Memorandum by Michael Farnworth Esq (EMP
I should like to submit some background information
about the above topic. I am presently in my final year undertaking
an MSc in Urban Renewal and have carried out a literature review
into the topic of low demand housing which is closely linked with
the problem of empty homes. I have attached a review of some of
the literature available on the subject and identified the authors'
findings on low demand housing areas. This I trust will give you
a broader view into the topic, its causes, consequences and some
feeling as what might be done to address the empty and low-demand,
Furthermore, in my professional life I am Chair
of the Northern Consortium of Housing Authorities, Declining Areas
Working Group which has been looking into the problems associated
with empty, private sector homes in the northern region. In this
capacity I have reviewed the experience of other housing professionals
and would like to offer these observations.
1) Some empty homes are no longer desirable
to the general population and whatever is done to them on a bricks
and mortar level will not bring them back into full use.
2) An oversupply of cheap new build properties
makes some older properties less desirable and they remain empty.
3) Current methods of dealing with areas
of low demand areas with many empty homes are inadequate, new
techniques need to be employed such as private sector partnerships
for clearance and renewal.
4) Government has to accept that the housing
markets in the regions are different and local initiatives will
have to be accepted to bring about improvement at local levels.
5) The evidence shows there are links between
empty homes and degeneration this was clearly seen as early as
the 1960s and 70s in the USA following the loss of industry in
what was called the 'Rustbelt'.
6) Housing should not be viewed as an economic
commodity, rather a national resource that should be managed.
The concept of negative equity stems from individuals expecting
to "play the market" and win every time. People should
be aware that investments can go down as well as up.
BATE, R, BEST, R and HOLMANS, A (ed) (2000) On
the move: The consequences of housing migration. Joseph Rowntree
A tour de force of statistics, graphs and charts
showing the developments, trends and consequence of migration
on housing. The evidence presented shows that the perception of
an exodus from North to South is misplaced and that most of the
migration takes place within regions. Similarly, the perception
of a flight from the cities is not supported by the evidence and
argues there are complex factors affecting outward flows and equally
the balancing influx.
Coupled with the movement of people, the supply
of suitable housing is shown to be inadequate in terms of both
location and type. The preferred housing types are not being built
to meet the demand and the replacement of the older stock is below
the market requirements. Several policy strategies are discussed
ranging from the tighter controls to a more relaxed approach to
settlement and land use. No effective solutions are but forward
to ease the flow or consequences of migration but there is an
acceptance of the inherent difficulties of interference at all
levels. The current orthodoxy of neighbourhood based approaches
and urban renaissance are seen to be away forward. Throughout
the publication there is an acceptance of the influence of London
as both an economic force and a social magnet.
There is a clear acceptance of area abandonment
as a result of voluntary migration. Northern conurbations such
as Manchester and Newcastle are mentioned and there is a further
acceptance that this is now affecting smaller urban areas. Although
the earlier experience of abandonment in the USA is mentioned
it is not explored in depth. A clear view is expressed that area
abandonment and low demand are affecting areas of sound housing
not as previously experienced, the abandonment of slum housing
areas. This type of abandonment is seen as recent, in contrast
to the longer standing problem in the USA.
On the whole there is an acceptance of area
abandonment and low demand but no radical solutions are put forward
to deal with the new phenomenon. The way forward is seen to be
through working towards an Urban Renaissance and regional and
local strategies but little else which, perhaps, indicates the
relative newness of low demand leading to area abandonment of
basically good housing.
BOURNE, LS (1981) The Geography of Housing. Edward
A text book on housing dealing with the main
issues surrounding the subject. The standpoint of the book is
from the perspective of the behaviour of the key players in the
processes and mechanisms of production and consumption. A comprehensive
review is undertaken with a strong element of international comparisons
particularly with the U.S.A. Consideration is also given to alternative
housing models to that of the UK including socialist systems and
third world experiences. Also, the author discusses the concept
of a paradox in housing conditions, that of the reduction in the
deficiencies in housing with the rise in the demands for quality.
