Memorandum by Birmingham City Council
Birmingham City Council welcomes the opportunity
to submit evidence to the Empty Homes Inquiry. This is a timely
opportunity as Birmingham embarks on a process of housing market
restructuring, which includes proposals for the transfer of the
entire council housing stock to enable restructuring of social
housing provision. Increasingly, action will also need to focus
on inner-city, multi-tenure areas. The market restructuring that
these processes address will form the biggest urban renewal challenge
for the next two decades.
This memorandum suggests that a new and radical
approach is required to respond to the underlying structural causes
of empty homes that relate to housing market failure. The recommendation
contained in this submission is that housing market renewal areas
be created, with associated funding, to establish a framework
in which market restructuring can take place.
Birmingham has an established empty properties
strategy that has sought to tackle the issue of empty properties
through mechanisms, such as:
Giving advice and guidance to owners.
Working with Registered Social Landlords
(RSLs) to target Approved Development Programme (ADP) resources
at properties empty for more than six months.
Single Regeneration Budget (SRB)
projects focusing on bringing properties back into use in key
Using Grant aid where relevant to
assist owners bring them back into use.
Using Compulsory Purchase Order powers
as a last resort.
Using enforced sale procedures where
Using other enforcement powers to
mitigate nuisance to neighbourhoods.
Consulting Private Development Agencies
to see how new models of intervention can be created.
A focus on empty property on an individual basis
has its place, as do approaches that concentrate on the improved
management of social housing to achieve lower levels of empty
property, or regeneration on an estate or locality basis. These
type of responses do not, however, address the fundamental issue
of the health of the housing market, which will continue to undermine,
at a district level, more localised intervention. Analysis of
Birmingham's housing markets suggests that these type of measures
will not be sufficient in areas where the housing market does
not meet current aspirations and is affected by changing demography
and socio-economic processes undermining activity that falls short
of fundamental restructuring. Rather than continuing to treat
the symptoms, there is a need to address the underlying issues,
deriving from social, economic and demographic influences, which
alter the pattern of demand. This memorandum argues that a new
framework for intervention based on market renewal areas is required,
which are not necessarily coterminous with local authority boundaries,
to produce sustainable districts.
The remainder of this evidence highlights the
improvements that Birmingham City Council has made to address
increasing polarisation in the City's housing and employment markets,
the current approach being taken and policy changes sought. Since
the 1970s, a two-pronged approach has been adopted, that has sought
to improve housing conditions in the inner-city within the existing
infrastructure, and to undertake limited restructuring focused
on the most problematic social housing estates. Until recently,
this activity has sustained the City's housing market areas. Birmingham
City Council has been one of the first authorities to recognise
that this approach is no longer sufficient to halt the decline
of housing markets in some areas. The City Council is now attempting
to integrate proposals for stock transfer with a new approach
to urban regeneration that will need to be co-ordinated over the
next 20 years. This new approach is outlined below, along with
some changes to the current public policy framework that could
assist in fully achieving the need for restructuring of the City's
This is far from being solely a housing related
issue, but rather is central to the urban renaissance agenda.
Birmingham plays a key role within the regional housing and employment
markets of the West Midlands and, by virtue of its size, the socio-economic
trajectory of the City is vital to the region's future prosperity.
A continuation of current trends would see further social and
economic polarisation, which threatens to undermine the economic
base of the City. Birmingham is an international City that seeks
to consolidate and build on its position in the global economy.
The vision for the City is one of quality, a place where people
choose to live. Birmingham's success in achieving this goal has
implications for the whole of the West Midlands region. In order
for the City's position to be strengthened, or indeed maintained,
the City needs to retain affluent, economically active households.
It also needs to improve the educational standards and skills
base in the City. This will require more stable communities, so
that regeneration activities have a lasting effect rather than
providing a means for households, who benefit from them, to move
elsewhere. To retain and attract households who have choice, the
City needs to provide an attractive living environment, including
appropriate and desirable housing.
Housing choices are not made wholly, or even
primarily, on the nature of the housing itself. There are a much
wider range of considerations relating to the neighbourhood, including
the standards of services on offer, litter, crime and anti-social
behaviour, educational facilities, leisure facilities, environmental
issues and the transport infrastructure.
