Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council (AFH 69)


   Rochdale is located to the north east of the city of Manchester and straddles the trans-Pennine M62. The borough includes not only the town of Rochdale but also Middleton, Heywood, Littleborough, Milnrow, Newhey and Wardle. Between and around the towns and villages are large areas of open space.

  The skyline to the north and east of the borough offers views of open moorland along the Pennine edge while to the south and west are pleasant river valleys, woodlands and meadows.

  Although Rochdale is geographically the second largest of the 10 metropolitan boroughs that make up Greater Manchester, it has the lowest population density, with some 62 square miles shared by a population of more than 200,000. Rochdale has a significant ethnic minority population (about 11 per cent) mainly of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin.

  As at 1 April 2001 the total housing stock in the borough was 88,703. This figure was made up of the following:
Local Authority16,832
Registered Social Landlord5,413
Other Public Sector3,241
Private Sector63,217

  In the Deprivation Indices 2000, for all six summary measures Rochdale Borough ranks between 13 and 42 nationally (and between two and six in Greater Manchester).


The Definition of "affordable"

  The adopted Unitary Development Plan (UDP) for Rochdale defines affordable housing as "that which is available to local people whose incomes do not enable them to buy or rent housing appropriate to their needs on terms generally available on the open market". The wording of this definition has been changed slightly in the draft replacement plan and simply reflects the definition given in Circular 6/98. More local definitions of affordable housing may be developed from local housing needs studies. These more specific, local definitions can then be used in guiding the local requirements for affordable housing eg the relationship between available income and price of appropriate dwellings.

The scale and location of the demand for affordable housing

  Rochdale MBC has used the findings of a boroughwide housing needs survey, its housing waiting list and a recent housing market study to assess the level of demand for additional affordable housing and to identify the priority areas for new provision.

  Whilst the Authority is clear about the priority areas for affordable housing within the borough, development of new homes in these areas is often extremely difficult due to lack of available sites.

  A boroughwide housing needs survey carried out in 1996 indicated that 7,190 households were in housing need.

  Within Rochdale there is a requirement to develop affordable homes which meet the acute housing needs of Rochdale's Asian community. However the limited amount of land in the areas where the majority of the community currently lives means that sites in alternative areas have had to be considered. When developing homes for Asian families outside traditional areas the Local Authority has adopted a multi agency approach to ensure that key services, eg Health, Education, Social Services, etc are available to provide support.

The Quality of affordable housing

  The majority of new affordable housing developed within the Rochdale MBC area is provided by housing associations. As a result the properties built have to meet scheme development standards (SDS) laid down by the Housing Corporation. These standards help to ensure that new properties developed by housing associations are of a good quality.

  The Local Authority currently requires all private developers delivering affordable housing through the implementation of the affordable housing policy to build homes to the Housing Corporation's scheme development standards.

  For a number of years the Council has required all new housing association homes for rent to be developed to the Life Times Homes (LTH) Standards introduced by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. These standards, which exceed the Housing Corporations SDS, ensure that properties can easily be adapted to meet the needs of older and disabled persons.

  One of the original targets within Rochdale's Asian Housing Strategy was the production of a design brief to meet the essential and desirable housing requirements of the borough's Asian community. The brief was drawn up by the Local Authority and Ashiana Housing Association. The Authority requires housing associations to meet the requirements laid down in the design brief when they develop new homes for rent within Inner Rochdale, which is the area of the borough where the majority of the Asian Community currently live.

The adequacy of the existing supply and the level of resources available

  Sixty per cent of current social housing stock within the Rochdale MBC area does not meet the decency standard. Rochdale MBC has ambitious, but achievable plans to ensure that 100 per cent of its stock will meet the decent standard by 2006.

  The 1996 Housing Needs Survey found that 31.6 per cent of all households in the borough were in housing that wasn't suitable for their needs, though not all were in need of affordable housing. Our key concern is that changing demographics mean that much of our affordable housing is no longer meeting need both in terms of design and location.

  The levels of available funding will need to be increased significantly to undertake the level of clearance, refurbishment and redevelopment required in both the public and private housing sectors.

The extent to which planning gain can fund the level of affordable housing required

  It is extremely unlikely that planning gain, ie securing on site provision on private developments, on its own will be able to fund the level of affordable housing required.

  Virtually all new affordable housing developed in the borough is on brown field sites. The development of such sites is often expensive and it is therefore unlikely that residential schemes would be viable if local authorities sought significant levels of affordable housing from private developers.

  It has been the experience of Rochdale Council that contributions from developers towards on site provision have not been sufficient to meet the full cost of the affordable housing required. Additional funding from a housing association partner or from the Housing Corporation is usually required.

How resources should be balanced between social housing and options for owner occupation for those who cannot afford to buy (including shared ownership) and whether any additional mechanisms are required to bring forward shared ownership-type schemes

  Our housing market study confirmed that in keeping with national trends, the desire and aspiration for owner occupation is strong, particularly amongst the younger generation. Arguably there is an abundant supply of "low cost" terraced housing in the borough which would meet this demand.

  However, evidence from the same study and subsequent area specific research has demonstrated a growing dissatisfaction with the style and concentrations of terraced housing within Rochdale. Our need is therefore to restructure areas of dense housing by removal of some of the poorer quality stock and replacement with lower density modern stock. In partnership with Oldham, Bolton and Manchester we are currently developing detailed proposals on how to ensure that home ownership is accessible to relatively low income householders in our housing regeneration areas.

  We are particularly interested in adopting the "Homebuy" model along the lines suggested by the recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation report—Swamps and Alligators. We are also looking at "gap" funding and risk sharing with developers. Further details of these initiatives are available on request.

