Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
TUESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2001
160. You are not offering people a choice where
they want to live; you are offering them a lot of choice in the
areas they do not want to live.
(Deborah Shackleton) Yes, but we are offering more
choice than we did and we are trying to offer more choice in terms
of quality and selection. Our thinking is about trying to improve
the quality of our existing homes and offering existing tenants
161. If the problem of unpopular neighbourhoods
and empty homes does not get solved in the reasonable expectation
of the future, what will be the effect on the business plans of
the housing associations? I would have thought they would be in
(Deborah Shackleton) Yes. The percentage of our stock
which is pre 1919 and which was done up 25 years ago is significant.
We definitely need some assistance in the transition to providing
fewer, better quality homes.
162. Do you agree, Mr Athar?
(Mr Athar) Yes. The issue of our own restructuring
will make it very difficult for particularly smaller RSLs to survive.
Some community initiatives and development opportunities and some
of the models which I have been involved in can help to save those
neighbourhoods provided we do all work together.
163. Will there be quite severe pressure by
your funders to get rid of this unpopular housing stock possibly
to private landlords?
(Mr Athar) I have not experienced that, but it is
164. Would you agree?
(Deborah Shackleton) Disposal to private landlords
is the disposal of last resort. We are piloting stock swaps with
other social landlords. We cannot put in the kind of investment
in neighbourhood management that we would want to in every area
where we own property, so we are looking at swapping with some
associations. We would try to sell to owner occupiers if we could
because the investment they bring will help to sustain neighbourhoods.
At worst, if nothing is done, if there are no resources, it is
costing £3,000 per home per annum in loss of rent and void
costs and council tax, on a void property that is useless and
is making things worse. We cannot sustain that.
165. You said smaller housing associations might
go bust. Presumably you are perfectly all right but would it matter
if some housing associations went bust?
(Deborah Shackleton) We are not perfectly all right.
We would have to spend less on repairs. We had a £20 million
repairs budget. If we are spending money on empty properties,
there is less money to spend on the things we want to spend it
on. As to whether it would matter if there were fewer housing
associations, the diverse, vibrant housing association movement
has proved very successful in providing a range of housing, so
it would be disastrous if that were to be stopped.
166. The question was would it matter if some
housing associations went bust.
(Deborah Shackleton) I think it would matter to lenders
because it would undermine the certainty they have in the movement
as a whole. It would matter to tenants of those associations,
the staff and their employment prospects.
167. At the moment the credit rating of housing
associations is pretty important, is it not?
(Deborah Shackleton) It is.
168. Could I ask about the wider issue of neighbourhood
renewal? Can I ask you both what the experience of your associations
is with neighbourhood renewal? What kind of partnerships do you
feel are needed to tackle the redevelopment of these unpopular
(Mr Athar) The Ashiana Housing Association where I
worked was a small community housing association and therefore
has been involved in a large number of projects. You visited some
of those yesterday. They recognised at the outset that just providing
housing is not going to be enough. Therefore, looking at a role
for tenants as well as involvement of the wider community and
supporting some of the wider community initiatives, particularly
around employment, was a critical part of its work. As a result,
this has achieved quite a lot of success and provided a lot of
opportunities. If we are to deal with neighbourhood issues, the
role for ourselves has to be very important and neighbourhood
renewal has to be one of the core factors. Without taking a holistic
approach to these neighbourhoods, I do not think we can deal with
the issues we have been talking about.
169. Yesterday, when we were in Kensington,
I think I recall we were told there had been 11 RSLs operating
in some of the neighbourhoods. Could you share with us your experience
of working with other RSLs? How do you coordinate together when
you are making investment or disinvestment decisions in a particularly
(Deborah Shackleton) We manage that better in some
local authorities than others because some are incorporating strategic
working. In Kensington, in principle, we have agreed with all
those 11 housing associations that the community based association
will become part of the Riverside group taking on an increasing
amount of the housing management functions. It will make it easier
for people to apply for tenancies. What we are looking at is taking
a lead role in some areas. It is expensive. Neighbourhood management
is more than housing; but we are trying to do some of this management
and stock swaps so that other investors can take a lead in other
170. You are really saying housing associations
should no longer manage housing, but should take part in other
functions the local authority provides, looking after the parks
and generally managing the neighbourhood?
(Deborah Shackleton) It depends on the nature of the
local authority services and their commitment but if all we thought
about was providing repairs and collecting rents, we would not
be doing a proper job. In some cases, we can take on a wider role;
in others, we can be part of a partnership where somebody else
171. You are providing a service based on the
rents people are paying, whereas in other parts of the same situation
the general council tax is paying for those same services. Is
it not hard on your tenants that they are having to pay twice,
once through council tax and once through the rents for services
that perhaps the council should provide anyway?
(Deborah Shackleton) At the moment, we are not providing
mainstream council services in any area. Community 7 will probably
be the first and we are hoping there will be some appropriate
budgetary management. We are providing breakfast clubs, football
strips for children, football clubs, funding for some credit unions,
for financial stability. It would be great if other organisations
were to offer to pay but it probably is a good use of our tenants'
money to provide facilities which sustain their community.
172. Is not that exactly what local authorities
do in some places?
(Deborah Shackleton) They do indeed, but the issue
to a degree is whether we, as a housing association working very
closely with our tenants, seeing what it is they are particularly
interested in, can provide some complementary community investment
which supports their needs.
173. Do you see the same problem in Rochdale?
(Mr Athar) I do not think we are providing anything
additionally but it is a question of looking at neighbourhoods
where, as a housing association, you have total control. It is
quite important that we do work together with the local authority
to provide all the services for that area. I do not think it is
a question of duplicating those services but working together,
looking at the sensitivity. That has been quite successful in
a number of areas and it has been at the heart of some of the
achievements we have seen.
Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very
much for your evidence.