small-the Housing Corporation's supplementary memorandum showed that the number of people who moved through such schemes last year was in the hundreds.[187] For such schemes to be successful people need to be persuaded of the benefits of moving to another part of the country and one barrier to this is that some people do not want to move far away from their families.[188] Newcastle City Council has tried to overcome this by the offer of the chance to "bring the entire family up with you."[189] Where individuals have moved, schemes have been of benefit. A survey of former Haringey residents who have moved to other parts of the country found that 90 per cent of movers had no regrets following their move and the remaining 10 per cent do not have plans to return.[190] Furthermore, the opportunity of mobility gives housing choice to people living in areas, such as London and the South East, who would otherwise have none.

80. The DTLR is currently funding twenty-seven Choice Based Lettings pilot schemes, designed to try out new ways to give social housing tenants greater choice over their accommodation. The pilot schemes all include proposals to improve the information about vacancies provided to tenants and three of them aim to provide information about vacancies in low demand areas to people in London. The vacancies in the low demand areas are used to provide wider housing choice to the London residents, for example, applicants facing a long wait for accommodation can be housed immediately in another part of the country. Like other schemes which have been developed to date, such as the LAWN[191] initiative,[192] these three Choice Based Lettings pilots have generally been promoted by local authorities in London and the South East, where housing need is high and there is a desire to offer tenants greater choice. The low levels of take up to date suggest that more could be done by authorities in the low demand areas to market their housing stock and wider facilities to potential residents as a positive alternative choice and that a targeted marketing approach which highlights services on offer to meet the need of particular groups of people, might be effective. This might include elderly people for whom moving house is not dependent on the labour market and who might be attracted by good quality care or specially adapted housing in the receiving areas. The business plan for LAWN includes proposals to work with Age Concern and others to develop a targeted scheme for elderly people.[193] More generally mobility schemes need to ensure that adequate funding and support packages are available in the "receiving" authorities.[194] We recommend that the DTLR and the Housing Corporation examine ways to enhance the promotion of inter-regional mobility, potentially through an extension of the choice based lettings scheme, with a particular focus on how "receiving" authorities can provide incentives to move.

Movement within conurbations

81. We saw in Burnley and Rochdale, neighbourhoods within the town where demand was much higher than for similar houses in nearby streets. Harvest Housing Group's memorandum described how demand has been sustained by a high concentration of black and minority ethnic residents and in Rochdale demand continues to grow as a result of support from extended families and a sense of security within the community. Demand is growing despite over-crowding and poor quality accommodation.[195] A similar situation is found in Birmingham but the City Council is concerned that new generations of black and ethnic minority communities will not want to continue to live in the poor quality housing in the inner urban areas. As they become increasingly affluent, younger, economically affluent households are moving out of Birmingham to suburban towns.[196]

82. In Rochdale, the Council has tried to encourage groups of families to move from over-crowded areas into parts of the town where demand has been falling. We saw an estate where, with high levels of police and community support, a group of families had been successfully moved and a recent development, where a proportion of the homes had been built by a Bangladeshi housing co-operative and included several homes with six or seven bedrooms.[197] It was clear that a good deal of effort had been made to ensure that the moves across town were sustainable and perceived in a positive spirit by all communities, which was very topical as our visit to the North West came shortly after the riots in Burnley, Oldham and Bradford in the summer of 2001. The Community Cohesion Report,[198] following the riots concluded that the racial segregation in housing had led to a lack of understanding between the communities. The summary of the report began:

    "Whilst the physical segregation of housing estates and inner city areas came as no surprise, the team was particularly struck by the depth of polarisation of our towns and cities."[199]

Mobility between local housing markets within a conurbation offers a way to both bring new demand to unpopular areas and to reduce racial segregation, if it is done in a planned and targeted way. We recommend that local housing strategies follow Rochdale's good example to promote moves between expanding and declining communities. The DTLR, through Government Offices for the Regions, should monitor the strategies to ensure that this is happening, especially where such moves can reduce racial segregation. Significant investment in community relations, policing and other services, is needed alongside such housing initiatives.


175   A declining demographic group Back

176   Op cit, paragraph 1.4 Back

177   DETR Housing Research Summary, Low Demand and Unpopular Neighbourhoods, No. 114, 2000, Page 5 Back

178   EMP62 Back

179   Q 20 Back

180   Q 510 Back

181   Q 511 Back

182   Q 19 Back

183   Neighbour Nuisance, Social Landlords and the Law, Hunter, Nixon and Sahyer, 2001 Back

184   Q 495 Back

185   HL Deb, 5 February 2002, col 514 Back

186   Paragraph 42 Back

187   See Qq 547-58 Back

188   Housing Corporation, Q 555 Back

189   Housing Corporation, Q 555 Back

190   Business Plan for the Development of the LAWN inter-regional mobility project Back

191   Formerly London Authorities West and North but now expanded to cover the whole of London and referred to as "LAWN" Back

192   Described in EMP51 Back

193   Business Plan for the Development of LAWN Inter-regional Mobility Project, 2001 Back

194   Note of visit to Tower Hamlets Back

195   EMP70 Back

196   Q 77 Back

197   Note of visit to the North West Back

198   Community Cohesion: A Report of the Independent Review Team, Chaired by Ted Cantle, Home Office, 2001 Back

199   Op cit, paragraph 2.1 Back


 
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