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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220-239)

BEN JACKSON AND ALASTAIR JACKSON

TUESDAY 2 JULY 2002

  220. Could you say a bit more about how you think there should be the trade-off between housing for homeless groups and housing for those who might be unable to put anything towards their housing costs.
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) At the moment the Housing Corporation funds new housing provision at local authority level in consultation with local authorities. It says, "We have so much to spend in your area, how would you have us spend it?" Local authorities are on average answering, "We will have 80 per cent housing for rent and we will have 20 per cent low cost home ownership initiatives. If that is the answer coming back from the local authorities to the Housing Corporation then we see no reason to change that. I think one of the things we would be worried about would be new initiatives, new specific programmes that focus wholly on what we might call key worker groups, if you like, or starter home initiates, that kind of thing. Clearly there is a place for those kinds of initiatives, but Shelter is here, Shelter works with people in temporary accommodation, people in bed and breakfast hotels, families sharing rooms (all of them in one room and sharing the bathroom and kitchen) sometimes not able to stay in that hotel during the day. Those are absolutely appalling conditions and it is those that we must make sure future additional affordable housing goes to meet.

Chris Grayling

  221. Can I just pick you up on what you said about 80 per cent for rent. The local authorities may be giving that feedback and I appreciate where you come from, but the reality is that in those parts of the country where there is a housing problem, the housing problem relates to key workers and the lack of ability to get people into the key industries. As a nation we have plenty of housing stock, it is just in the wrong place. Do you think that simply taking feedback from local authorities is right? Should we not actually be going to the groups of key workers who are having problems with housing and finding out what they really want. I question whether teachers want Housing Association houses for rent.
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) I slightly hesitate to say that there is a better source of this information than the local authority. The local authority is under a statutory obligation to prepare a housing strategy; an annual housing investment programme and statement must be prepared.

Chairman

  222. There is a bit of a problem, is there not? It appears that each local authority goes for this 20/80 split, but there is no logic that the same situation applies right across the country. It appears that the local authorities think that is a convenient figure to put down. Surely someone ought to be doing a little more work to say, "Is that right? And should it not be varying in different parts of the country?"
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) I believe that the guidance given by central government and government regional offices to local authorities does encourage local authorities to consider the whole of the housing market in the area in which they work. That encouragement is quite explicit. They do ask explicit questions, saying "Have you considered the position of key workers in your area?" I do not know if there are studies which say "Yes, and those needs are generally ignored by local authorities or local authorities are overwhelmingly focussed on the very bottom of the market and they are ignoring other strata". I believe rather that councillors—just as much perhaps as members of Parliament—face requests and points from their constituents saying "I am a teacher, a nurse, unable to house myself locally". I do not know that the evidence is there, that local authorities are just ignoring that tranche of unmet need for houses. I think 20/80 is the split we stay with.

Sir Paul Beresford

  223. Do you think there are regional differences in demand and they relate to the speed of the regional economies and that the Government—perhaps the DTI—has an overall role to try to calm some of the overheated economies and try to move the economy in some of the other areas up, especially bearing in mind the empty housing report which came out recently?
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) We obviously recognise that argument and the fact that the economy is performing at different levels in different parts of the country. I think we must avoid the mistake of saying that we will use the housing market or housing investment programmes as a way of, if you like, encouraging people to move into the northern regions. People will chose to live where they can find jobs until those jobs move. I think we have to continue accepting that that is where the housing need is arising and that is where the housing programmes need to go.

  224. One of the problems with what you are suggesting is that we are actually going to stoke the economies in some of the areas because we are putting in more housing so that the south east, for example, is going to disappear under housing while the north east is going to be essentially abandoned.
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) I do not know if we are going to come back to questions of greenfield development and things like that.

  Chairman: I think we will reach that, do not worry.

Ms King

  225. Can I ask a question on the key workers? What is Shelter's view of the Government's proposals to give key workers, say, £10,000 for a deposit? What is Shelter's view on that?
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) As a mechanism for enabling key workers to meet their own housing needs and to go out there and compete on the market I think that is a perfectly legitimate mechanism. We have a concern with it, though, which is that if you imagine that key worker buying that property that they previously could not afford, that means that somebody else is not buying that property and that somebody else would have maybe been buying outright without subsidy. You basically cascade down and somebody drops off the bottom. I think the key worker programmes which we would like to see would be key worker programmes that actually deliver additional affordable housing. For example, in Wales you can deliver key worker housing where you build something for sale, you then sell it to someone who comes with a discount and you actually add to the housing stock. That is vital to these programmes.

  226. I think you have answered the problem of whether you feel that people on moderate incomes have a right to assistance with housing. You have said that yes, 20 per cent of the money should be going towards them
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) Yes. Again, to come back to the earlier point, if that is what local housing strategists are saying is wanted.

