Examination of Witnesses (Questions 620-639)|
KEEBLE, MP AND
WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2001
620. So the Department supports the concept?
(Ms Keeble) We have not formally reached a decision
on it yet because the submission has come in quite recently. There
are also some issues around the proposals for the Market Renewal
Fund. There are discussions about exactly what the money would
be used for because there are a range of measures they are talking
about using both on capital and on revenue. One of the other factors
would be who would be responsible for such restructuring because
there is a strong feeling that it should not just be the local
authorities, there needs to be a much wider body, and it would
need to be looked at on a sub-regional basis rather than just
a local authority basis. There are quite a lot of issues that
still have to be resolved about the way a Fund would operate and
exactly what it would do. The overwhelming question is obviously
the one about the level of the Fund and that is being looked at
as part of the Spending Review.
621. Looking at this 2010 target, to some extent,
it seems to imply that all areas can be turned round and saved.
Is the reality that in some places with economic decline, jobs
have gone, there are not as many people economically in those
areas, and should we simply accept that is the natural consequence
of economic and social change and areas will decline and wholesale
demolition will be needed, and we have to manage that, rather
than pretend we can turn it round?
(Ms Keeble) I do not think that is an acceptable solution
for quite a number of different reasons, one is that the causes
of low demand and abandonment are quite diverse. Certainly they
include economic decline, and that is most obvious in the coal
field areas where the mines have gone, so the economic reasons
behind the settlements are not there. There is also issues about
obsolete housing, where the housing is simply not up to standard
and there is no way it could be repaired, that goes probably back
to VAT. There is already evidence, you have probably seen it,
that quite a lot of money has been spent bringing property up
to value only to find that it still cannot be let and it has to
be pulled down. There are also issues about neighbourhood management.
Again, you have probably seen areas where there has been wholesale
abandonment because of the high crime rates and the area has become
such that people do not want to live there. There is quite a number
of different reasons for decline and low demand, some of them
can be managed, some of them are about changing and rebuilding
the housing because it is of a type that people do not want to
live in, and some of it is about economic pressures. You have
to tackle each of those different problems head on. In some areas,
of course, there will need to be demolition and on quite a substantial
scale, but in some areas it is possible to turn those areas round,
and I think we should focus on doing that.
622. Picking you up on that point, for whatever
reasons, along with other measures, there will be a need for substantial
(Ms Keeble) Yes.
623. All of the indications are that no one
has any money to undertake the demolition.
(Ms Keeble) This year and next year the planned demolition
is something like 23,000 or 24,000 properties, that is already
in the pipeline. That is very, very substantial, it is about 20,000
this year in local authority housing and about 3,000 private sector
and next year it is about 19,000 local authority and about the
same in private sector. There is demolition already going on.
There is also some reprovision going on. If you look, for example,
at the Chilwell Housing Action Trust, which you might have been
to, there they have taken down a number of tower blocks and they
have provided a smaller number of units, that is a really good
example of how they coped with the changing population. Most of
the new units, or a large number of them have been sheltered housing
because the population has aged and they have completely reprovided
a certain sector of housing. That has, perhaps, been an example
of the way that quite careful thinking can be done to bring areas
back into use.
624. Going back to demolition, most of the demolition
plans are in the public sector, this is a particular problem the
Committee has been faced with when we went round, in terms of
the scale of the problem in the private sector, they are really
not resourced to tackle that. Every authority we have spoken to
said the same, we have a problem, we can see it coming at us but
the resources we have are not going to tackle it, they are only
going to scratch the surface on the problems in the private sector.
On top of that we have CPO powers which are in urgent need of
revision. Where we have local authority sector properties with
right-to-buy within them that is now causing a major problem,
people are coming in at the last minute and buying properties,
pushing the cost of sorting them out through the roof.
