Memorandum by Blackburn with Darwen BC
Blackburn with Darwen BC lies to the north of
Manchester and east of Preston. A former cotton-manufacturing
town, its housing stock is dominated by terraced housing built
in the last century. In April 2001 it had 4,374 empty houses (7.4
per cent of the stock). Of the vacant dwellings; 37 per cent had
been vacant for less than six months, but 22 per cent had been
vacant for over two years. The number of vacant owner occupied
dwellings is about 1,000 more than are necessary for the housing
market to operate. Since 1996 overall vacant housing rates have
been above six per cent (see below). It is clear that the borough
suffers from low demand in both the private and social rented
tenures. It is estimated that around 10,000 private dwellings
are at risk of low demand.
Empty dwellings are found throughout the Borough.
However, low demand is concentrated in areas of smaller terraced
houses in the inner urban wards (both private and housing association
tenure) and in some large estates on the edge of the urban area
(primarily social rented but also containing a few "right
to buy" properties).
Basic data on the number of vacant dwellings
comes from records of those dwellings exempt from Council tax.
This provides some reasons why vacancies occur:"awaiting
or under probate, occupant in hospital/care, structural alterations
or occupation prohibited" are the most common reasons given.
However, for the majority of empty dwellings no specific reasons
Empty homes are the ultimate symptom of low
demand for housing in a particular area. Other research conducted
locally has arrived at tentative reasons as to why the Borough
has low demand for many of its housing types. It seems to stem
partially from broader population and economic trends:
Population changeThe Borough
has had a high level of out migration (9.3 out migrants per 1000
population per annum in 1998-99). By 2021, the population aged
under 45 will be decreasing. The Asian population contains a significantly
different demographic profile to the white population with a much
younger population at 1991 but this does not outweigh the decline
in the whole population in the under 45 age groups.
Economic StructureThere is
a continued reliance on the manufacturing sector, which is a relatively
low value added activity with low wage rates. There are a high
proportion of people employed in manual jobs (male and female),
which tend to be far less well paid than non-manual jobs. Those
in non-manual jobs tend to earn far less than those elsewhere.
There is a low rate of new business start-upsbelow the
regional average. There are particularly low levels of financial
and business services employmentwhich generally across
the rest of the country is the highest paying and fastest growing
sector. Demand for social rented housing rises when the economy
enters a recession. Conversely it falls at times of low unemployment.
PovertyLow wages are a major
factor. On many indicators of poverty (such as proportion of income
support and tax benefits, recipients, education attainment) Blackburn
is well above average.
has remained below the UK and NW average but there is a low rates
of economic activity in Blackburn with Darwen
AccessibilityThe M65 running
through Blackburn provides links to the M6 with access to the
M61the main North South route serving the North West. Those
with access to cars enjoy good accessibility to the regional employment
centres of Preston, Manchester and Central Lancashire. The direct
rail link to Manchester has an infrequent, unreliable and slow
service. Rail links within East Lancashire and to West Lancashire
are relatively limited. Thus overall provision and use of public
transport in the area is low.
EnvironmentOverall, the perception
of the quality of the environment by people not familiar with
the area is poor.
CrimeCrime and the fear of
crime are well established as factors that influence housing choice.
Once an area obtains a reputation as a crime hot spot, those who
are able often move out of the area. Households with children
are particularly perceptive to this factor for fear that if they
bring children up in an area of high levels of crime, they are
more likely to become involved in crime.
Development of alternativesDevelopment
completed, planning permissions granted and allocated sites will
allow for 7,252 dwellings to be completed in the period 1991-06
compared to 6,000 allocated in the Lancashire Structure Plan,
adopted in 1997. High rates of housing development in the Borough
were associated with the completion of the M65 and the rate of
permissions granted has now fallen. The emerging local plan will
have a reduced allocation but nevertheless there has been a considerable
growth of new semi and detached houses in the Borough in the last
decade. Low cost new homes for owner occupation, marketing initiatives
(such as "£99 down and move in," fitted kitchens
and free white goods) and lower interest rates have allowed lower
income groups to buy new homes. This provides an attractive alternative
to buying a pre-1919 house or renting from a housing association
The Condition of the pre-1919 stockOlder
houses are more likely to be unfit and require expensive repairs.
Fewer have gardens and in-curtilage parking than in more modern
areas houses and the perceived unattractiveness of parts of the
Borough deters house buyers who have plenty of choice elsewhere.
It also discourages investment by owners since house prices are
not reflected by improvements in condition. High crime rates in
parts of the Borough are a further deterrent.
