Examination of Witnesses (Questions 302-319)|
TUESDAY 2 JULY 2002
302. Can I welcome you all to the final session
this morning. Can I ask you to identify yourselves for the record.
(Mr Khan) I am Mushtaq Khan. I work for
Trafford Council, I am Head of Housing Strategy.
(Mr Muir) I am Mike Muir. I am the Chief Executive
of Impact Housing Association in Cumbria.
(Mr Darling) I am Ian Darling, Chief Executive of
Tynedale Housing Limited in Northumberland.
(Mr Robertson) I am David Robertson, Chief Environmental
Health and Housing officer from Tynedale Council in Northumberland.
303. Do any of you want to say anything by way
of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight to questions?
(Mr Muir) We are happy for you to go straight to questions.
304. Would you define for the Committee what
you understand to be affordable housing?
(Mr Muir) I think it is a combination of home ownership
and rental accommodation that meets the aspirations of local people,
that marries together the local incomes and local values. I think
there is a continuum really with, at one end, rented housing and
at the other end home ownership. As a society and as individuals
we aspire to being somewhere along that continuum. Affordable
housing is, to some extent, perceived by the individual as where
they want to be on that continuum, but as a society I believe
that affordable housing is something that gives consumers choices
and does provide mixed markets and mixed communities.
305. Is that the view shared by the whole group?
(Mr Darling) I think so, yes. I just want to add a
little to it in as much as you cannot just look at affordable
housing without looking at where the housing is and what the income
levels are in that particular district or region.
306. Would the definition vary across the regions?
(Mr Muir) Inevitably. There are very wide variations
in income levels and in values. What would be an affordable house
for example in the central Lake District would be very different
from around Sellafield on the west coast where incomes are probably
three times what they are in the centre of the Park. It depends
very much on local circumstances, particularly on wages and cost
307. What do you believe are the major needs
in terms of affordable housing?
(Mr Muir) The point we are trying to get across here
is that the north west is not the same, there are not large swathes
of terraced housing that are empty, that are boarded up. There
are great needs for affordable housing in the north west and they
vary from area to area so there are pockets of affordable housing
that are required in the low demand areas, but in areas like Trafford
which is a high demand area, there is a great demand for affordable
308. If you take Trafford as an example, within
five miles of some of your areas of high demand in Trafford there
are houses that virtually cannot be given away in north east Manchester.
(Mr Khan) The research that we have done with households
in Trafford is that the people in Trafford do not want to move
the five miles to where there are large swathes of empty housing.
That housing is, in a lot of cases, inappropriate for their needs.
It is outside their friends and family network. In some cases
it is away from their jobs. In Trafford we do not want to create
areas where we have rich people living in one area and ghettos
of disadvantaged people because they cannot afford to live in
Trafford and are living elsewhere. We want to try and build balanced
309. That is all well and good, but if you have
development pressures in the north west outside the confines of
urban areas, if, within the Greater Manchester area, you have
large swathes of housing that is empty and you have people in
other parts of the city who cannot afford to get onto the housing
ladder and they are looking to the state for assistance in doing
so, surely the state has a right to say "Sorry guys, we don't
have anything here, but we have stock there". (Mr Khan)
Just a couple of points there. The empty housing that is elsewhere
in Greater Manchester is not appropriate for people's needs. It
is empty for a number of reasons: because it is in the wrong areas,
it is inappropriate, they might be sheltered bedsits, they might
be two up two down pavement terraced housing where people do not
want to live. It might be housing that is inappropriate for the
local community, for example the black and ethnic minority community.
What we are trying to do is to give people the opportunity of
housing they can afford in the areas they want to try to live
and try and build mixed communities.
310. That brings me on to the next question.
Do current conurbation-wide or regional strategies try to reconcile
(Mr Darling) I am speaking from the north east. It
is a very diverse region, very similar to the north west. We need
to ensure that the regional strategy is serviced by sub-regional
strategies and the very robust local authority strategies. There
is an image in the north east of low demand, but having said that
there is changing demand across 18 of the 23 local authority areas.
There are some specific problem areas there. Then we have areas
such as Tynedale and Castle Morpeth in Northumberland where these
rural districts have got flourishingeven overheatinghousing
markets. That brings in the problem of afford ability in those
311. Does the Government Regional Office enforce
(Mr Robertson) They make comments on the strategies.
312. They are all very good at making comments,
but do they take any action to enforce them?
(Mr Robertson) All I can say for the north east region
is that the local authorities, together with the Housing Corporation
and the Government Office North East are developing a regional
313. The question wasa specific questiondoes
the Government Regional Office enforce these strategies? With
whatever powers they may have.
(Mr Robertson) I am not sure whether they have that
power to enforce housing strategies.
314. Have you got a solution to this problem?
We are told there are areas in both your regions where people
do not want to live, the housing is so affordable it is almost
free in some casesyou can buy it in your pub almost; £2,000
for a terraced houseand other areas where there are enormous
pressures, hot spots, where no houses are affordable really because
prices are being driven up all the time. Has there not got to
be a regional strategy to sort it all out? Are you contributing
to that? How do you see the way forward?
