Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
TUESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2001
100. Can I welcome people to the second of our
sessions on empty homes? Before we start the first witness session,
can I express my thanks and the Committee's thanks to all of those
who made our visits to Liverpool, Rochdale and Chester so successful?
Can I invite the Abbey Hey Residents' Association to identify
(Mr Unwin) My name is Richard Unwin and
with me I have Bernadette Newing. Mrs Newing is chair of Abbey
Hey Residents Association and I, along with her, come to give
hopefully useful evidence to you. I have some plans which I would
like to pass round the Committee.
101. Do you want to say something by way of
(Mr Unwin) We both live in Abbey Hey and we have recently
formed in the last year a residents' association. It was partly
prompted by the major problems that we have been encountering
in the area. It is an old established neighbourhood with a lot
of private housing, both semi-detached, detached and terraced,
and relatively little council housing. It is surrounded by open
green space and has been regarded as a very popular place to live.
It has good schools but in the last few years the amount of empty
property amongst the terraced property, which you will see highlighted
green in the file we presented, is suffering greatly, 25 per cent
being empty. People are suffering negative equity and as older
people move out who have brought up families in the terraced houses
they have either been taken over by landlords, housing associations
or frequently allowed to go to waste. The problem is one that
we think would drive out the economically active people in the
area to the extent that it will become a desert.
102. Do you want to add anything?
(Mrs Newing) I would like to thank you for giving
us the opportunity to speak here today. On behalf of my group
and the residents who live in Abbey Hey, we are very concerned
about the decline. The decline is largely due to the unpopular
terraced houses that are being not necessarily boarded up but
left empty without boards. These are becoming open to criminal
activities. Everybody agrees it is a very beautiful area, very
unique. We have a lot of green, open spaces and they are under
threat at times, but I feel, along with the residents, that if
we can overcome this problem with the empty properties it will
be a very desirable area in which to live.
103. We had the opportunity of driving round
and looking at the area that you represent and some of the neighbouring
areas as well, many of which were in a more serious state of decline
than Abbey Hey which is a very pleasant community to be part of.
To what extent do you feel that Abbey Hey is different from some
of the neighbouring areas where the council have had to consider
fairly large scale demolition and clearance?
(Mr Unwin) Which areas are you referring to?
104. Parts of Openshaw and Lightbowne.
(Mrs Newing) Abbey Hey is a very community orientated
area and it still has a very strong community that has the commitment
to stay there. Young people who live in the terraced houses who
want to move to semi-detached homes want to stay in the area.
It has been, for a very long time up until recently, classed as
a desirable area and people from those neighbouring areas wanted
to move into Abbey Hey.
105. Is part of what you are saying that you
wish they had not moved into Abbey Hey but that Abbey Hey had
been able to retain its own community characteristics?
(Mrs Newing) Yes. We have some very undesirable families
that have moved into Abbey Hey. We do not have many council properties
and those are well maintained. We suffer little or no trouble
from those. The trouble we suffer is from private landlords who
let these undesirable families into the area. They are operating
antisocial behaviour orders at the moment. Councils and housing
associations will not allow them into their houses and private
landlords are letting them into the homes in Abbey Hey.
106. Do you feel it is partly a police matter
but also a barrier and that the registration of privately landlords
as good, social landlords would be one way of addressing it?
(Mrs Newing) Yes, I feel very strongly about that.
We have very close ties with the councils and housing associations.
We meet regularly with them to discuss any problems we may have
and the big blight is the private landlords who are letting us
down. We have some of them whose houses have been purchased for
under £10,000 and they are not registered.
107. I come from Sheffield but one of the things
that pushes the neighbourhood up is the feeling that your property
values are going up and that it is a good place to buy houses.
You will make a bit of money if you sell. What is your view of
house prices in the Abbey Hey area and why should they be different
from house prices elsewhere?
(Mrs Newing) House prices are declining in the Abbey
Hey area and that is largely because of the undesirable people
moving into the area, not keeping their houses up to standard.
They are letting them go into decay. If you have a nice house
next door to a house that is not nice, nobody will buy it.
