Examination of Witness(Questions 460-479)|
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
460. We want to encourage regions to develop
their economies and bring in their own job opportunities. The
policies that we seem to be approaching now do not back up the
housing needs required in those areas. If we are to transfer £15
million from housing provisions in the North to the South, I think
that that is a disadvantage to helping regional development. If
we want to be sincere about these developments, we need to back
that up with provision. Do you agree?
(Lord Rooker) Yes, I do. But I want to get rid of
it or knock it on the head, although I may want to take further
advice on this. We have not robbed housing provision in the North
for the South. As was made absolutely clear, there was a technical
transition. The money was put back and this year every region
will gain, even though we have top-sliced the £200 million
Challenge Fund for London and the South East. You are quite right,
there has to be a programme in the Midlands and the North of the
country, and there will be a programme, but that has to be tied
in with the other issue that is not a phenomenon in London and
the South East and that is of large-scale, massive housing abandonment
and total collapse of housing markets in areas where people are
trapped in dwellings. They may have a mortgage of £89,000
and the dwelling is worth £2,000. There is absolute collapse.
We have to deal with that and that is why we set up the nine pathfinder
areas to find ways of achieving that.
461. Who is to manage the housing market renewal
(Lord Rooker) I suppose at the end of the day it will
be Ministers. We are looking through the nine pathfinder areasthey
are all very different as you can appreciate from looking at the
geographical locationsand some have been faster off the
mark than others, but it is early days. There have been some difficulties
in drawing up boundaries because Members of Parliament have been
arguing about not wanting boundaries drawn. We have to be serious
about this. There is a real problem and we want to move as fast
as we can to get action on the ground as quickly as we can, particularly
in 2003 and 2004. On the management of it, we shall set up the
partnership arrangements. As I have said, we shall appoint Ministers
to have an oversight and a liaison function with the pathfinders
so that if hurdles need to be jumped or doors kicked open there
is someone in Whitehall if there are difficulties. Each pathfinder
area will probably operate in an entirely different way because
the problems are different although the endemic thing that affects
them all is the abandonment of housing on a large scale.
462. You will understand the urgency. I think
you went to Birmingham?
(Lord Rooker) Yes, I did.
463. Some of those streets collapse in a matter
of weeks. It is important to get a move on. Is English Partnerships
to be involved or not in the pathfinder areas?
(Lord Rooker) We have changed the remit of English
Partnerships and they have a much more pro-active remit for helping
us to assemble packages for land and also for working in closer
co-operation with the Housing Corporation. We consider English
Partnerships and the Housing Corporation to be the two key levers
that the department has to pull. As a department, as a Government,
we do not build homes, but we have these two well run levers of
change. We want them to work more closely together. English Partnerships
has an arrangement and the remit for putting together a better
idea of the brownfield land in the country in the public and sometimes
in the private sector, so that we can plan better and push ahead
faster. I cannot say in detail that English Partnerships will
be involved in each of the pathfinder areas. It is too early to
464. The pathfinder areas form a small proportion
of the area of market weakness. What will happen in those areas
that have not been designated as pathfinder areas? Will their
housing markets continue to collapse?
(Lord Rooker) That is one of the difficulties. We
need to operate the pathfinder areas as quickly possible to find
out the mechanisms for rebuilding the housing economies in the
wider North where there is abandonment on a large scale. In some
respects we have to ensure that we give value for money and rebuild
communities. It is not just a matter of doing up some houses or
knocking down some houses and building some more. In some cases
there is a vast over-supply. Ten per cent of the housing stock
in Burnley is empty, for example; 10 per cent is virtually abandoned
and not just empty. A lot of empty housing is empty because it
is transitionally empty; whereas the abandoned houses are literally
abandoned and there is no transition involved. Until we can learn
the lessons as to what we can do to generate and regenerate those
economies in the pathfinder areas, it is no good me saying that
in the mean time we will pump loads of public money into other
areas of abandonment because we do not have a plan or a policy
for doing that.
