Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
TUESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2001
140. Can I welcome you to the second session
this afternoon and ask you to identify yourselves for the record?
(Deborah Shackleton) Deborah Shackleton,
Group Chief Executive, Riverside Housing Association.
(Caroline Field) Caroline Field, Head of Housing Policy
at Riverside Housing Association.
(Mr Athar) Mohammad Athar, from the Harvest Housing
Group, but I am also speaking in my own capacity.
141. Do any of you want to say anything by way
of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight to the
(Deborah Shackleton) Thank you for giving
us the chance of contributing. The reason we have sent a submission
in is because we are really concerned about the housing market
failure and empty homes are a big problem for Riverside. We have
142. Out of how many?
(Deborah Shackleton) Out of almost 23,000. We do not
want you to think that is because of poor housing management.
It is because of housing market failure beyond our control. We
think this problem, huge as it is, is an opportunity for us to
do something significant to improve housing. There are severe
problems and there are three or four things which need to happen
if the problem is not going to get worse. There needs to be a
change to the way in which the housing market works; changes to
the compulsory purchase system and a housing renewal fund and
this is crucial to address housing market failure.
(Mr Athar) Until recently, I was chief executive of
a BME housing association in the north part of Greater Manchester
and in Lancashire. The demand from those communities was such
that there was not an issue around empty properties but around
what could be done to use some of that stock to meet the needs
of those communities.
143. You have told us that Riverside has 1,000
empty properties but you also absolve yourself, I presume, and
your predecessor organisation is getting the blame. If the management
of Riverside is not to blame, who is?
(Deborah Shackleton) Whilst we are not to blame, it
is certainly the case that in some places we have found ourselves
to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution and
that is because the reasons for empty homes occurring are complicated.
They include changing aspirations for owner occupation and, alongside
that, the fact that there are now quite easy to access, low cost,
new homes for owner occupation and there is a reduced demand for
social housing. Alongside that, there is population loss in the
major cities. There is an excess of supply over demand to the
tune of something like17,000 homes in Liverpool and that is going
to affect our ability to fill our homes appropriately. Alongside
that, there are declining neighbourhoods; there are increases
in crime, problems with schools, antisocial behaviour, which results
in more temporary lettings. There is a churning which undermines
the sustainability of the community and some of our property is
obsolete. Some is in poor condition and we can do something about
that. We have tried to. We are spending over £20 million
a year on repairs and at least £11 million of that is on
improvements but some of our properties are costing too much money.
It can cost up to £45,000 to refurbish a house and that is
not financially viable when the resulting property is worth at
most £25,000 and is probably not going to be attractive to
144. We have seen this morning properties that
only four or five years ago had full improvement grant works carried
out costing £40,000 and they are structurally very sound.
Now they have been abandoned and they are all boarded up. In your
memorandum, you talked about the need for housing associations
to have the funding to redevelop older properties. Is that what
you are really clearly saying to us? That is what you see as the
way forward? The old system of giving improvement grants has failed
and it is redevelopment for the future?
(Deborah Shackleton) There is more than one approach.
It depends on the community. There are some neighbourhoods which
are no longer sustainable and where financial viability and the
nature of properties is such that people will not want to live
there anyway. In this case, what is needed is a housing market
fund to completely restructure the market and that should encourage
the private sector to develop more homes for owner occupation
because that is what people aspire to. In other neighbourhoods
there may have to be some selective demolition to add amenity
value but it does not necessarily mean full scale redevelopment
in those circumstances which we call the buffer areas. Further
housing association investment in refurbishment in major repairs
is going to be very useful but it is not the only solution because
that should not be a solution for obsolete properties.
145. Do you think government policy is helping
or hindering those aspirations that there are? Is government policy
encouraging the housing market with more opportunities to invest
in the new build properties rather than re-investing in the older
(Deborah Shackleton) The government set a decency
standard for the public sector but they have not followed it up
with a decency standard for the private sector and private sector
renewal has fallen through the gap. The Housing Corporation's
funding is largely for housing associations to provide extra homes.
Many of the submissions you have had have mentioned what are called
The Housing Corporation's new tools, including acquisition and
demolition grants to help do this selective clearance, which is
crucial for keeping neighbourhoods sustainable.