In Birmingham, there are both flourishing and
declining markets, areas of both deprivation and affluence, often
sitting side by side. There are unpopular high and low rise flats
and maisonettes in the social sector, alongside private sector
provision in high demand. There are City Centre apartments regularly
selling for hundreds of thousands of pounds, within two to three
miles of areas of pre 1919 terraced housing, in some of the most
deprived wards in the country.
Birmingham has achieved considerable success
in restructuring its housing markets. City Centre living continues
to prove popular, and current efforts focus on spreading City
Centre housing across a wider area, and developing products to
attract families as well as the more traditional young professional
Birmingham already has a history of intervening
in areas of the City, which are experiencing decline, low demand
and empty, abandoned and derelict dwellings. Many of these intervention
programmes have been area based, and include the following:
Private sector action through General
Improvement Areas, and Housing Action Areas, forming the largest
programme of private sector intervention activity in the country
Tenure diversification through extensive
Estate Action programmes followed by other joint venture initiatives,
such as the Pype Hayes mixed tenure development of 1,650 homes
Optima Community Associationthe
successful transfer of 3,000 council properties under the Estates
Renewal Challenge Fund
Large scale programmes to remodel
areas of system built dwellings.
These housing led programmes are complemented
by a range of corporate activities designed to improve the image,
economic competitiveness, environment, and quality of life in
the City. This includes the National Indoor Arena and International
Convention Centre, and major works to improve the surrounding
environment, as well as current work ongoing in the Bull Ring
area of the City and Eastside.
Although Birmingham's proactive response has
achieved much, the underlying factors involved in changing demand
mean that a larger scale response is required, if housing markets
are to be transformed to the extent necessary. There is a need
for recognition of the scale of the challenge, so that policies
can be developed that are likely to prove sustainable in the long
Housing markets in the West Midlands display
characteristics of both the North and South of the country, with
increasing polarisation between the two. They are characterised
by differential migration from the major urban areas, increasing
travel to work areas, and social polarisation both within towns
and cities, and between urban and suburban/rural locations. The
negative impacts of housing market change are extremely spatially
focused in some local authorities, including Birmingham, where
some neighbourhoods are experiencing low demand.
The following map of house prices
clearly displays a regional picture that includes a high price
corridor to the south of the City's border along the M42 and down
the M40 towards London. In contrast, there is a central band of
low prices across the City, which continues across the Black Country
areas of Sandwell, Wolverhampton and Dudley.
Patterns of market failure in the City have
much in common with this map. The areas with the most significant
numbers of vacant dwellings are inner city mixed tenure areas,
where there are significant vacant dwellings across the social
and private sectors. The numbers of vacancies occurring and the
length of time vacant need careful analysis to understand the
processes taking place. The patterns displayed in the social housing
sector are different to the private sector because vacancies are
closely managed. It is therefore also necessary to look at the
turnover rate and transfer requests as indicators of instability
in the market. Research
has also shown a relationship between stability and particular
types of property, such as flats and pre 1919 terraced housing,
and areas with over provision of similar dwelling types.
The dynamics currently affecting Birmingham's
housing markets include:
Differential migration. Future net
outward migration is expected to be small. However, this masks
high inflows of migrants to the City and high outflows. The outflows
consist disproportionately of more affluent households. Inflows
show the City to be a reception centre for several groups including
homeless households, international migrants, a large student population
and those moving to the City for employment.
Declining demand for social housing
on some peripheral estates, particularly on the southern and eastern
periphery of the City. These estates have already been, and will
continue to be, affected by economic and demographic change. These
estates tend to be a local authority ownership and many are in
areas where the employment structure has changed, with employment
opportunities being lost locally and new work being created in
other areas. Much of the original rationale for the location of
the estates no longer exists. The housed population is ageing,
without any significant new demand being generated.
Significant problems in relation
to stock condition, in both the public and private sector, and
by large numbers of unpopular property types. This includes high
levels of flatted accommodation, both high and low rise accounting
for around 45 per cent of the local authority stock, and an array
of non traditional build types. Much of this provision is contained
in large, unpopular estates.