(Ms Keeble) First of all, the point about the funds
for the private sector, as I said we are looking at the Market
Renewal Fund and that would cover all sectors, the funds for that,
that is part of the discussion about the Spending Review. However,
we have simplified the arrangements for renewal areas and those,
obviously, cover different sectors. It is also the case that in
some of the regeneration work that is being done, in Kensington
New Deal for Communities, which I think the Select Committee went
to see, work has been done there across sectors, with the Housing
Association being the agent for that, which I think has been a
particularly innovative way of dealing with it. You are right,
there are problems, particularly in some of the ex coal field
areas and some of the activities of private sector landlords who
brought up huge swathes of properties which are now derelict and
which the owners refuse to do up. We are looking at one particular
development there to tackle quite a number of those little villages
and try and tackle and overcome some of the problems of abandonment
and dereliction there. As part of the planning Green Paper, which
is being launched even as we speak now, we also have our proposals
for simplifying the CPO procedures. Under the right-to-buy we
do not have proposals to change the right-to-buy. We recognise,
particularly in Tower Hamlets that there has been a problem on
one estate, where people have exercised their right-to-buy in
very large numbers. Part of our housing funding from this year
on included a low demand indicator, which has been the first time
that the problems of low demand have been recognised and those
625. What is a low demand indicator?
(Ms Keeble) It allows for extra funding for those
local authorities that have a problem with low demand. It accounts
for two per cent of the total funding, which is quite modest now,
but it is the first time that the extra pressure caused for housing
authorities by the problem of low demand has actually been recognised.
626. When the Deputy Prime Minister visited
Tower Hamlets last year and saw that on the Ocean New Deal for
Communities, for example, most of the housing allocation money
was going to be wiped out in buying up people's right-to-buy or
allowing them to exercise that right. He said that one solution
might be what they did in Scotland, which was to suspend the right-to-buy
in areas where regeneration schemes have been announced. Are you
looking at that as a possible option?
(Ms Keeble) We have not looked at changing any of
the right-to-buy provisions.
627. The Home Swaps scheme in Salford we have
heard about, do you know how much it would cost to widen the coverage
of this type of initiative to all low demand areas? Is that something
that you are seeking do and obtain funds from the Treasury for?
(Ms Keeble) I am not familiar with that. Can you just
describe it for me?
628. What happened is that in Langworthy in
Salford you have two blocks of turn-of-the-century housing, one
on one side of the main road and one on the other side. Both received
substantial sums of money to modernise them and bring them up
to the date, but they are now suffering from low demand. The intention
of Salford Council is to clear one block and then try and preserve
the other block. The people in the block to be cleared are being
offered the chance to move to similar property and to retain the
equity that they had in the old house by taking it into the new
(Ms Keeble) We have not made an estimation of an extension
of that programme. I would say, however, that in almost all of
the areas where there is regeneration of housing estates there
is a major issue of making sure that people are prepared to move
in some instances, if you have to clear and reprovide housing.
I would say that is obviously one of the issues round the Ocean
Estate as well in Tower Hamlets. It is well recognised and it
is one of the big issues that comes up in housing management for
any regeneration scheme.
629. Salford was very pleased with the Home
Swaps scheme, although they had to admit about only two or three
people had taken advantage of it so far.
(Ms Keeble) How many?
630. Two or three people have taken advantage
of it but they hope for many more. It appears to have taken a
long time for your department and others to clear the scheme as
an experimental one. When this Committee was in Manchester we
had one person who was very keen to impress on us that she had
been trapped in one side of Langworthy unable to sell her house
for the last 10 years and she was now being offered the opportunity
to move across the road and to be trapped on other side of the
main road probably for the next 10 years and she was not too happy
with the scheme. Do you have any comments on that?
(Ms Keeble) There are obviously real difficulties
for people who are stuck in owner-occupied houses in areas of
low demand because it is virtually impossible for them to move
and because a house loses its value in such a dramatic way they
cannot get the equity out of their property to move to an area
of their choice. It seems to me that if we are looking at dealing
with a low demand problem and regenerating housing we have to
make sure, one, that we provide people with the type of housing
that they are going to want to live in for a period of time, which
can sometimes provide dramatically different housing, for example
a shift from family housing to housing for older people; second,
that we also provide people with some greater ability, if they
do want it, to move or move out. Also, this is going to be the
real trick of the Market Renewal Fund, in most of these areas
what we are trying to do is bring value back into areas that have
none so that the housing market can operate as it would normally
down here. That is going to be an extremely difficult thing to
do. If we are seriously going to turn around the low demand areas
and get the market operating properly back in the North-East and
North-West and Yorkshire and Humberside that is the intervention
that the government has to make.