This is said to be one problem, that of deficiency, being replaced
by rising expectation, the demand for quality.
Emerging trends in housing are discussed from
the perspective of 1981. Clearly set out by the author are the
factors that appear to him will affect the housing market in the
1980s and 1990s. These are seen to be the general demographic
changes such as household size and make-up, an ageing population
and a rise in expectation. Also predicted is that the geographic
inequalities of housing will widen owing to the effects of a continued
The chapter on obsolescence, physical decay
and abandonment is particularly relevant. Statistics used in the
book relating to the 1970s U.S.A. experience of decline is not
dissimilar from the urban experience in the UK today. The process
of obsolescence leading to abandonment and low-demand appears
to be the same model as observed in the UK now some 20 years later.
Significantly the U.S.A. was considered to be the country experiencing
the problems of low demand and the UK was cited as not having
the problem at that time. It appears that this book provides evidence
that 20 years ago the problem of low demand, following the present
pattern, was not then prevalent in the UK.
CARLEY, M (1990) Housing and neighbourhood renewal
: Britain's new urban challenge. Policy Studies Institute.
A comprehensive review of the housing market
at the start of the 1990s, including discussions on the introduction
in 1989 of statutory Renewal Areas. There is an outline of the
current problems with the nation's housing stock and presses the
case for continuing intervention to prevent "permanent ghettos"
(p 1) becoming a feature of the urban environment. Contributing
to the problem is seen to be the lack of effective policy from
the centre following two decades of industrial decline.
The continuing theme is of the need for an integrated
approach to deal with not only housing issues but also the socio-economic
and environmental aspects of regeneration. Partnership working
was seen to be a way forward, with the need for the institutions
involved to accept that their respective roles had to change if
partnerships were to be effective. A need for sufficient resources
of all kinds was seen to be vital to meet the continuing challenges
of urban regeneration. Several examples of regeneration schemes
were reviewed and their relative merits discussed.
Although the book is focussing on housing and
neighbourhood renewal no direct reference could be found to the
topic of low demand areas of housing. The acceptance of the need
for clearance because of unfitness is clearly stated but no recognition
of the abandonment of areas of fit housing was made. The solutions
to area regeneration are well within the policy framework of the
time, social as well as physical regeneration, statutory area
declarations and partnership working are discussed. It appears
that the author has not seen the issue of low demand housing at
that time as being relevant. The conclusion drawn is that the
issues surrounding low demand areas of housing had not been prevalent
in the late 1980's.
GOVERNMENT OFFICE FOR THE NORTH WEST (1999) North
West Regional Housing Overview. Government Office for the North
An authoritative document on the current state
of housing in the North West region. The statement sets out a
vision for the future based on choice, good quality housing and
secure sustainable neighbourhoods. The aims to achieve the vision
are also set out, these deal with issues of supply, obsolescence,
depopulation, social inclusion, affordability and minority ethnic
The situation within each of the six sub-regions
is reviewed in detail giving a clear outline of the conditions
prevailing in each at the present time. Finally, the statement
sets out its priorities and targets for the region, how change
should be delivered and gives its conclusions and offers a way
forward. The statement is clear about the housing conditions in
the region and is forthright in its analysis and policies.
On a regional level this paper clearly identifies
the problem of low demand housing in the private sector and accepts
that greater intervention is required to address the problem.
In contrast to the main themes of the time, the statement sees
the need to clear areas of obsolete housing and the replacement
of the low demand, housing stock on a significant scale.
It seems that this is one of the first reports
to unequivocally accept the need for renewal of the housing stock
on grounds of obsolescence rather than unfitness. Further, it
supports other recent findings that low demand is not caused solely
by levels of unfitness but by aspirational changes in society
and an increase in accessible, more acceptable housing options.