An issue relating to obsolescence
rather than stock condition for back of pavement and smaller terraced
housing in the inner city, where the majority of housing is private
sector, pre 1919 terraced housing. In many cases the housing does
not match up to modern day requirements. In some, but not all,
instances this obsolete housing is in areas of high household
growth amongst Black and Minority Ethnic communities. The issue
is not therefore a lack of demand in the area, but a lack of demand
for that type of dwelling.
The North West area of the City in
particular is suffering from a high turnover rate in the housing
market. This area contains local authority stock, a large number
of properties belonging to Registered Social Landlords (RSLs),
a high proportion of the City's private rented stock and low value
owner occupied housing. Much of the housing is unpopular, and
demand is weakened by social and environmental issues, such as
crime, anti-social behaviour, educational facilities, litter etc.
this results in a situation where households, many of them young
single people, move in and out of the area, and also move frequently
from property to property. Almost 9 per cent of properties within
the area are vacant.
It is in the North West of the City where the
housing market renewal area proposals are most fully developed
at present. The North West contains an area targeted for SRB funding
and also forms part of an Advantage West Midlands Regeneration
Zone. The area has been the subject of a research project,
involving extensive consultation, primarily through focus groups,
with residents in different neighbourhoods, communities in the
area, and a wide range of other stakeholders. This has lead to
the production of an action plan that is described in more detail
below. This approach is now to be replicated in the Eastern part
of the City, which also forms part of an Advantage West Midlands
Regeneration Zone. The zone covers a significant area of Birmingham
and part of North Solihull. It contains largely older private
sector housing in the inner city wards with predominantly Asian
communities and, moving further east, monolithic provision of
social housing that continues across the border to Chelmsley Wood
in Solihull. Birmingham City Council is working with colleagues
in Solihull on the approach for the zone, including a requirement
for detailed housing market research. Similar work is to take
place for the South of Birmingham, which, although not part of
a regeneration zone, also requires fundamental restructuring.
B Nevin, L Goodson, P Lee, J Phillimore, Centre for
Urban and Regional Studies, University of Birmingham, 2001.
Addressing housing market concerns in Birmingham
and its surrounding areas is very much a cross tenure issue. The
shows the tenure balance between the social and private sectors
in Birmingham. As can be seen, there are many areas of the City
with a mix of tenures, including the area to the North West, where
housing market problems are perhaps the most pronounced. There
are currently 53 social housing providers in addition to the local
authority operating in the City. Should Birmingham's proposed
stock transfer go ahead, there will be a further 10 RSLs and a
citywide trust. The co-ordination of the activities of these agencies
along with the activities of the range of other stakeholders,
planning, business etc, is a vital component of successful market
Restructuring of the housing market requires
the co-operation of a number of different agencies working towards
a shared vision. It requires a plan to be developed for the area,
in consultation with existing residents, housing providers, both
social and private, planning and economic development colleagues
and business communities. In some instances, more than one local
authority would need to be involved. Birmingham is presently working
jointly with Sandwell and with Solihull.
A Birmingham/Sandwell Pilot
In collaboration with Sandwell MBC proposals
are being developed for a market renewal area. The main objective
is to reduce residential instability, thus helping to create sustainable
communities, through an appropriate mix of public and private
sector investment in the area.
A wide variety of physical and socio-environmental
issues need to be addressed if North West Birmingham is to become
sustainable in the long term. These issues are being considered
in the context of the South Black Country and West Birmingham
Regeneration Zone, and particularly through the SRB6 programme.
As part of this corporate approach, there are
a number of specific housing related issues which need to be addressed
through a 20 year plan.
The removal of unpopular and inappropriate
housing, derelict buildings and non-conforming uses in residential
The provision of suitable housing
in terms of quality, design, tenure, affordability and location
through new development, refurbishment and repair.
The provision of appropriate support
for more vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and young homeless
A reduction in opportunity for crime
by improving security, designing out crime in new developments,
improving levels of lighting in residential areas, and managing
areas undergoing extensive remodelling, to maintain the quality
of life for remaining residents.
Involving the community in planning
processes, community initiatives, etc to enable them, for example,
to take ownership of safety initiatives.
Improving the image and appearance
of the area.
