Select Committee on Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Sixth Report


Reply from the Chairman of the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee to the Chairman of the Committee

Proposal for the Regulatory Reform (Housing Assistance) (England and Wales) Order 2002

Thank you for your letter of 22 January. As you know the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee is currently inquiring into the problem of empty homes. The Regulatory Reform Order, which your Committee is currently considering has a bearing on the solution to this problem, in particular as it manifests itself in failing housing markets.

The new Local Government White Paper (Strong Local Leadership: Quality Public Services) sets out the Government's desire to reduce the number of plans and strategies that local authorities are required to produce. On housing, it includes a commitment to "Publish guidance to bring these plans together under the umbrella of a housing strategy." You may wish to ask the Government why local authorities' policies on housing renewal assistance (referred to on page 34 of the Explanatory Document) could not be incorporated into their housing strategies.

During our empty homes inquiry we heard evidence on the proposals for the Housing Assistance Regulatory Reform Order. Manchester City Council that, "It will give us far more flexibility in terms of renewal," (Q217). Chris Brown, Chair of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Regeneration Panel, also told us, "I think they are probably a step forward. They are phrased in an enabling way rather than a rules based way," (Q447).

The Explanatory Document makes particular reference to the Home Swaps scheme in Salford, on page 22. We received evidence from Salford City Council that it has taken eighteen months to get the relevant approvals in place to enable that pilot scheme to proceed (Q442). Deregulation to allow greater discretion to local authorities over such schemes will save a great deal of time and money spent on legal fees in future.

DTLR will need to ensure that these new powers fit with other Departmental activities, for example, wider regeneration policies, planning and compulsory purchase orders.

Finally, I would like to take the opportunity to draw your attention to another issue which has arisen during the course of our inquiry, namely the current inability of local authorities to use personal data held on council tax registers to identify the owners of empty homes. We are considering proposals that the Government should introduce a Regulatory Reform Order to allow local authorities to use the data as part of their attempts to bring empty homes back into use.

23 January 2002

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