465. When do you think that you will have learned
the lessons and be able to give some hope? Living in one of those
houses next to three or four abandoned houses is pretty miserable.
When can you give such people hope?
(Lord Rooker) It is worse than that: it is living
in a street next to three or four streets of abandoned houses.
That is what I actually saw.
466. I understand the extreme cases. In a sense,
you have announced the pathfinder for the extreme cases. What
I am putting to you is that there is a huge amount of hardship
right across the North of England in lots of other areas. What
hope can you offer to people in those kind of communities?
(Lord Rooker) As I understand it, the large scale
abandonment in the scale that has arisen now, has occurred in
the past three years. It has occurred very quickly. I know that
abandoned houses have been around for a while in the North. I
first saw large scale abandonment of 200 houses in Sunderland
in the early 1980s. I hope that we can learn the lessons and start
to turn matters around at the same amount of time in which the
abandonment occurred in the first place. We have to find out why
the abandonment has arisen, looking at the nature of the houses
that have been abandoned, and we need to learn some lessons so
that we can create a policy to get value for money from the public
and private sector. Also this is not just a matter of dealing
with the housing. If we just deal with the housing we will not
solve the problem. We have to deal with the jobs in those areas
Sir Paul Beresford
467. Do you think it is related to the huge
pressure in the South East over the past three years as well?
(Lord Rooker) No. Someone told me that a lot of the
abandonment had been the result of the Government getting people
back to work so quickly in the past couple of years, that the
minute that people acquired a job, they moved out of the old,
tatty housing in the middle of Burnley or Blackpool and went to
live in more decent housing on the outskirts of the town. The
people who were living in those houses two or three years ago
have gone somewhere.
Chairman: Certainly the committee report on
empty homes made the point that in Liverpool there was some evidence
of that. Worryingly people in Liverpool were abandoning houses
which, if situated in Islington or Fulham, would have been sold
for a quarter of a million pounds.
Mr David Clelland
468. Sometimes the abandonment comes as a result
of the kinds of tenants that some private landlords tend to put
into their properties. They cause misery and mayhem in the area,
and people move out and so properties become abandoned. What plan
does the department have to try to take control over the activities
of private landlords in terms of the way in which they look after
their properties or neglect them and the behaviour of the tenants
that they put in them?
(Lord Rooker) Basically, by introducing what we have
twice promised now, the selective licensing of landlords in the
areas of low demand. We shall do that as quickly as we can. As
soon as we can get some legislation in front of the House it will
be done as quickly as possible. It is not as though the will is
not there nor the policy or the manifesto commitment. We shall
push that as quickly as possible.
Dr John Pugh
469. On key workers and the vagaries surrounding
them, you appear to fall victim to a special kind of pleading
on this. What research has your department carried out on the
extent of the shortage of key workers, and what research have
you done into what actually works in addressing that need on a
(Lord Rooker) Some research has been carried out.
One figure that comes to mind in terms of exit interviews, I suppose,
of key workers who have left the South East and the London area
is that about one in five key workers, which I have described
as nurses and people in teaching, have left for housing cost reasons.
Either they could not find a place or could not afford to rent,
let alone to buy. That is a very high figure. One in five is a
lot of people when one looks at the population in London and the
South East. We know that we have a problem on our hands. That
figure alone tells us that we have a difficulty. There may be
people in London and the South East who do not give too much thought
to key workers until they find that their children do not have
a teacher or when they go to hospital they find that the staff
are not present. They then start to wake up to the fact that there
is a mismatch in housing provision and costs. In terms of the
totality of housing, we are under-providing and within that we
are not providing enough affordable housing.
470. The main thrust of the question is what
has been done and what has worked in addressing the problem. There
is a macro-economic argument to put more money on the table. The
problem is not resolved but money is thrown down estate agents'
throats. That hypothesis has been put forward and it is either
wrong or it is right. Has research been carried out into what
(Lord Rooker) Over a period of time we know that there
is a whole range of policies. That is one of the reasons why we
have the guidance and the planning policies. They may be much
criticised; whether it is Section 106 or our policies regarding
density and when we decide to call in applications. Within the
planning system there is a range of activities that we take, borne
out of other experience of knowing what can work. There is of
course the issue of the increase in homelessness. We accept that.
