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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 302-319)




  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.

Mr Cummings

  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 of living.

  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 housing.


  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 communities.

Chris Grayling

  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.

Mr Cummings

  310. That brings me on to the next question. Do current conurbation-wide or regional strategies try to reconcile these issues?
  (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 flourishing—even overheating—housing markets. That brings in the problem of afford ability in those areas.

  311. Does the Government Regional Office enforce these strategies?
  (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 housing strategy.

  313. The question was—a specific question—does 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.

Mr Betts

  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 cases—you can buy it in your pub almost; £2,000 for a terraced house—and 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 have—if it comes into legislation—community 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.

Chris Grayling

  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 London—when the London market was nothing like as overheated as it is today—that 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 communities there.

Ms King

  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 housing—say in Hackney or Tower Hamlets that are going for a quarter of a million pounds—and 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 borough—because we are developing a strategy to tackle black and ethnic minority housing needs—is 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.

Chris Grayling

  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.

Mr Cummings

  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 rural communities.
  (Mr Darling) I can just speak for the district that we represent.

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