Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220-239)|
TUESDAY 2 JULY 2002
220. Could you say a bit more about how you
think there should be the trade-off between housing for homeless
groups and housing for those who might be unable to put anything
towards their housing costs.
(Mr Alastair Jackson) At the moment the Housing Corporation
funds new housing provision at local authority level in consultation
with local authorities. It says, "We have so much to spend
in your area, how would you have us spend it?" Local authorities
are on average answering, "We will have 80 per cent housing
for rent and we will have 20 per cent low cost home ownership
initiatives. If that is the answer coming back from the local
authorities to the Housing Corporation then we see no reason to
change that. I think one of the things we would be worried about
would be new initiatives, new specific programmes that focus wholly
on what we might call key worker groups, if you like, or starter
home initiates, that kind of thing. Clearly there is a place for
those kinds of initiatives, but Shelter is here, Shelter works
with people in temporary accommodation, people in bed and breakfast
hotels, families sharing rooms (all of them in one room and sharing
the bathroom and kitchen) sometimes not able to stay in that hotel
during the day. Those are absolutely appalling conditions and
it is those that we must make sure future additional affordable
housing goes to meet.
221. Can I just pick you up on what you said
about 80 per cent for rent. The local authorities may be giving
that feedback and I appreciate where you come from, but the reality
is that in those parts of the country where there is a housing
problem, the housing problem relates to key workers and the lack
of ability to get people into the key industries. As a nation
we have plenty of housing stock, it is just in the wrong place.
Do you think that simply taking feedback from local authorities
is right? Should we not actually be going to the groups of key
workers who are having problems with housing and finding out what
they really want. I question whether teachers want Housing Association
houses for rent.
(Mr Alastair Jackson) I slightly hesitate to say that
there is a better source of this information than the local authority.
The local authority is under a statutory obligation to prepare
a housing strategy; an annual housing investment programme and
statement must be prepared.
222. There is a bit of a problem, is there not?
It appears that each local authority goes for this 20/80 split,
but there is no logic that the same situation applies right across
the country. It appears that the local authorities think that
is a convenient figure to put down. Surely someone ought to be
doing a little more work to say, "Is that right? And should
it not be varying in different parts of the country?"
(Mr Alastair Jackson) I believe that the guidance
given by central government and government regional offices to
local authorities does encourage local authorities to consider
the whole of the housing market in the area in which they work.
That encouragement is quite explicit. They do ask explicit questions,
saying "Have you considered the position of key workers in
your area?" I do not know if there are studies which say
"Yes, and those needs are generally ignored by local authorities
or local authorities are overwhelmingly focussed on the very bottom
of the market and they are ignoring other strata". I believe
rather that councillorsjust as much perhaps as members
of Parliamentface requests and points from their constituents
saying "I am a teacher, a nurse, unable to house myself locally".
I do not know that the evidence is there, that local authorities
are just ignoring that tranche of unmet need for houses. I think
20/80 is the split we stay with.
Sir Paul Beresford
223. Do you think there are regional differences
in demand and they relate to the speed of the regional economies
and that the Governmentperhaps the DTIhas an overall
role to try to calm some of the overheated economies and try to
move the economy in some of the other areas up, especially bearing
in mind the empty housing report which came out recently?
(Mr Alastair Jackson) We obviously recognise that
argument and the fact that the economy is performing at different
levels in different parts of the country. I think we must avoid
the mistake of saying that we will use the housing market or housing
investment programmes as a way of, if you like, encouraging people
to move into the northern regions. People will chose to live where
they can find jobs until those jobs move. I think we have to continue
accepting that that is where the housing need is arising and that
is where the housing programmes need to go.
224. One of the problems with what you are suggesting
is that we are actually going to stoke the economies in some of
the areas because we are putting in more housing so that the south
east, for example, is going to disappear under housing while the
north east is going to be essentially abandoned.
(Mr Alastair Jackson) I do not know if we are going
to come back to questions of greenfield development and things
Chairman: I think we will reach that, do not
225. Can I ask a question on the key workers?
What is Shelter's view of the Government's proposals to give key
workers, say, £10,000 for a deposit? What is Shelter's view
(Mr Alastair Jackson) As a mechanism for enabling
key workers to meet their own housing needs and to go out there
and compete on the market I think that is a perfectly legitimate
mechanism. We have a concern with it, though, which is that if
you imagine that key worker buying that property that they previously
could not afford, that means that somebody else is not buying
that property and that somebody else would have maybe been buying
outright without subsidy. You basically cascade down and somebody
drops off the bottom. I think the key worker programmes which
we would like to see would be key worker programmes that actually
deliver additional affordable housing. For example, in Wales you
can deliver key worker housing where you build something for sale,
you then sell it to someone who comes with a discount and you
actually add to the housing stock. That is vital to these programmes.
226. I think you have answered the problem of
whether you feel that people on moderate incomes have a right
to assistance with housing. You have said that yes, 20 per cent
of the money should be going towards them
(Mr Alastair Jackson) Yes. Again, to come back to
the earlier point, if that is what local housing strategists are
saying is wanted.