Mr Betts

  227. I suppose one of the fears people have is thinking back to the 1960's when very large sums of money were made available for social housing and certain things went slightly wrong. How are we going to avoid those mistakes this time if we get not really a high level of spending on providing social housing, but that spending coming very quickly into the system?
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) One thing to say that is positive about the 1960's is that a significant housing need was identified, recognised and something was done about it. That investment was made available and those properties were provided. I think it is what happened subsequently which is maybe the thing we need to focus on, which is that over time the management of the properties and management of the area over time and the management of the estates and the repair and maintenance of those estates suffered under cutbacks. I think we now have stock which, a few years ago, the figure being attached to it was £20 billion pounds' worth of disrepair. That is a long term outcome of management neglect over the years. If we do these programmes now we need to make sure we are building good quality but also that we manage it carefully into the future.

  228. I think we can probably accept that in the long term management and maintenance was not sufficient, but were not many of the problems from an initial stage? The design was wrong and the construction was wrong. That led on then to problems with management and maintenance. There were initial mistakes made. How do we avoid those this time? We have been told that there are not sufficient construction workers, there are not the skills in the industry so the pressures are going to do other things that might lead to taking shortcuts.
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) I believe that some of those lessons have been very clearly learned. The emphasis within regeneration programmes is for mixed tenure, is for careful estate management, is for careful management of the environment as well as the housing. I think those lessons have been taken on board. I think it is clear that when new housing programmes come forward the providers will be careful not to build the monolithic poorly designed estates that they did in the past. I think those lessons have been learned; we can be confident that the mistakes will not be made again.

  229. If you are going to get £1.7 billion extra, how long do you think it will take for the industry to be geared up to spend that sort of extra money? It is not going to be one year, is it? (Mr Alastair Jackson) I think that is a question for the industry experts.

Chairman

  230. You must have a view. It is not fair to keep ducking the question.
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) Construction output is at a bit of an all time low at the moment. I think there must be capacity within there to actually get back to a higher level.

Mr Betts

  231. We have been told there is not. We have been told there is a shortage of skilled workers.
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) There are also new construction and design techniques that will allow you to build in a different way. I believe you have heard evidence from the Peabody Trust, for example.

  232. So the £1.7 billion is predicated on more pre-fabrication, is it?
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) As one of the solutions, yes. And also to get more out of the existing construction industry. I believe there is capacity there, that we are at an all time low at the moment for construction.

Mrs Dunwoody

  233. In an industry which has demonstrated that firstly it is totally fragmented, secondly it is not meeting the needs, thirdly it has not got the skills, why do you think there is capacity there?
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) We are at a level of low output at the moment within the industry. There is capacity there for the industry to—

  234. What do you base that on?
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) From current housing and construction statistics, current output levels.

Chris Grayling

  235. But there is a shortage of skills, for example, across southern England where quite a significant proportion of the new affordable houses will have to be built. There is a desperate shortage even at relatively low levels of construction of skilled craftsmen. Where do you get the people to actually build the houses?

Ms King

  236. Can I add that there is answer to that.
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) The industry obviously needs to look to its skills levels, look to its own employment levels, look to—

  Mrs Dunwoody: But you do not know where the capacity is?

Ms King

  237. I wonder if Shelter has a view on this. You might know that Victoria Park and Bethnal Green Housing Association have just launched a new scheme which uses the same materials throughout the entire construction of the house so only one skill is required. I opened it last week and it was an astonishing standard. I was absolutely amazed. I am asking Shelter do you know of schemes such as that and would you put any faith in them?
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) Peabody has shown that this is possible through their Murray Grove estate, for example. They have come forward with modular construction. The Housing Forum which is being sponsored by the Housing Corporation have come forward with quite serious proposals for factory built, factory made, assembled on site construction methods. This is not actually just about modular units bolted together; this is about panel construction of housing which is very well done, very well put together on the site.

Chairman

  238. Let us be quite clear. You are talking about needing £1.7 billion extra money to be spent. That is, as you say, on the basis of need. Are you really confident that the Housing Corporation, the local authorities and the construction industry could spend that sort of money to meet the problem if it was available?
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) Yes, I am confident that they could gear up to spend that kind of money if it is made available. I am confident that that can happen.

Sir Paul Beresford

  239. Is it not a disadvantage that Shelter has not built anything?
  (Mr Alastair Jackson) Over time Shelter has actually set up a number of housing associations. That is something we did back in the 1960's and 1970's. We do share expertise. We do talk to housing association providers. We are aware of what is going on in the construction industry about how you do meet the capacity. The construction industry is perfectly well aware of its own inability to recruit skilled labour because of what it is offering. The construction industry is looking hard at doing something about that.


 
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