Examination of Witnesses (Questions 559-579)|
WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2001
559. Can I welcome you to this the final session
of the Committee on this inquiry and ask you to identify yourselves
for the record?
(Mr Montgomery) I am Joseph Montgomery, Director General
of the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit.
(Ms Wallace) I am Moira Wallace, Head of the Social
Exclusion Unit in the Cabinet Office.
560. Do either of you want to make a statement
or are you happy for us to go straight to questions?
(Ms Wallace) I would like to say a little
something if I may. I wanted to say that our main involvement
with the issues you are confronting has been through the work
we did in developing the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy which
is now being implemented by the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit which
we handed over in the spring this year. That is the main basis
on which I feel I am here.
561. Do you want to say anything, Mr Montgomery?
(Mr Montgomery) Only that as a new unit we are keen
to embrace these issues and to respond to the questions you have.
562. Is it a mistake to focus on neighbourhoods
rather than wider areas?
(Mr Montgomery) I would have said certainly not. There
are severe pockets of deeply ingrained deprivation that might
otherwise be lost in a larger city but which are keenly felt in
specific neighbourhoods. There are neighbourhoods where a whole
range of social illspoor health, deeply ingrained joblessness,
high crimeall coincide to mean that the people living in
those neighbourhoods have an incredibly poor standard of life
and experience considerably reinforced difficulties over and above
any limited income that they have.
563. In Liverpool the New Deal for Communities
is focussing on the Kensington and Smithtown wards. Can you realistically
deal with that without looking at what is happening in the city
centre, neighbouring areas and indeed the new house building on
the outskirts of Liverpool?
(Mr Montgomery) No, I do not think it would be possible
to address the needs of the Kensington area or the needs of that
particular NDC area even though we have given Kensington NDC a
significant amount of resource to make a start with those problems.
Those problems have to be addressed in the wider context of the
city's renewal and regeneration strategy and we fully expect that
the local neighbourhood renewal strategy published by the emerging
local strategic partnership for Liverpool would come in behind
that and support the work of the NDC in Kensington.
564. There is some evidence that when there
is more economic prosperity in declining neighbourhoods people
want to move out rather than stay. How do you approach that in
terms of neighbourhood renewal?
(Mr Montgomery) The classic problem of renewal and
regeneration programmes in the past has been that everybody they
have helped in a deprived neighbourhood has left that neighbourhood
as soon as their prospects have improved because their housing
choice has broadened. What we hope to do through programmes like
Neighbourhood Management, through the introduction of street and
neighbourhood wardens, is to improve the livability of deprived
neighbourhoods so that people who may find improved prospects
do not feel so quickly compelled to move away.
565. When you are looking at and defining neighbourhood
how do you reconcile the interests of people who want to remain
in a neighbourhood which is seen to be in decline with the interests
of those who you might want to bring in? In Kensington, for example,
you deal with the communities in the area. There is a great deal
of concern that some of the improvements being spoken about are
designed to bring better-off people into the neighbourhood at
the expense of those who are living there now. How do you deal
with situations like that?
(Mr Montgomery) There always has to be genuine concern
that people who may have been decanted from a regeneration area
are talked to properly and honestly about the right to return,
but at the same time if we are to have balanced and sustainable
communities then it certainly ought to be admissible that we have
a broadening of the range of families living in an area because
there needs to be sufficient spending power to sustain local parades
of shops, there needs to be a sufficient range of families that
can sustain boards of school governors and mixed and balanced
communities have a better chance of weathering economic downturns.
I would always argue for balanced and mixed communities wherever
possible, though respecting the need to be fair to people who
have asked for the right to return as part of any decanting exercise.
566. Can you think of any ways in which we could
cross boundaries on this issue because problems do not stop at
the end of an avenue or a street which is ring-fenced for the
renewal programme? How do you approach that situation where there
could be extending problems in a community?
(Mr Montgomery) There is always a trade-off and a
balance to be struck between concentrating resources on tightly
focused neighbourhoods and being realistic about the fact that
those problems may not end at the specific boundary of the programme's
catchment area. We have operated a regime that has been fairly
relaxed about funding specific initiatives, schools, community
centres, that may be on the hinterland or just outside the boundaries
of some of the target neighbourhoods. At the same time the more
you spread the funding the more you dilute its impact.
567. We have situations where youths from other
areas congregate in a particular neighbourhood, so it is important
that we try and occupy the time of the youths in their own areas
rather than allow them to congregate or assemble in the area where
the renewal starts. How do you approach that situation? Have you
thought about that?
