Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness(Questions 500-519)



  500. How is that to be taken forward?
  (Lord Rooker) We are going to take that forward. We certainly see no reason why commercial developments in the widest sense, with retail and everything else, should not be making some contribution under 106 arrangements to the wider community in which that development is located.

  501. Will this issue be raised in the consultation document as well?
  (Lord Rooker) It would be in the sense that we would have to consult on the guidance for 106 anyway. Not everything will be done in that guidance. I am hoping to get some planning legislation, but as I say there is not one single factor. We have to drive it forward so that we get some planning gain out of commercial developments.


  502. On the planning gain, how many extra houses do you think that it should produce?
  (Lord Rooker) You cannot seriously expect me to give an answer to that. I cannot give you a figure for that.

  503. Are we talking about 1 per cent?
  (Lord Rooker) No. I am not in a position to speculate on that. The planning gain will come in many different ways.

  504. In evidence lots of people have said that the planning gain is not very satisfactory and that it could make a significant contribution. Will it make a significant contribution or will it be at the margins of providing affordable housing?
  (Lord Rooker) In the words of the Deputy Prime Minister we have to get a step change in the contribution of the planning gain to affordable housing. I shall not go beyond that. We have to have a step change in the way that we operate it, given the fact that we have abandoned the plan for tariffs because we think that we can get to where we would have with tariffs by re-working . . .

  505. You knew what you were going to get out of tariffs, so you will know what you will get out of the present system?
  (Lord Rooker) With more flexibility, more transparency and apply it to more developments and go way beyond simple housing developments as well.

  506. What about a developer who is putting something new into an area of high housing shortage in the South East? Would it not be reasonable to ensure that at least the planning gain from that was sufficient to provide homes for all the key workers who will be attracted to that development?
  (Lord Rooker) That may be one way of doing it. It would vary according to the development. There is nothing free in this world. People talk about free houses and free land. It is not free. There is a cost to it somewhere. In some areas your own evidence gives a couple of good examples where developers can end up without any public subsidy, providing affordable housing. It is there in your documentary evidence. We need to widen that approach, take a more radical view, if you like, and be a little more free thinking. I hope that in some respects the Challenge Fund is what it is meant to be. It is only one year and it is a pilot. We want to learn from it. Next week I shall see the kind of response that we have had to it. The response is being sifted at the moment. I am told that it is excellent and we shall build on that. You cannot be specific, I do not think, to every site. In the wider South East it will be slightly different in the growth areas because that is a different kettle of fish altogether when we are talking about Ashford and the Thames Gateway. This is not small development, this is like mega, tens of thousands of homes, tens of thousands of new jobs, literally hundreds and hundreds of hectares of brownfield land, that is much more mega.

Chris Mole

  507. I think everybody agrees that mixed tenure is a good thing and yet probably most new social housing developments, affordable homes, are in areas which will probably be defined by lower incomes. What is your intention to do to try and ensure that neighbourhoods become more and not less mixed?
  (Lord Rooker) That may have been the case in the past. I can remember once saying to a national conference of a political party that I wanted to be able to walk down every street in the country and not know by looking at the dwellings what the tenure was and I was booed from some quarters of the audience.


  508. Do not look at me.
  (Lord Rooker) We have no need to put the clock back, we have moved on a bit since then. I will give you an example, Chris, of where I was recently. I was actually in Docklands and I was about to do the Gateway visit which I wanted to do anyway because I do it by air to look at more brownfield sites. I was looking at a couple of Docklands developments with literally new waterfront dwellings in sight of Canary Wharf, the Dome, etc, and it was pointed out to me that the development I was looking at was completely mixed. There was owner occupation, there was housing association, registered social landlord there and you did not know from looking at it. I do not know what the cost of the owner occupied dwellings were, they would have been phenomenal, I would imagine, but it was a mixed development. We are hell bent on getting mixed developments. I take your point, it depends. The history is 20 odd million dwellings, we are only building a small number of new each year on sites and you might get the concentrations that you talk about but there will be pockets in the South East, and indeed elsewhere in the country, where the more expensive side of the market can sit cheek by jowl with well designed, good quality, sustainable, affordable housing. There should not really be any problem about that.

Sir Paul Beresford

  509. There is a cut back the other way. Some local authorities have said the trouble with providing affordable housing is the percentages are so high that they run the prospect of building ghettos like those we had in the 1950s and 1960s. Your approach presumably is to build up affordable housing?
  (Lord Rooker) You see on the one hand you have got authorities like that and you have authorities like the one just across the river there—because I have dealt with some of the planning applications—who say "We have not got any need for key worker housing or affordable housing in our borough and therefore on this particular site . . . "—it is the old Price's candleworks—" . . . there is no need for any affordable housing. That is one extreme. On the other extreme you have got other authorities who say "We want all affordable housing to be social rented", well we do not accept that. Those two extremes are basically from a bygone age. I do not support either of them and neither does the Government and, therefore, those two extremes are out.

Chris Mole

  510. What are you doing to encourage more private market housing in with new social developments?
  (Lord Rooker) Probably the boot is the other way round in a way, given the nature of building in this country of new dwellings—we are building, what, 130-140,000 a year private and 20-30,000 odd public—it is a question of making sure the vast majority of course are private sector for owner occupation which is what most people aspire to. The major thing is to make sure within those areas we get mixed tenure, shared ownership and rented housing in those developments rather than the other way round. The scale of it is such as to make sure we get the mixture.