631. We have seen streets which have been part
of government initiatives over the last 30 years that are still
facing great difficulty, what has the government learned from
(Ms Keeble) One is that it is not enough just to repair
properties and think that that is the sum total of the problem.
You can bring houses up to a certain standard but that sometimes
does not deal with the underlying issues which might go very much
wider, as I indicated before. The second lesson is that if you
are going to renew those low demand areas you have to look at
the wider strategies, that includes looking at employment and
looking at neighbourhood management. If you look at some of the
very interesting work that has been done in some New Deal for
Communities areas by some of the housing associations, they have
tackled the wider problems and they have managed to create sustainable
communities. I think those are probably the two biggest ones actually,
not going for short-term gains and tackling the wider problems
that are involved in an area.
632. Where would you say the greatest success
has been achieved in housing renewal and wider regeneration?
(Ms Keeble) I think, despite their very turbulent
beginnings, that the Housing Action Trusts have done some very
good work because they have reprovided housing to a very high
standard, a remarkably high standard. They have also tackled some
of the wider issues about job provision, local communities and
things like that. They have also empowered communities, which
I know sounds very vague, tenants have become much more engaged
in managing their own estates and that helps to sustain them over
the longer term. I have to say they have also had vast amounts
633. Are there any particular places, can you
name any particular place it has been successful?
(Ms Keeble) We might be here all day. I think Castle
Vale have done extraordinary work, both in providing a wide range
of housing and getting private sector housing into what was once
truly a big council estate. They have also managed to tackle some
of health problems for the local community and educational problem.
They have improved the infant mortality rate simply by changing
the way the services are managed on the housing estate. They have
got school standards up as well because they have worked with
the schools, which quite a lot of housing areas have not done.
The Tower Hamlets Housing Action Trust has done well in terms
of providing a range of different types of housing in place of
634. A success in a low demand area?
(Ms Keeble) In Liverpool, the Housing Action Trust
there has done extremely well again in reproviding and taking
the tenants with them and in changing tower blocks into some very
good sheltered housing, so that they have kept track of the changing
community and they have thought in a very substantial way about
how to do it. I think some of the New Deal for Communities schemes-I
am just thinking of one, I think the one in Liverpool has done
well, and the Kensington one.
635. Who has made that judgment?
(Ms Keeble) Who has made it?
636. The judgment?
(Ms Keeble) That they have done well? If you ask me
which ones I think have done well then I make that judgment looking
at what they have achieved.
637. Although it has hardly started to achieve
anything in Liverpool.
(Ms Keeble) I think what they have done, which is
interesting, is to get partnership working across tenures, which
is very difficult. In quite a lot of areas you go and people can
say, "we cannot do anything because that is owned by a private
landlord, that is housing association, that is council".
There is a problem of mixed tenures. I think Kensington New Deal
for Communities has recognised that because it has found a model
for tackling it.
638. Are you looking at models or actually concrete
(Ms Keeble) You have to have a model in place to be
able to do anything at all. If you look at some of the other areas
of low demand where they have not been able to get that then the
areas have not been able to make progress. You can look at the
coal field communities in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire where
you have small isolated places that have not been able to get
a model to really tackle some of the difficulties they have. I
take your point that the Liverpool New Deal for Communities is
early days, but they have a model which is able to tackle some
of the difficult intractable issues they have and we have to follow
Chairman: I think if the Committee is going
to get through all of the questions we have to be a bit quicker
with our questions.
639. I am sorry to bring you back to this but
I really did want an answer of what your Department is going to
do with right-to-buy, are you saying you will not consider suspending
it, what are you going to do to ensure that government money,
say £25 million in this case, does not just go down the drain,
it is not used to improve social housing stock because of right-to-buy?
(Ms Keeble) Are you talking particularly about the