227. I suppose one of the fears people have
is thinking back to the 1960's when very large sums of money were
made available for social housing and certain things went slightly
wrong. How are we going to avoid those mistakes this time if we
get not really a high level of spending on providing social housing,
but that spending coming very quickly into the system?
(Mr Alastair Jackson) One thing to say that is positive
about the 1960's is that a significant housing need was identified,
recognised and something was done about it. That investment was
made available and those properties were provided. I think it
is what happened subsequently which is maybe the thing we need
to focus on, which is that over time the management of the properties
and management of the area over time and the management of the
estates and the repair and maintenance of those estates suffered
under cutbacks. I think we now have stock which, a few years ago,
the figure being attached to it was £20 billion pounds' worth
of disrepair. That is a long term outcome of management neglect
over the years. If we do these programmes now we need to make
sure we are building good quality but also that we manage it carefully
into the future.
228. I think we can probably accept that in
the long term management and maintenance was not sufficient, but
were not many of the problems from an initial stage? The design
was wrong and the construction was wrong. That led on then to
problems with management and maintenance. There were initial mistakes
made. How do we avoid those this time? We have been told that
there are not sufficient construction workers, there are not the
skills in the industry so the pressures are going to do other
things that might lead to taking shortcuts.
(Mr Alastair Jackson) I believe that some of those
lessons have been very clearly learned. The emphasis within regeneration
programmes is for mixed tenure, is for careful estate management,
is for careful management of the environment as well as the housing.
I think those lessons have been taken on board. I think it is
clear that when new housing programmes come forward the providers
will be careful not to build the monolithic poorly designed estates
that they did in the past. I think those lessons have been learned;
we can be confident that the mistakes will not be made again.
229. If you are going to get £1.7 billion
extra, how long do you think it will take for the industry to
be geared up to spend that sort of extra money? It is not going
to be one year, is it? (Mr Alastair Jackson) I think that
is a question for the industry experts.
230. You must have a view. It is not fair to
keep ducking the question.
(Mr Alastair Jackson) Construction output is at a
bit of an all time low at the moment. I think there must be capacity
within there to actually get back to a higher level.
231. We have been told there is not. We have
been told there is a shortage of skilled workers.
(Mr Alastair Jackson) There are also new construction
and design techniques that will allow you to build in a different
way. I believe you have heard evidence from the Peabody Trust,
232. So the £1.7 billion is predicated
on more pre-fabrication, is it?
(Mr Alastair Jackson) As one of the solutions, yes.
And also to get more out of the existing construction industry.
I believe there is capacity there, that we are at an all time
low at the moment for construction.
233. In an industry which has demonstrated that
firstly it is totally fragmented, secondly it is not meeting the
needs, thirdly it has not got the skills, why do you think there
is capacity there?
(Mr Alastair Jackson) We are at a level of low output
at the moment within the industry. There is capacity there for
the industry to
234. What do you base that on?
(Mr Alastair Jackson) From current housing and construction
statistics, current output levels.
235. But there is a shortage of skills, for
example, across southern England where quite a significant proportion
of the new affordable houses will have to be built. There is a
desperate shortage even at relatively low levels of construction
of skilled craftsmen. Where do you get the people to actually
build the houses?
236. Can I add that there is answer to that.
(Mr Alastair Jackson) The industry obviously needs
to look to its skills levels, look to its own employment levels,
Mrs Dunwoody: But you do not know where the
237. I wonder if Shelter has a view on this.
You might know that Victoria Park and Bethnal Green Housing Association
have just launched a new scheme which uses the same materials
throughout the entire construction of the house so only one skill
is required. I opened it last week and it was an astonishing standard.
I was absolutely amazed. I am asking Shelter do you know of schemes
such as that and would you put any faith in them?
(Mr Alastair Jackson) Peabody has shown that this
is possible through their Murray Grove estate, for example. They
have come forward with modular construction. The Housing Forum
which is being sponsored by the Housing Corporation have come
forward with quite serious proposals for factory built, factory
made, assembled on site construction methods. This is not actually
just about modular units bolted together; this is about panel
construction of housing which is very well done, very well put
together on the site.
238. Let us be quite clear. You are talking
about needing £1.7 billion extra money to be spent. That
is, as you say, on the basis of need. Are you really confident
that the Housing Corporation, the local authorities and the construction
industry could spend that sort of money to meet the problem if
it was available?
(Mr Alastair Jackson) Yes, I am confident that they
could gear up to spend that kind of money if it is made available.
I am confident that that can happen.
Sir Paul Beresford
239. Is it not a disadvantage that Shelter has
not built anything?
(Mr Alastair Jackson) Over time Shelter has actually
set up a number of housing associations. That is something we
did back in the 1960's and 1970's. We do share expertise. We do
talk to housing association providers. We are aware of what is
going on in the construction industry about how you do meet the
capacity. The construction industry is perfectly well aware of
its own inability to recruit skilled labour because of what it
is offering. The construction industry is looking hard at doing
something about that.