The proposed transfer of the City Council's
housing stock would provide an opportunity to undertake work on
a scale that could alter the fundamental nature of the housing
markets in the City. The business plans for the stock transfer
areas will take account of private sector housing, although clearly
the focus for investment will be on the social housing stock.
The plans across the City include the demolition of around 20,000
units of social housing. Re-provision of social housing will be
in the region of 25 per cent. This again presents an opportunity
to restructure markets through tenure diversification. An example
is in the South West of the City, where there is weakening demand
on peripheral estates that adjoin high priced housing areas to
the South of the City's boundary. The economic strategy for the
West Midlands region includes a high technology corridor with
growth nodes running from the City Centre, to the South West corner
and beyond the City's boundary, stretching down to Worcester.
Selective demolition and partial replacement with aspirational
private sector housing would provide housing pathways for more
affluent households to satisfy their housing requirements without
having to leave the City.
Although stock transfer would increase the opportunities
available for market restructuring, there is, at present, no existing
framework in place for this to happen. In areas with poor quality
or obsolete housing across tenures, including council estates
with large numbers of properties purchased under "Right to
Buy", additional resources will need to be made available
to complement improvements to social housing. This could take
the form of dowry support from Government. There are around 50,000
properties in Birmingham purchased under the "Right to Buy".
The replacement and refurbishment of social housing may also put
further pressure on the demand for the less popular sections of
the private housing market. As an improvement in the social housing
stock takes place, offering additional choice, there may be an
associated decline in demand for some less popular private sector
A HOUSING RENEWAL
To make a fundamental difference to the housing
market, change will necessarily be on a large scale, both in terms
of the extent of interventions required, and in the geographical
area covered. Sites need to be identified that are 20 acres or
more to make the impact required. A long-term commitment is necessary
to fully engage communities without falsely raising expectations.
In areas such as North West Birmingham, where there have been
a succession of shorter term, piecemeal projects, there is a degree
of cynicism to be overcome before communities are likely to positively
engage. For the necessary commitment to be made, there is a need
for resources outside of the Single Capital Pot to provide a degree
of certainty that will enable partners to contribute fully to
proposals for the area.
The current regional framework has some overlap
with the Housing Market Renewal Area approach, but the primary
focus of the Regional Development Agency relates to economic activity
and, inevitably, an economic approach is taken. Housing Market
Renewal Areas would be complimentary to this, but there is a need
for a focused approach with focused resources. Current capital
resources are tenure based. Private sector housing resources form
part of the Single Capital Pot and are based on a series of indicators
included in the Generalised Needs Index (GNI). These existing
resources do not recognise the issues around the need for market
restructuring to the extent needed. Resources are currently targeted
in the main at improving the quality of dwellings to provide decent
housing. This is markedly different to an approach that seeks
to create sustainable housing markets based on an understanding
of the dynamics that drive housing market change. This includes
addressing obsolescence, as well as stock condition and housing
The lead agencies could vary depending on the
individual circumstances of the area. In this instance, the core
of the SRB area has a need for clearance and redesignation of
land uses. In these areas, the Council and AWM will need to be
lead agencies because of the predominance of economic development,
planning and compulsory purchase issues.
In other areas, however, it will be possible
to utilise the skills and resources of the RSL movement to create
new housing regeneration companies, whose strategic framework
would be set out in a prospectus for the cross border Housing
Market Renewal Area.
1. A move away from the formulaic distribution
of resources to recognise resource requirements resulting from
2. The creation of a hypothecated Housing
Renewal Fund. This would need to be related to genuinely failing
areas, be long term, and be catalytic to pull together the different
3. A move towards the production of large
sites for new build.
4. Revenue funding for new regeneration
vehicles in multi-tenure areas.
5. Provision within the ADP specifically
to support stock transfer.
6. Dowry payments to support urban renewal
in stock transfer areas.
1 Not printed. Back
Birmingham Housing Study: Citywide Report; Centre for Urban and
Regional Studies, University of Birmingham with Bob Blackaby Associates,
CRESR Sheffield Hallam University, FPD Savills. 2001. Back
Housing Market Change and Urban Regeneration: Achieving Sustainable
Neighbourhoods in North West Birmingham. Back
Not printed. Back