Whether targets in Regional Planning Guidance (RPG) are appropriate

  The draft RPG for the North West included an estimate that around 30 per cent of all new homes built in the region between 1996 and 2021 may need to be affordable. A recommendation in the Report of the Panel following the Examination in Public (EIP) of the draft RPG, stated that even this indicative target should be removed. This is in line with Government advice in Planning Policy Guidance Note 11 "Regional Planning", which states that "Regional targets [for affordable housing] are inappropriate since assessments of housing need are matters for local authorities to undertake in the light of their local circumstances."

  We concur with this approach as regional variance may be so great as to render such targets, however indicative, meaningless. Such targets could also be restrictive or overbearing depending upon local affordable housing requirements and the need to realise other planning objectives which may be a priority in the area.

Whether targets on decent and affordable housing will be met by central and local government

  Rochdale MBC would not have been able to meet the Government's target regarding decency standards for social housing if it had not switched the management of its housing stock to an arms length management organisation.

  Switching the management of the housing stock to an ALMO will provide the level of funding required to carry out the improvement works necessary to ensure that all the Council properties meet the decency standards set by the Government.

  There is evidence to suggest that the number of affordable housing units being secured on sites is less than the number required. However, it does take some time for local policies to be developed to a level where more significant results in terms of affordable housing will start to come through. Another issue is that affordable housing can only come forward on sites of a certain size. If the housing supply for a local authority area is made up of predominately smaller sites then the potential to secure affordable units is reduced.

Whether current policies and practices are leading to the creation of mixed communities

  One of the key areas of advice within revised PPG3 was the need for local authorities to develop policies which promote mixed and balanced communities. It is likely that, like ourselves, many authorities are only now formulating policies to take account of this advice and so it may be some time before we start to see the results. In Rochdale recent housing development has seen schemes which incorporate a high proportion of three and four bed detached dwellings. Whilst this is necessary to some extent to increase housing choice in the borough, (as with many authorities in the North West there is a high number of smaller, terraced properties), it has led to large areas of housing with similar characteristics. Hopefully future policy and supplementary planning guidance will help to create new estates which are more distinctive and incorporate a range of housing in terms of type, size and tenure to reflect local demand. A key challenge will be to incorporate affordable housing within the scheme in a way which would make visitors to the scheme unable to differentiate between the affordable and standard housing units.

  Segregation of communities along racial lines was highlighted as a concern in a number of reports following the disturbances in several northern towns last year.

  The reports mentioned a number of communities that have been segregated on racial grounds in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford and this segregation was creating a barrier to promoting "community cohesion and racial harmony".

  The Cantle report specifies that the "principles of a new citizenship" should be used to drive a more coherent approach to housing services. Housing and planning practice would feed into an essentially social agenda for mixed communities. Cantle observes that the impact of housing policies on community cohesion "seems to have escaped serious consideration to date", in contrast to the substantial amount of work on equal opportunities regarding access to social housing.

  In Rochdale we have successfully developed a "mixed" housing scheme working in partnership with Northern Counties Housing Association, Ashiana Housing Association and the Surma Housing Co-operative.

  It is our view that in towns and cities with significant BME population social landlords should give priority to developing mixed housing schemes to promote social cohesion.

  We support the recommendation in the Cantle report (see below) and urge the sub-committee to consider introducing a mechanism to encourage and promote "mixed" housing schemes when capital allocations for new social housing are made.

  Recommendation in the Cantle Report regarding mixed housing schemes:

    "Housing agencies must urgently assess their allocation systems and development programmes with a view to ensuring more contact between different communities and to reducing tension. They must also consider the impact on other services, such as youth provision and health. It is also essential that more ambitious and creative strategies are developed to provide more mixed housing areas, with supportive mechanisms for minorities facing intimidation and harassment".

  The impact of housing policies and programmes on school catchment areas in particular, should be subject to review and a significant part of each local Community Cohesion Strategy.

Whether more green field development is needed to meet housing needs

  In the case of Rochdale Borough, the draft replacement UDP does not envisage the need to release any new greenfield sites over the period of the Plan. It is anticipated that the RPG requirement for Rochdale can be met through current commitments, brown field windfalls, conversions and a relatively small number of brown field allocations. We believe that restricting green field development is necessary to achieve urban regeneration objectives by making more efficient use of previously developed land and buildings within the urban area.

  A large proportion of the new households forecasted to be formed in Rochdale over the next 15 years will come from the growing Asian community, which is located predominately within the inner wards. The needs of these households are unlikely to be met by green field extensions to the urban area. Instead we need to tackle issues of inappropriate housing within the inner areas of the towns within the borough, through clearance and renewal, in order to develop a stock of housing which meets the needs of local people and requirements for modern living.

The cost to individuals

  The consequences of any shortfall in the provision of decent, affordable housing can vary significantly depending on the circumstances of individual households. In Rochdale we have a significant number of households in the inner part of the borough living in grossly overcrowded conditions. A typical example of an overcrowded household would be a family of two adults and five children living in a two up, two down terraced house.

  In such circumstances there is evidence to show that children from overcrowded families achieve low attainment in schools as they often struggle to find any "quiet space" in their home to do their homework.

  There is also evidence that:

    —  the health of family members suffers due to overcrowding and in particular the incidence of asthma is greater than the average household;

    —  some young people who are sharing bedrooms are no longer prepared to tolerate this and are running away from their family home.

  As a local authority we feel that adverse housing conditions have a profound detrimental affect on the health, educational attainment and social well-being of individuals. There is also a potential negative affect on the economy where there is a shortfall in the provision of decent affordable housing. We therefore urge the sub-committee to do all it can to ensure that every effort is made by the relevant agencies to address this issue.

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Prepared 1 July 2002