(Mr Montgomery) We have certainly thought about the
fact that whenever you survey people living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods
they complain about two sets of things. They complain about the
general detritus, the street scene, the quality of the environment
outside their homes, and they also complain about the absence
of facilities for young people. I think that the Neighbourhood
Renewal Strategy through making flexible resource available both
through the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund and directly to specific
communities through programmes like Neighbourhood Management and
New Deal for Communities has made it possible for some communities
to increase the availability of services for young people. To
deal with the other aspect of your question, we have not operated
boundaries rigidly in recognition of the very issue that you are
568. Is this advice passed down to local authorities?
(Mr Montgomery) It is, and to the local community
Sir Paul Beresford
569. In many of the areas that I have seen that
have had successful regeneration the key factor has been increasing
home ownership, particularly low cost home ownership. Do you agree
(Mr Montgomery) This is a similar issue to that described
in Kensington. If people have a continuing stake in their communities
they may well be more likely to participate in community life
more generally and an area that has a continuing succession of
transient families has precious little wherewithal to turn around
the problems that it faces. I would always say that communities
that have families which have a continuing stake in the quality
of life, the vibrancy of local institutions there, will have a
better prospect of fighting their way out of decline.
570. Can I take that as a yes? On that assumption
can I also assume therefore that you are using the private sector
to bring their expertise on funding into exactly that area?
(Mr Montgomery) Yes and yes.
571. The National Strategy for Neighbourhood
Renewal has this commitment to turn round the incidence of low
demand by 2010. Have you got the powers and resources to achieve
(Mr Montgomery) Certainly the DTLR, who own the target
that we will monitor, is committed to being able to turn round
substandard social housing by 2010 and it is looking forward to
the detailed analysis of the product of HIP returns to allow it
to pinpoint specific areas where low demand is becoming a deeper
problem. As for whether they have the resources to be able to
deal with all of this, it partly depends on the scale of the problem
as it turns out both from the HIP returns and from the forthcoming
product of the English House Condition Survey.
572. You seem to target only social housing.
Is that realistic when we are looking at low demand in a declining
community? Should it be any housing? If it is owner-occupied housing
and you find that people are walking away from it on the basis
is that not a problem?
(Mr Montgomery) It is and it has been a problem. It
needs to be fully quantified through the survey that I have just
mentioned. I do not know whether DTLR has all of the reasons that
it might wish to specifically target on privately owned stock.
573. In your view from the knowledge you have
so far and the experience of going round the country looking at
areas, is it realistic to try and save every one of these areas
or should we be trying to address what happens to these areas
or allow those to decline as well as we could manage and start
concentrating about what areas where resources might well have
a bigger impact and there might be a bigger chance of saving them?
(Mr Montgomery) I would not take the view that we
should passively allow them to decline. I think that even in a
situation where you had said that demolition is warranted it ought
to be actively managed as part of the strategy to pull together
not only by the housing authority but by the Housing Corporation
with the involvement of the RDA also.
574. Do you think the department actually understands
that at present, that they may be faced with quite a bit job in
managing the effective decline and demolition of a lot of areas?
(Mr Montgomery) I know colleagues have looked closely
at the M62 study and the market renewal bids that are starting
to come through. I think the scale of the problem is coming home
575. Are you sure you are not really looking
at the wrong areas? You are actually looking at the worst areas,
are you not? Would it not be better to pump in a substantial amount
of government money to those areas which are just on the brink
where perhaps you can turn them round much more effectively?
(Mr Montgomery) This is one of the inevitable conundrums.
Much of the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal focused
on the need for work that was preventative in nature. At the same
time there are neighbourhoods that have been allowed to decline
so sharply that it would be wrong for us to fail to intervene
to assist them.
576. How quickly do you think a neighbourhood
can go down?
(Mr Montgomery) I think with massive job layoffs and
with some of the other problems that can be generated as a consequence
of the rapid changes in a local economy an area can edge towards
decline really rather quickly.
577. What do you call rather quickly?
(Mr Montgomery) I think certainly within a year to
a two-year period in areas where, for example, on a recent visit
to Burnley, they were telling me about 1,200 jobs having been
lost in the last two months. I think those kinds of blows can
inflict severe damage on a city but particularly on a specific
578. We got some evidence when we were looking
particularly in Manchester and Bootle that some neighbourhoods
were going down within a matter of a few months. You get one particularly
difficult family moving into a street and it can almost clear
the street. Are you in a position to respond quickly enough to
those sorts of situations to stop decline where suddenly the market
falls and the owner occupiers are caught with very substantial
(Mr Montgomery) I think in those areas where we have
specific machinery on the ground we can make a definite contribution.
We do not through the Neighbourhood Renewal Programmes have national
coverage. We have 20 Neighbourhood Pathfinder areas, 39 New Deal
for Communities areas and some significant contributions going
through local authorities to 88 local authorities receiving £900
million of Neighbourhood Renewal funding. We do not have a national
coverage so I do not think we could claim to be able to attack
that problem all over the country.
579. A drop in the ocean?
(Mr Montgomery) A significant contribution to an acute