There are some booming places but in the places where there are
empty homes what is needed is a different kind of target based
on regeneration indicators. Those targets are not available to
The Housing Corporation. So they are spending less than five per
cent of their money on works to existing housing association stock.
146. In the areas where you work, would you
like to quantify how widespread you see the problem of obsolescence
being as opposed to a poor state of repair?
(Deborah Shackleton) There are 70,000 homes in the
inner core of Liverpool and the Centre for Regional Studies has
estimated at least 11,000 need to go now and possibly as many
more that in the next few years. 7,000 of our 23,000 homes are
in the inner core of Liverpool and ten per cent of those are empty.
We would anticipate losing up to 2,000 of our 23,000 homes through
demolition if the appropriate action is taken.
147. Why do you think in the city I represent,
which is not too far down the motorway, Chester, there are terrace
houses like the ones we saw this morning and yesterday in Liverpool
and they are selling for in excess of £75,000? You can hardly
give them away here.
(Deborah Shackleton) It is about supply and demand.
The crucial issue for some of the inner core areas is the changes
in demography which have reduced demand and increased aspirations
for owner occupation. Probably in ChesterI do not know
it wellthere are significant numbers of employment opportunities
generated there, including Marks & Spencer, and economic regeneration
has gone hand in hand with supply equalling demand. That means
prices can go up. There is an issue for Liverpool, Manchester
and other northern cities about making sure that economic regeneration
goes hand in hand with the regeneration of the housing and sequencing
investment so that what we do not do is create jobs which drive
people away from neighbourhoods which are on the brink, because
they would move out to the suburban fringes and make the situation
even worse for those who are left in these neighbourhoods. What
we need to do is make those inner neighbourhoods attractive and
change the balance of housing, building £75,000 houses there
so that people who want to live in the city can stay in the city
in decent homes and we get a mix of tenure and house types. All
the northern cities are doing really well in their city centres.
It is a matter of regenerating economies as well as housing, and
implementing a transport policy to get closer links with London
so that firms are prepared to invest here. The housing market
must be revitalised as well; otherwise everybody will choose to
live in Chester.
148. Particularly in Liverpool, who should be
taking the decisions about the scale of demolition? Should a decision
on demolition be taken, as was mentioned by the Riverside Housing
Association, without any regard to the views of people in the
(Deborah Shackleton) Of course it should not. But
I think there is a big problem which cannot be solved by simply
looking at the neighbourhood level. There is a housing market
failure in the major northern cities which cannot be resolved
simply by working with individual communities. It needs strategic
leadership from the city council, using the research they have
commissioned, but we have to try to initiate what needs to happen
taking into account the bigger picture. That is not the only response.
Communities need to engage with the strategy, as we are trying
to do in Kensington, where at least there are some answers to
give to the community.
149. Have you not highlighted a great conflict?
You have spoken about what might be in the interests of Liverpool
and the centre of Liverpool and you have said perhaps the city
council should take the decision on demolition; yet, specifically
in that Kensington new deal programme the guidelines for that
say that it is local people deciding, including decisions on demolition.
In saying that there is a bigger picture and the council should
decide, are you not highlighting a major contradiction?
(Deborah Shackleton) I am highlighting a tension.
150. What is the difference between a tension
and a conflict?
(Deborah Shackleton) It is possible to resolve a tension,
but there is an issue of scale which no one community can get
to grips with and there is an issue of detail which is crucially
the community's responsibility. What we are trying to do is work
with the local community within the context of a framework set
by the strategy for the city which says if we do not change the
balance of owner occupation in Kensington, the area investment
will probably be wasted. Local people agree with that. The difficulty
comes in agreeing detailed plans for demolition when you get down
to street level and that is where associations like Riverside
have some experience of working with communities, through planning
at a neighbourhood level. When you add all the neighbourhood plans
together, it will deliver the total package which is part of the
framework for reducing the supply across the whole city.
151. As a quick addition to your desire to intervene
in the housing market, the house builders in the north west in
general are probably doing very well because there are a number
of areas where their new house building is giving them very high
profits and that means there is a number of people in and around
the north west who are going to buy these houses and make their
own choice. What can the housing corporation, the housing association
movement and local government, and indeed the government, do to
intervene in that?
(Deborah Shackleton) The local councils could change
planning guidance and encourage private developers to work in
the inner city rather than outside and housing associations can
assemble sites for them to do so.
152. They need resources to do that.
(Deborah Shackleton) Yes.
