Examination of Witnesses(Questions 124-139)|
TUESDAY 22 OCTOBER 2002
124. Can I welcome you to a further session
of the Committee's inquiry into affordable housing and ask you
to identify yourselves for the record, please.
(Mr Rouse) I am Jon Rouse, the Chief Executive of
(Mr Robinson) I am Dickon Robinson; I am CABE Commissioner
and Director of Development in the Peabody Trust.
125. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction
or are you happy to go straight to questions?
(Mr Rouse) Sir, just a few words of introduction.
CABE is on a threshold of working much more closely with the affordable
housing sector than we have done in the past. The Housing Corporation
have just invited us to enter into a service level agreement with
them and provide design advice over the next two years or so and
that will include being a Design Advisor to their Challenge Fund,
it will involve enabling individual projects around the country
on a demonstration basis and it actually involves some work with
our European partners as well to swop best practice. We are now
getting to know the industry as we find it and that is what we
will really be discussing this morning.
126. Do you agree that most social housing is
of pretty low quality and low density too, and why do you believe
that is the case?
(Mr Robinson) I do not think I would agree with that.
I think there is some very good social housing and there is also
some poor social housing and far too much in the middle. The challenge
for us is how to raise the quality of the new social housing that
we are building. I think the real issue is that there is not enough
emphasis on the quality of social housing and that there is too
much emphasis on the cost of social housing and, in that sense,
the funding regimes for social housing put a lot of emphasis on
keeping the cost as low as possible.
127. Why do you believe that people want to
live in high density because, at the weekend, there was extensive
press coverage about the fact that the vast majority of people's
aspirations is to live in a bungalow?
(Mr Robinson) I think the short answer is that most
people want to live in neighbourhoods which they would regard
as attractive and desirable and, where those neighbourhoods are
in, let us say, central areas, here we are in Westminster, for
example, people are very happy and quite prepared to tolerate
high density living in order to live in Westminster. They would
not take the same attitude if they wanted to live in a village
in Berkshire, Wiltshire or Devon. The issue regarding density
is one of appropriateness. It needs to be appropriate for the
part of the town or city in which people are living and, if it
is inappropriate, then people are naturally going to reject it.
128. The Government state that they are planning
to embark on a major building programme for affordable housing.
How concerned are you that we may run the risk of repeating all
the mistakes of the 1960s?
(Mr Rouse) The starting point for us is that we welcome
the programme of investing in affordable housing in the parts
of the country that need affordable housing desperately. We have
a housing crisis on our hands. We are building at the lowest level
since 1924. We can see, in terms of the probable industrial action
with firefighters, railways, et cetera, that there is a desperate
need for key worker and social housing in the South East of England,
so we will have to get on with it. That is the first point I have
to make. Clearly we are concerned about quality and we want to
see the Government actually inject into the mechanisms they are
setting up some safeguards. For example, we would expect new schemes
to be evaluated for their design quality, either through the planning
system or through the funding system if they are in receipt of
public subsidy, and that means you have to have people who understand
design issues but also lay people who are going to have to live
in those houses involved in that evaluation process.
129. Would you like to comment on whether or
not you consider that registered social landlords are perhaps
the right vehicle to deliver this new affordable housing?
(Mr Robinson) Registered social landlords have a long-term
interest in what they build and create. They are going to be responsible
for maintaining it and for managing it for many years. I think
it is absolutely crucial that they are responsible for providing
that housing. It is one of the real problems with relying on Section
106 deals in which private developers build social housing as
part of the planning deal. The social housing organisations are
disenfranchised from many key and important decisions which actually
make those homes desirable for people to live in and be attractive
over time. I think the really important thing is that you have
talked about lessons and everything and about the way in which
social housing is funded is short term. It is all about meeting
annual spend targets. It is all about getting families out of
bed and breakfast to cut down on bed and breakfast bills. These
are all real and important things, but the realityand this
is particularly true about housingis that those homes are
going to be there for probably at least 100 years. It is crucial
that we take a long-term view, that we care and we invest time,
trouble and effort in getting them right in the first place because,
if we do not, the cost to society over time is huge and enormous,
as we have seen.
130. You have explained to us in relation to
the Housing Corporation. How should the Housing Corporation ensure
that the developments which it funds are of a higher quality?
(Mr Rouse) The first thing is that there has to be
a generosity in terms of the funding that is given. The problem
at the moment is that right from the top of the tree
131. What do you call a generosity?
(Mr Rouse) I will not get into that level of detail,
but if we just look at the system as it stands at the moment,
from the Treasury downwards, they are setting output measures
which are based on a benchmark which is not best practice and
which is not a high enough quality home in a high enough quality
environment. That then gets translated into the total cost indices.
The Housing Corporation has just reduced again the flexibility
within those TCIs, it is now down to 110 per cent. If you are
constantly putting in cost pressures on housing associations,
it is very difficult for them to respond in terms of high quality
solutions and in terms of innovation and flexibility. We believe
at CABE that there is almost a lowest cost residual mentality
within the social housing sector. It has not moved on to a best
value framework in the same way that certain
132. How would cross-subsidy schemes operate?
(Mr Rouse) Some of them already successfully operate.
For example, the work of Maritime Housing Association in Liverpool
who actually step outside the Housing Corporation funding system
to allow them to build market housing, actually some quite expensive
market housing, within the same scheme as rented affordable housing
and use one to cross-subsidise the other. At the current time,
as you will find when you ask the Housing Corporation, it is quite
difficult to do that within existing Housing Corporation funding
133. On this question of funding, is the problem
that the funding limits imposed by the Housing Corporation lead
registered social landlords to maximise the number of homes, but
skimp on quality and design?
(Mr Rouse) Yes.
134. Is there a way that this could be addressed?
(Mr Rouse) Yes, more flexibility and looking at schemes
on a more individual level in terms of what they offer over the
lifetime of that scheme. So, looking not just at the short-term
capital cost, but actually how those homes are going to operate
on a socio-economic level across their whole lifetime. What the
management and maintenance costs are going to be
135. How does this fall in with the Government's
policy of density and the fact that they want to have high density
but good quality design? How does that fall in with the plans
you have mentioned?
(Mr Rouse) Again, if you take a short-term view, it
is possible to argue in a narrow sense that high density schemes
can cost more. For example, the very simple fact that if you have
to introduce a lift to a building that is going above three or
four storeys, then it is clearly going to add cost. However, if
you are looking at it in the wider sense, you are reducing the
cost of infrastructure that you have to provide because you have
more units in the same place and you have increased economic viability
because you have a greater critical mass of population using local
shops, public transport and so on. So we have to take the broadest
136. Can I just press you finally on this question
of the involvement of housing and housing design and the Local
Government Bill. Have you given any thought to the implications
(Mr Rouse) I am sorry, what elements of the Local
137. In the Bill, they do create the situation
that there should be decent standards met for all social housing
(Mr Rouse) We are talking about the decent home standard?
138. Yes. It is included in the Bill that the
Government are proposing. If we are going to impress or improve
the facilities of the Bill, then obviously we must address the
points that they have raised and they are saying that it will
create a financial framework to ensure that decency standards
will be met for all social housing. That refers also to density.
(Mr Robinson) This is primarily an issue for existing
housing stock and setting a benchmark standard to which all owners
of social housing, whether they are local authority or housing
association, should raise the quality of their stock. Actually,
it is quite a low standard and it is certainly significantly lower
than, for example, the Housing Corporation current space and design
139. Will you be making reference to the Bill
and the consultation period itself?
(Mr Rouse) We already have done, in fact. We published
an article in Housing Today just two weeks on this very
issue which we can send you.