108. Do you feel there are other issues, like
schools or better public transport, more emphasis on cleaner streets
or policing? Which of those issues do you feel would help?
(Mrs Newing) We have excellent schools in the area,
an excellent comprehensive and primary, both of which are over-subscribed.
We have waiting lists for people to come into them. If the houses
were more desirable, people would move into the area purely for
the schools. We have bus routes into the city centre and we are
109. You feel it is the issue of housing and
private landlords that needs to be addressed?
(Mrs Newing) Yes. That is my view.
110. How much demolition do you think there
should be? In your submission you talk about removing some of
the terraced houses and replacing them.
(Mr Unwin) This is not easy. A lot of the houses will
be owner occupied; some will be on the market; some will not.
If I had to take a figure, probably about 20 per cent and that
would allow for some take-up from parking. Some families who want
to stay in the area have tried to buy next door and knock through
because if they have a large family this would work. It is the
constriction of space and the lack of open space and I would guess
about 20 to 25 per cent would be realistic.
111. 20 to 25 per cent of what?
(Mr Unwin) Of the total figure of terraced houses
in the area I have shown on the plan.
112. If that proposal was taken forward, would
it have community support?
(Mr Unwin) Yes. There will be difficulties in terms
of those people who might feel they were the ones who were picked
on in the sense that houses will have to be demolished, like compulsory
purchase, but on the other hand, this is a long term solution.
More people have cars in terraced streets now and there is no
garden in front of these houses so we believe you would have to
make it liveable in.
113. Who do you think should take the decision
about demolition? Should it be someone representing the community
as a whole on a block by block basis? You have said there are
increased problems from individual people who did not want their
(Mr Unwin) This is an idea we have had put forward
based on experience and talking to people in the area and people
on the residents' association, many of whom live in the terraced
streets. I suspect it would have to be probably government funded.
There is quite good evidence of Manchester regeneration. Their
success rate has been very good.
114. How do you think that local people can
be helped to maintain confidence in properties and in staying
in the area?
(Mr Unwin) At the present time?
115. Yes. What would you like to see done to
(Mr Unwin) In the very short term, Bernadette and
I discussed this and we think probably some form of morale booster
would be required, new street furniture provided in Abbey Hey,
for instance. As you can see, Abbey Hey is quite an easily defined
area, with the railway line as a boundary, with the road and reservoirs.
Perhaps we could have a logo and things like that. There has been
a lot of work all over the United Kingdom and I notice in London
they have rules and regulations for litter. Litter tolerance is
very important. We have a lot of the area clear of litter and
this is the sort of thing we would try and get better control
over. The other thing is to back the police up and we thought
very long and hard with the chief constable to make sure we kept
this particular standard.
116. Your appeal succeeded?
(Mr Unwin) It succeeded.
117. What about negative equity?
(Mrs Newing) This is a big problem. For example, a
young couple in the area married, had a family and purchase their
house nine years ago at £27,000 and have sold it for £15,000.
They have moved in with their mother-in-law in Abbey Hey, in a
semi-detached house because they want to stay in the area. They
want a semi-detached house in the area but an Irish company came
along and offered to buy the house for £15,000 cash. It had
been on the market for two years so they accepted the offer. This
is another problem: estate agents moving people in from Southern
118. Have you any ideas about how to counter
negative equity, to help preserve values?
(Mrs Newing) Selective demolition would bring the
area up because I think people would want to retain property and
it would stop negative equity because it is a nice area to live
119. What about a house that is knocked down
which was bought for £20,000? What compensation should someone
living in that house get? Should they get £20,000 back or
should they just get the value when it was knocked down?
(Mr Unwin) I am not normally one who believes in intervention
in the market but if we sustain these areas possibly some agreement
could be reached with one of the regeneration bodies to provide
some kind of floor below which properties cannot go. That would
allow people to have confidence. That is long term and it would
need considerable negotiation and would involve considerable expenditure.
I am not aware of the level of taxation that would need to be
diverted and, without wishing to be apocalyptic about the whole
thing, if you lose economically active people in a large part
of this area because of the disenchantment with negative equity,
the chaos in the area will be so great that sustaining value in
the long term would be extremely difficult.