  511. You do not think the idea of changing the regulations to allow housing associations to develop housing for sale as well as shared ownership and social rented housing is a good idea?
  (Lord Rooker) I have no ideological problem about that. As I think Norman Perry said there are some housing associations which vary enormously. There are well over 2,000. There are only about a quarter, I think, involved in development. Some of them are very, very small, some are huge. They are developing all over the country, nationally. They are outbidding the private sector for development land and doing it very successfully and making sure they are building mixed sustainable communities. They can do that but, of course, they are big enough to set up the necessary subsidiaries or arms of their organisation to be able to do that. The chief executive of one of them happens to be the former director of housing in Birmingham and they are big, developing nationally. That can be done but, of course, I do not think it would be desirable for every housing association to be a developer for a start, you would have to be duplicating expertise and skills and they would be too small.

  512. We have been told by some witnesses that the service charges imposed by freeholders in mixed tenure housing estates are not actually affordable by those tenants who are living in social housing parts of the estate. Is the Government considering how this problem could be resolved as part of its review of Housing Benefit?
  (Lord Rooker) On the evidence you have had of that, I have not actually seen, I have only read as I say the written evidence so I am not familiar with the details that you may have been given because it does vary. It depends how the mixed tenure came about. If the mixed tenure came about because of right to buy of people who were buying a property they were living in, there is a service charge implied in that and in some ways that is part of the costs of right to buy. There are some difficulties there. On the other hand, there has been discussion, I think maybe some of the questioning you have had relates to possible changes in Housing Benefits of desegregating service charges from the rent. We have made it absolutely clear, the DSS or the Department of Works and Pensions has, that what is covered by Housing Benefit now will be covered by housing benefit after the desegregation. There is no intention of changing the rules of the tenants who have changed. In terms of service charges, which you asked about, I am not familiar with the detail. It would depend to a large extent on the circumstances of the development.

  513. It is things like concierges, community space which private freeholders are more prepared and able to meet the charges of that the social tenants cannot always afford.
  (Lord Rooker) Yes. This is why you tend to get better maintenance, better security, less voids, less aggravation and therefore people queuing up to live there rather than queuing up to get out of those places like many of my former constituents did. Generally speaking though in the housing associations people will pay more in their rent. I have not got any evidence, and I have not seen any paperwork, relating to the particular issue that you raise in the way you raise it to be honest.

Dr Pugh

  514. Stock transfer now, many council tenants have rejected transfer to a registered social landlord. Is the Government concerned that because of this they will not achieve the decent homes standard?
  (Lord Rooker) No, not because of that, although I have to say the stock transfer, the last one I saw was yesterday and that was 87 per cent vote of the tenants in favour, one of our northern towns or cities. There have been some votes one way and some the other. In respect of the decent homes standard, I do not think that will be the reason. We expect on current evidence certainly to meet our interim target of making sure we get a third of the dwellings up to decent standard by 2004. On the current trends and the current work as I sit here in 2002 we estimate—as I say I am estimating eight years forward—we will fall short by about ten per cent. We have got about 1.6 million dwellings and currently, looking at it, we could miss out by about 150,000 across a range of authorities. Now, knowing that eight years ahead, I am fairly confident that if we make the entry target of 2004, certainly we can take the necessary steps to do that. I do not say that is because of stock transfer policies, it is not a consequence necessarily of not transferring stock, the stock transfer policy continues. I realise there is a hiatus at the moment.

  515. Would it help to allow local authorities' funds to improve stock rather like the Government has suggested in arms' length local authority organisations? Why not put that on the table as well?
  (Lord Rooker) We have just announced the relaxation of the setting up of ALMOs for local authorities, two star and improving rather than three star. There is an issue, of course, and at the end of the day the local authority still owns the stock and it is a question of how one looks at the financing of the arrangements. I would not make the connection between, if you like, the stock transfer policy as you started your question, that some tenants have voted "no" and therefore we would meet the decent homes standard, given the fact that as I say I can say now we reckon we can get to within just a ten per cent shortfall at the present time.

  516. It is suggested that some flexibility to local authorities will help you meet that target.
  (Lord Rooker) I hope there will be flexibility but at the end of the day we have still got to look at how the financing arrangements are done for this. At the present time under the ALMO arrangements the stock still lies in the public sector and therefore the normal conventional rules are such that we cannot get access to some of the other funds that we would like to. As I have said there are daily ongoing discussions between my Department and our friends in the Treasury over this and a range of other issues.

Mr Clelland

  517. I was going to ask you about the discussions with the Treasury.
  (Lord Rooker) I think you had better send for the Chancellor then because I do not think I will be able to go much further than I have gone.

  Chairman: We would very much like to talk to the Treasury on occasions but they always insist that spending departments know the answers.

Mr Clelland

  518. From your point of view why not allow local authorities to borrow the funds in order to improve the stock? Why have these arms' length stock transfers? Why can local authorities not be allowed to do it?
  (Lord Rooker) How can I put it? It is more than just improving the stock, is it not? Improving the stock and getting the decent homes is one thing but changing the culture is another part of the policy. Another part of the policy is changing the way we look and the way we deal and the way we manage social rented housing in this country. Arms' length management companies, which is a similar arrangement as what happens in Scandinavia with the municipal housing companies, and the voluntary sector housing associations, the registered social landlords, is one way of encouraging local authorities to do what they do best. What they do best is to deal with the strategic housing issues of their area and not necessarily be the narrow public sector landlord. There are two sides to the policy strand, there are probably more than two. It is not just about getting the money for the decent standards although the mechanism of transfer, converting it from the column of public to private is such that it is easier to get public sector money into bringing this stock up to decent standards for the tenants. At the end of the day they are the king, they are paying the rent.

Mr Betts

  519. We have had these discussions before. It is easy to say, is it not?
  (Lord Rooker) I am in front, I realise, of a great number of local authority experts. I was never a councillor. I do not claim to be an expert and I do not want the Committee to think I am antagonistic towards local authorities but they have not got a good track record in housing management in this country, to be honest.

  Chairman: This is supposed to be questions.

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