Examination of Witnesses(Questions 160-172)|
TUESDAY 22 OCTOBER 2002
160. What about the idea of centres of excellence
in the Urban White Paper which do not appear to have happened?
(Mr Rouse) The good news is that I think the first
regional centre of excellence will be off the ground in April
2003 which is in the West Midlands, so there is some light a the
end of the tunnel.
161. That is hardly good news. It is a long
way off, is it not?
(Mr Rouse) It is and I have to say that it has taken
far too long and it is not clear who is actually providing the
resources for those centres.
162. Wait a minute. It has to be put there and
it has to be there for 2003 but you do not know who is paying
(Mr Rouse) In that case, it is Advantage West Midlands,
but under a certain amount of duress in terms of that investment.
Clearly, regional centres of excellence have not got off the ground
quickly enough and there is no guarantee that they are going to
get off the ground quickly enough in all the regions where they
are needed. That is why we are saying that if that has not worked,
maybe we need a national co-ordination, a national unit
163. There is a great feeling in some quarters
that there should be quicker planning decisions in order to get
things moving. Could that possibly compromise the designs for
quality that you have if we go down that route too far?
(Mr Rouse) Yes.
164. And indeed quite a lot of them say, "Actually,
we cannot effect some of these decisions because we cannot influence
the planners and, in the end, our powers under planning law are
quite limited in what we can do for design."
(Mr Rouse) That is all absolutely correct and we need
to put less emphasis on the speed of decision-making and more
on the quality of decision-making. To do that, we need proper
evaluation of local planning authorities' performance on the basis
of what they have allowed to be built. We need to strengthen PPG1
so that local planning authorities have more confidence to turn
down poor design. The words are not strong enough at the moment
to give them confidence to do that and they often get overturned
on appeal, which then diminishes their confidence even further.
So, all those things need to be addressed.
(Mr Robinson) If you are a developer who is constrained
by time, you are well aware that a mediocre proposal will get
through the planning process faster than one which might be more
ambitious in design terms. So I do think that ensuring that the
process is reasonably speedy will be hugely beneficial to good
design as well.
165. May we just talk about tenure. I assume
that you are no longer building these massive single tenure council
estates. Everyone talks about "mixed communities", but
have we learned how to do that yet?
(Mr Robinson) I think the issue is less about the
tenure of individual relevance and more about mixed neighbourhoods.
There are very few large social housing developments going up
which are exclusively social rented housing currently. They tend
to be mixed with market sales shared ownership. There is a whole
growth of intermediate tenures, ideas around housing key workers,
intermediate rent levels and so on and so forth. So, I think it
is the case that we are very unlikely to see very large social
166. My own view is that most key workers do
not really want to rent, they want to buy. Do you think that the
housing associations in particular and perhaps the Government,
the system if you like, really understand that and do you think
housing associations put enough emphasis on buying to sell on
or building to sell on as opposed to building to rent?
(Mr Robinson) I think the issue about key workers
is that the term is being used too loosely to embrace too wide
a range of people. If you take key workers, for example bus drivers
working in London, they have no hope of buying their own homes.
They do not earn enough money and they are not on a career path
as a teacher might be where they can see increasing earnings and
so on. They need access to social rented housing. That is what
167. Who do?
(Mr Robinson) Bus drivers and people who are earning
£15,000 per annum. People who are on a career path, key workers
in the health service, the fire service or police force, aspire
to own their own home and we must find ways, if there are not
already ways, of actually taking them into home ownership through
shared ownership, through home buying and other products which
are increasingly available and provided by housing associations.
168. You say "we must", but my question
was, is it happening?
(Mr Robinson) It is happening to a greater extent
than it used to, but the shared ownership half of the Housing
Corporation programme has always been relatively modest compared
with social renting and this comes directly, in my view, from
the influence of local authorities who are much more preoccupied
by the cost of their bed and breakfast bills for homeless families
than they are with helping key workers into home ownership.
169. You have talked a lot about lifetime costs.
What are you really talking about? Are you talking about the service
charge that really tenants should be paying in a number of these
(Mr Rouse) No, I think we are looking at it in a broader
sense than that. We are looking at a measurement for the overall
benefits and costs of a particular form of development over its
lifetime and, taking into account all those costs and benefits
in the appraisal of whether the scheme should be funded rather
than just having a crude TCI and 110 per cent flexibility limit
around it, which tells you virtually nothing about how that home
is going to perform over its lifetime.
170. If you look at most of the successful regeneration
in the centre of Manchester and Birmingham, most of that has gone
to middle class households who have been prepared to pay pretty
high service charges. Is it possible to have that level of service
charge? In other words, paying the day-to-day maintenance of some
of these high density housing estates?
(Mr Robinson) I think it is. I think
it has implications for the initial capital cost basically because
you need to design homes which are not going to need elements
to be replaced in the short term. You need to think about the
durability of windows, for example, and the lift installations
themselves, for example. All of these things, if they are carefully
designed and designed with that sense that those elements must
have a long life, then I think it is OK. It is when you have to
start replacing them too soon that it boosts the service charge.
171. Is there not a major cost in keeping bits
clean and smelling sweet and making sure that waste removal systems
are maintained at a high standard? Is that not expensive?
(Mr Robinson) That is expensive but, on the other
hand, if you look at the wider economy, having that greater density,
making better use of land in central locations, it may well be
that in fact people are making more use of public transport rather
than owning their own homes and so on and so forth. I do not think
it could detach the argument
172. I accept the argument that there are benefits
from it. I am asking you, is it possible to raise the money to
pay service charges if you are already paying significant rents?
(Mr Robinson) Yes, it is.
Chairman: Thank you very much for your evidence.