Social rented stockWithin the social
rented sector, analysis of vacancies in the Council stock prior
to transfer to Twin Valley Homes found increases in the number
of terminations over recent years reflecting the more transient
nature of those groups entering the Council rented sector.
The main motivations for tenancy terminations are:
Moving to other Council accommodation27
per cent of all terminations;
Neighbour nuisance and security.
There was an increase in terminations due to harassment and nuisance
over the period 1994-2000. It is also likely that the "Other"
category in the surveys may also include nuisance;
An average of around 138 Council
tenants pa moved into private rented accommodation each year (1994-99)some
9 per cent of all tenancy terminations;
An average of 64 tenants pa left
the Council stock to buy homes between 1994-99 representing
4.4 per cent of all terminations.
The Council stock also experienced high levels
of abandonment with on average 19 per cent of Council tenancies
being abandoned each year (ranging from 23 per cent in 1995-96
to 17 per cent in 1997-98). Similar trends of difficulty in letting
stock have been experienced by RSLs. Particular difficulties were
experienced letting terraced housing generally (even if in good
condition), some sheltered accommodation, 1970s flats and maisonettes.
Demand for social rented accommodation is expected to remain from
the elderlyalthough the size of the existing white elderly
base will decline over time; young, single parentsremaining
relatively stable in numbers; the socially excludedlikely
to remain prevalent in the Borough due to continuing economic
difficulties. Additional demand can be expected in the future
from elderly Asians, and young Asians, provided problems of racial
harassment can be overcome.
Empty Homes are a final stage in the declining
popularity of an area. In low demand areas there is likely to
be an increase in private rented homes as owners sell to private
landlords or are forced to let out homes when they are unable
to sell. Rented houses may become empty if new tenants cannot
be found, or if tenants vandalise the property before leaving.
The consequences of this process are:
Further urban degradation through
derelict properties, increasing the unattractiveness of inner
areas and accelerating population loss.
Loss of Council tax income.
Loss of services such as shops as
the population moves away.
Loss of rental income, increasing
the difficulty of maintaining the stock.
Damage to neighbouring properties
through water ingress, damp etc.
Possible damage due to criminal activity
taking place in empty homes; theft of fittings, arson, dumping,
drug dealing together with the loss of a population able to deter
Loss of community as permanent house
owners with a stake in the area move out and are replaced by transient
tenants and empty homes.
Social tension may develop between
private owners and private tenants (who may only stay in the area
a few months).
Radial tension may prevent occupation
of low demand areas by the Asian community, which has settled
in many parts of inner Blackburn. The 1997 Asian Housing Needs
indicated that racial harassment acted as a considerable disincentive
to persons of Asian origin leaving their established areas. Asian
communities are often located in areas of small terraced housing;
unable to move due to racial tension and low income. This may
lead to overcrowding and social tension including youths "hanging
out" on streets because of the lack of any alternative. The
Council is attempting to combat this problem by encouraging the
development of social rented houses for larger families.
Improvements in the appearance of
the area if derelict and neglected properties are re-occupied,
encouraging further occupation.
Re-establishment of communities.
Reduction in crime rate due to increased
level of activities, overlooking etc.
Restoration of Council tax, and rental
Re-occupation of existing empty housing may not
be totally beneficial, particularly if it is by short-term tenants
who are likely to move out leaving properties empty again. The
decline in popularity in areas such as Blackburn provides an opportunity
to remodel inner urban areas and to provide facilities such as
gardens and parking so that they can compete with new housing
on the periphery.
There has been no noticeable decline in the
proportion of vacant property since the changes to Government
policy last year. There has been a decline in the number of voids
in the Twin Valley Homes Stock since the new RSL was created in
March this year. This may be due to the prospects of investment
in the stock, but a longer period is needed to judge the impact
of stock transfer.
The CURS Study
set out a number of recommendations for dealing with low demand.
It identified Blackburn, Darwen and other freestanding towns at
risk from low demand as requiring a long term approach that included
selective clearance in the social and private sectors and a restructuring
of the housing market that takes a particular account of the housing
need of the ethnic minority populations. In addition to this long-term
process of renewal, there needs to be short-term action to prevent
the slide of vulnerable areas into low demand. This Council already
carries out many of the recommendations of the Study;it
has a broad cross-tenure housing strategy (updated annually) and
is developing sub-regional collaboration within the East Lancashire
Partnership and the M62 groups of authorities, for example. The
Council would support the following additional measures by Central
Government in support of the long term restructuring of the housing
market in low demand areas:
Regeneration priorities should be
to secure existing communities and, where necessary, create new
ones in inner urban areas. Restructuring the housing market (including,
if necessary, clearance and redevelopment) is one of the ways
in which this will be achieved. The Council has had success with
area-based approaches targeted on relatively small areas and basing
renewal on group repair, clearance and environmental improvement.