We have of course just widened the category of homelessness for
people in vulnerable categories. That will have a knock-on effect
of raising the numbers of the homeless. We know we have many homeless
people who are trapped.
471. With due respect . . .
(Lord Rooker) A whole range of research has been carried
out that has told us that there is a range of problems, but it
does not lead to one single policy, saying that we can solve it.
472. We have heard one or two of those policies.
You have been very good this morning. You have told us the problems
about which we already know, but we want from you a few solutions.
(Lord Rooker) We started off with a question about
the large increase in the provision in the Comprehensive Spending
Review. The Government have changed direction and the Deputy Prime
Minister has talked about a step change in housing production.
I cannot put a figure on that this morning because of decisions
that are still to be taken between now and when the Communities
Plan comes before Parliament. There will be a step change in the
development of sustainable communities, a step change in the increasing
housing production for rent, to buy and for low cost. We have
looked at our strategic plans with the Housing Corporation; we
are revamping the planning system and subject to the Queen's Speech
we shall bring forward proposals to the House that will bring
about faster decision making as well. We are looking at activities
in the private sector. There are a quarter of a million empty
houses in the country that have been empty for more than a year.
We are jacking up our activities.
Dr John Pugh
473. Accepting all that . . .
(Lord Rooker) I can give you more if you want.
474. The Government have a number of initiatives.
We may possibly agree that there may be more research needed on
which initiatives are likely to work and which initiatives historically
have worked. Moving on, one thing on which you will agree is the
vagueness of the definition of "key workers". On Monday
I travelled down on a train with construction workers from my
constituency who work routinely in London. I think we would all
agree that construction workers are key workers in regard to building
homes. Are you in favour of extending the definition of "key
workers" and giving additional incentives and more money
to help private enterprise to find the workers whom they need?
(Lord Rooker) You have asked me whether I am keen
to put in more public money into private enterprise to find key
workers. In fact, employers are already doing things and they
could do more. I do not want to mention particular companies because
that would be unfair. I read the press like anyone else. Employers
are waking up to the fact that they need to take some action.
As I say, they do not necessarily want to become landlords. They
want to do what they do best, which is making or selling things.
That is their role in life. Through the housing associations,
very successful landlords, and other providers, they can take
action themselves regarding their own employees. It is in their
vested interest to do that. They can do that without necessarily
looking for public subsidy. One piece of your already published
evidence makes it quite clear that public money is not required.
It can be done without public funds. You can provide housing for
key workers on an affordable basis without using public funds.
It is in your own evidence.
475. Perhaps I can make one special plea. I
would be grateful if you could look at this point. Teachers are
included as key workers in the starter homes initiatives, but
FE lecturers are not. There is now clear evidence that in many
cases FE lecturers are paid less than teachers, particularly in
sixth-form colleges. Can you see whether that particular category
might be assisted?
(Lord Rooker) I shall answer yes to that.
476. Perhaps you could take the matter away
for which I would be particularly grateful.
(Lord Rooker) I shall say yes to having a look at
477. There appears to be an anomaly because
the employers, in that case, do not have a capacity to do anything
else for them.
(Lord Rooker) I have heard university lecturers claim
that they are paid less than FE lecturers and other teachers.
There is an issue in the teaching profession. That is accepted.
I shall have a look at it, but the emphasis has been on staff
in compulsory education.
478. Is shared ownership a good idea?
(Lord Rooker) Shared ownership was invented in Birmingham.
We called it the "half and half scheme" in the late
1960s. The answer is yes. It was taken over by London and was
wrecked, and therefore delayed. The answer is yes, it is a good
idea. It can work. It has provided good housing for many people,
although probably not enough because people have not done enough
to promote it and make it work.
479. Is that the Housing Corporation's fault?
(Lord Rooker) No, I do not blame the Housing Corporation