(Deborah Shackleton) Why is Liverpool
still demolishing what in any other city would be highly desirable,
three-storey Georgian houses? You mentioned the relationship between
those types of properties and economic regeneration. What are
you as a very large social housing provider doing in partnership
with others to ensure that those properties are not being lost?
(Deborah Shackleton) We are working with
a strategic housing partnership to produce a strategy which does
not result in what you have said but takes out only those properties
which are obsolete and cannot be brought back into use. I am thinking
not of the kind of properties you have suggested but more the
very tiny, two up and two down terraced properties which are 120
units to the acre.
153. In Rochdale there has been some limited
demolition. Has that had community support?
(Mr Athar) There has been some tension in the areas
you visited yesterday as to why people cannot stay in the area
and it has also triggered a solution by working together with
the community as well as stake holders to move these communities
into another area. By looking at the solution together, the problem
of tension has been alleviated.
154. Has it taken time to develop that agreement?
(Mr Athar) There is not any solution that is easy
but if there is joint working of all stake holders, particularly
communities taking a lead as well as being involved in solutions,
the final results can be really useful. It has taken time but
quite a few of the initiatives we have done in Rochdale are making
the quality of life of some of the people who live in the run-down
areas much better. It is also dealing with the issue of integration
as well. The new areas that have been opened up mean that there
is a balanced community, a balance of rented stock as well as
some shared ownership schemes which have been quite successful.
155. Is Rochdale better than the surrounding
(Mr Athar) I do not think I can make a statement like
that but Rochdale has been quite proactive in testing some of
the solutions out. If we start from the premise that it is a big
problem and we cannot deal with it, it is never going to be dealt
with. Local authorities like Rochdale have involved all the key
stake holders at the outset and therefore success has been achieved.
156. How would you describe the changing needs
of ethnic minority communities in Rochdale?
(Mr Athar) It varies from one authority to another
but most communities in the north have minority communities. Most
of the studies I have been involved in show that around 50 per
cent of the population is 16 years and under. There is a myth
that it always needs large family homes for extended families.
There are quite a few but at the same time there is a value system
that is changing within the communities from what the first generation
people do and what the second generation wants to do. People want
to stay in the same area but the younger community is more likely
to move into these areas because they are more challenging to
some of the disadvantages which the first generation has faced.
There is also an issue of demand which might be just round the
corner. Currently, there is no strategy to deal with that issue
and you can link that with what I said earlier about changing
values. A lot of the elders are being absorbed into the community
but that may not be the case in future years. There is going to
be a demand and a need for us to be looking to specialist accommodation
for Asian elders particularly.
157. Will young people move out into new areas
of their own accord or do you feel it is right to persuade people
under pressure to move out of areas where they identify themselves?
(Mr Athar) Everybody wants to live in a good quality
home where there is peace and security and access to all the basic
amenities. Therefore, it is not unusual for the younger generation
to want to move but they are more willing in terms of dealing
with some of the difficulties like language and mobility. As housing
providers, we have to make sure that, if people want to move into
a certain area of their own accord or if we promote an initiative,
it would be a community development in a secure area with the
provision of amenities as part of the infrastructure.
158. What has your experience of the choice
based lettings system been up to now?
(Deborah Shackleton) It is difficult to say with certainty
because we have only been running it six months and we had a few
hiccups when we first started, but we have attracted a wider range
of clients interested in our properties than previously had been
the case because housing associations have been associated with
meeting the housing needs of only one particular aspect of the
community. There are some people who had not been applying to
us who would have been perfectly appropriate for receiving publicly
subsidised properties and living in communities where we are wanting
to sustain communities. We have been encouraging friends and family
in a way that we have not previously. We are getting more of these
people applying and, as a consequence, we are reducing the time
between a property becoming empty and being let. That is good
159. If somebody put it to you that initiatives
like this do not make any fundamental difference to the big picture,
how would you respond?
(Deborah Shackleton) They are one aspect of it; they
are not the crucial aspect, but they give people choice, which
is part of our job. We try to provide quality accommodation where
people want to live. It is essential for us to do that, but I
do not think it fully solves the problem.
1 Note by witness: I was therefore very disappointed
to read the DTLR's submission which indicated that they do not
support the use of this tool. Back
Note by witness: Because funding is available through
New Deal for Communities. Back