Replacement housing may be required on cleared areas. However,
Government initiatives and guidance have paid too little attention
to the problems of falling demand, particularly in the private
sector. Developing the ability of the population can only take
place after it is secure in a location, otherwise newly trained
and affluent individuals will continue to leave urban areas.
A Housing Market Renewal Fund is
needed to finance long-term strategies and avoid the need to devote
already available resources to dealing with acute crises caused
by low demand and poor conditions (as is presently the case in
The Fund would finance selective clearance and comprehensive regeneration.
There also needs to be recognition by central Government of the
costs to local authorities of the cost of dealing with low demand
areas and poor conditions in the private sector. The recent draft
changes proposed for the General Needs Index is welcomed.
Deteriorating conditions and the
inability of owners to pay for repairs may accelerate the process
of abandonment. In addition to renewal activity through group
repair and clearance, local authorities need greater powers to
help householders obtain funding in the form of loans etc.
The recently proposed relaxation of controls over the use of Renovation
Grants is welcomed but will require additional funding to be effective.
Charging full Council tax on empty
homes. This may be effective in releasing some houses for rent.
However in areas of low demand it is equally likely to lead to
total abandonment by absent owner leading to further dereliction.
Changes to VAT. The removal of VAT
on repairs and refurbishment while charging VAT at the full rate
on new dwellings would be broadly welcomed. However, this might
restrict the viability of new build in inner areas and will not
in any case be effective in those areas where demand has effectively
Revision of Compulsory Purchase Powers.
This could include new criteria for compulsory purchase of housing
obsolescence, streamlining the CPO process, open market valuation
to be replaced by an actual market cost valuation where the housing
market has collapsed and no comparative values are available,
and relaxation of the legislation to allow public discussion of
clearance as an option without the risk of paying compensation
for blight. The latter would allow the preparation of clearance
strategies that could be the focus of public discussion. There
is also the need for more CPO "know how"; Government
guidance on the use of powers should be brought forward.
Planning. Generally, the new round
of structure plans and regional development guidance is more restrictive
towards greenfield development of housing. However, Blackburn
with Darwen is suffering from the effect of allocations and permissions
granted previously. Better consideration is needed of the effects
of new housing on areas of existing housing by both planning authorities
and within Regional Guidance. Calculation of future housing requirement
should take account of the potential offered by low demand areas
for new brownfield development; another reason why Councils need
to identify clearance areas well in advance.
Duty to establish an Empty Homes
Strategy. This would not in itself reduce the number of empty
homes and could lead to complacency on the part of officers and
members. It would be effective if combined with resources and
an overall strategy to deal with low demand
Registration of Private Landlords.
An increase in the number of privately rented houses seems to
be part of the process of abandonment in areas of private houses.
This seems to be accompanied by declining standards of repair
and problems of nuisance from private tenants. At present, a register
of landlords is meaningless without compulsion and could penalise
the more conscientious landlords who meet the terms of registration
while the less conscientious are unaffected. A compulsory register
could be more effective in policing conditions but should make
landlords responsible for tenant behaviour. It should be linked
to the grant of housing benefit for greater effect. It may help
prevent the decline of areas and enforce better standards but
may accelerate the abandonment of houses by landlords unwilling
to meet the requirements of registration. It would also have considerable
resource implications in terms of necessary staff to monitor and
inspect premises etc.
Dealing with Negative Equity. This
particularly becomes an issue where clearance is proposed as compensation
levels will not be enough to allow home owners to buy a new home
and may leave them with a continued debt. Increased subsidies
for shared ownership and low cost housing for sale
may help as would increasing the attractiveness of social rented
housing. All these solutions have resource implications.
17 Blackburn with Darwen B.C. HIP Return 2001. Back
GVA Grimley and MORI North. Twin Valley Homes Housing Demand
Study February 2001. Back
David Couttie Associates Blackburn Asian Housing Needs Survey
Centre for Urban and Regional Studies: Changing Housing markets
and Urban Regeneration in the M62 Corridor, February 2001 and
Housing Market Restructuring: The case for a Housing Market Renewal
Fund, October 2001. Back
CURS Study op. cit. recommendation. Back
CURS Study op. cit. recommendation. Back
CURS Study op. cit. recommendation. Back
DTZ Pieda Changing East Lancashire The Housing Market 2000. Back
CURS Study op. cit. recommendation. Back
CURS Study op. cit. recommendation. Back