NEVIN, B et al (2001) Changing housing markets
and urban regeneration in the M62 corridor. Centre for Urban and
Regional Studies, University of Birmingham.
A comprehensive review of the conditions affecting
the housing market in the conurbations in the north west region.
The authors looked at the housing and socio-economic characteristics
of the area as well as the changes in the processes of demand.
The report divided its research into the two sectors, public and
private which is in keeping with similar, recent reports on the
The conclusions and recommendations are far
reaching and specifically highlight the key players in the management
of the urban housing environment, local authorities, central government,
registered social landlords for examples. The conclusions of the
research show that the housing market in the region is fragmenting
owing to the economic and social changes affecting the population.
Perhaps the bleakest conclusion of the report is that the social
polarisation of some communities will not be alleviated, despite
the governments attempts to tackle social exclusion, unless the
driving forces of the processes of change are altered.
A very relevant report reflecting the conclusions
of other pieces of research and comment on low demand. The rather
depressing conclusions and recommendations for the need of strong
central and local government intervention in the housing market
are clearly stated and unequivocal. It is an in-depth analysis
of the processes involved in creating low demand housing today
backed up by relevant research and statistics.
NINER, P (1999) Insights into low demand for housing.
Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
A succinct paper highlighting the realities
of low demand and outlining the associated policy and practice
issues. Key factors are reviewed such as the paradox of low demand
empty housing whilst there remains an estimated need for more
housing and the exodus from the inner cities and the driving factors
for this migration. The paper also looks at the concept of the
"geography of misery"(p 3) created by low demand housing
The paper reflects on the need to bring the
supply and demand for housing more into harmony and suggest what
might be done by bringing together programmes at national, regional,
city, district and local levels. The simple one size fits all
policy approach is seen as inadequate by the Foundation in tacking
housing problems that are different across the regions. A significant
observation in the paper is on the question of "frequent
movers" (p 3), people who move from house to house on a regular
basis in low demand areas. These people are often described as
a causal factor in area decline but the paper argues these people
are perhaps victims of crime rather than its cause. This dichotomy
often makes their interaction with the established community in
such areas problematical.
A very relevant paper highlighting the current
themes in low demand understanding. Some very well considered
points such as the question of frequent movers, victim or cause,
and the overall policy structure being too insensitive to be wholly
effective for local conditions. However, the paper does emphasis
the possibility of making inner city areas work and cites policy
initiatives being necessary at all levels. Whilst this might be
appropriate in the long term the problems affecting the inner
urban areas now is not fully addressed. Indeed the paper accepts
that intervention does not always work and despite policy initiatives
to tackle the problem there has been no impact on the lack of
demand in some areas.
POWER, A and MUMFORD, K (1999) Slow death of great
cities? Incipient urban abandonment or urban renaissance. Joseph
A comprehensive body of research into low demand
housing in four wards in two cities. It found that good quality
homes are being abandoned in inner city areas with the attendant
problems of private house prices declining dramatically, the increase
of anti-social behaviour, loss of confidence in areas and the
intense fear of crime. The instance of low demand housing was
found to be prevalent in both public and private sectors.The underlying
causes are attributed to the depopulation of the inner cities,
job losses and unemployment. Several initiatives have been identified
to deal with regeneration but it is not clear whether these have
been targeted on low demand areas or run down urban areas, two
separate types of urban deprivation.
The policy implications discussed are geared
towards the revival of the inner cities as places to live and
work. These are longer term structural issues but there are no
realistic solutions identified to resolve the immediate problems
of obsolescence and abandonment and the prevention and management
of the problems of low demand housing should it continue to develop
A very relevant publication identifying the
problems of low demand housing and its ramifications. Clear explanations
of the research findings with the significant points highlighted.
The problems that are arising as a consequence of low demand housing
are discussed as is the alarming speed with which the hitherto
acceptable neighbourhoods are experiencing low demand, abandonment