(Mr Muir) We welcome the planning green paper which
I think will hopefully address a number of those issues where
we will haveif it comes into legislationcommunity
strategies for each area and local action plans for each smaller
area, where we will have identified the needs for social housing,
affordable housing, low cost home ownership and market renting.
Those will feed into the regional housing strategy as well. So
we will have a very clear framework where everyone is absolutely
clear what local needs are. We can then target resources according
to that balance of relative need between the different types of
accommodation to achieve our economic and social objectives.
315. You appear to be trying to put affordable
housing back in and have strategies for affordable housing in
areas where the market is quite hot. As an example, we went to
Liverpool when we did the Empty Homes report. We looked at a significant
number of properties there that were empty. About a month ago
I saw press coverage that people are beginning to move back into
those areas to do up houses because they are cheap. There are
parts of Londonwhen the London market was nothing like
as overheated as it is todaythat were run down and have
step by step by step been brought back up by people who have moved
into those areas because they are the affordable parts of town
and have actually regenerated the housing stock. It worries me
that you are trying, in a sense, to buck the market in these areas.
If you put affordable housing into one part of town where another
part of the town is falling apart, first of all it seems to me
that that is a misdeployment of resources: it is being used in
areas where there is actually a housing surplus. Secondly, you
cut the legs off any hope that there may be of regenerating those
areas that are unfashionable.
(Mr Khan) I think you have to have a twin track strategy.
You have to tackle the areas where there is low demand and we
have lobbied for the market renewal fund which will, in those
areas of low demand, create some confidence in the area, perhaps
create some brownfield sites, reduce the oversupply in those areas,
build new types of accommodation of the right sort and get rid
of the obsolete or poor quality housing. We do work across boundaries
in the north west. We have had a study done of housing markets
in the region which has nominated the hot spots and the failing
areas and those areas which have already failed and those are
on the edge. We are trying to take a cross boundary review of
housing because housing does not reflect local authority boundaries.
In Trafford we are right next to Manchester. When people cross
the road they cannot tell whether they are in Manchester or Trafford
and we have to try and reflect that in the strategy we try and
produce. We have to tackle the low demand areas as well as looking
at the hot spot areas and try to ensure that we build more mixed
316. Basically on the same point, which is about
whether you are just knocking down neglected affordable housing
rather than making it acceptable to consumers. Obviously when
we look at areas with exactly the same type of housingsay
in Hackney or Tower Hamlets that are going for a quarter of a
million poundsand see it being knocked down in some of
your areas, there is that issue about the mismatch of resources.
Do you have any further comments on it?
(Mr Khan) I think the market conditions in some of
our low demand areas are different than in London. In Trafford
I would say in some cases they are the same, the average house
price in Trafford is greater than a lot of London boroughs, but
in places like Rochdale, Oldham, Blackburn, you have to try and
tackle the causes of why that property is in low demand. It is
about the type of property it is, the area it is in and the population
that it serves.
(Mr Darling) I think what you need is a strategy that
covers all. It needs to have two or three strands to it. It needs
to be flexible enough to deal with the areas where there is low
demand and the properties are no longer in need and then within
the same district of the local authority you have other areas
where there are real hot spots and it is very, very difficult
for properties to be built either for low cost home ownership
or for rented social housing because of the costs of the land
and the costs of development.
317. You said that some of the housing would
not be appropriate for ethnic minority communities. Why would
it be appropriate for white communities?
(Mr Khan) Some of the research we have done in the
boroughbecause we are developing a strategy to tackle black
and ethnic minority housing needsis that the type of accommodation
they require is larger then what we have in place. It needs to
be in the same areas as where there are mosques, food outlets,
things like that. We need to try to look at the type of accommodation
that we have available and the communities that want to live there.
In some cases it is inappropriate for the black and ethnic minorities
because they want larger housing in particular areas and those
are not the areas that are available.
318. Is there not a danger that if you do that
what you are doing is perpetuating the problems we have seen in
some northern towns and creating ghettos? The ethnic communities
that work best in this country seem to be those that are mixed,
where white kids and ethnic kids go to the same schools, play
together, the parents live in the same streets. Where you have
one block of the town that is the Asian area, another block of
town which is a white area, that is when you get the tensions.
Is what you are doing not just perpetuating that?
(Mr Khan) It is if we do it to that extent, but what
we have also found is that a lot of minority communities want
to move out of their areas but simply cannot afford to do so because
there is no affordable housing in the outlying areas and that
is something else we need to tackle. It is about going back to
this twin track approach.
319. Do you truly believe that there is a housing
need in the north? Is the problem not more of quality rather than
quantity? I happen to live in the north east, I live in Easington,
so I have experience of the large conurbations and also the smaller
(Mr Darling) I can just speak for the district that