Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



  180. Do you not know them?
  (Mr Styche) No, because the Secretary of State is currently considering recommendations for the new public inquiry. Until he has come out with conclusions, we cannot say what they will be.
  (Mr Steinberg) I do not think we have sufficient resources in place to tackle some of the things you have seen in the last 48 hours. We have gone through a process, in a number of areas, of research. There are reports, which we have given to this Committee, that outline the tools at our disposal to meet some of the issues which have come about in the last five or ten years. We do not have the resources at our disposal to turn round all the areas. There is an expectation that the authorities and the corporation will respond, in every instance. In other words, there is an expectation that all communities can be regenerated.


  181. You do not think you can tell us how many houses are coming out of the system?
  (Mr Steinberg) In totality for the north west, I do not have the figures but I will send them from the perspective of the corporation.[3]

Helen Jackson

  182. Do you have the figures, as the Housing Corporation, North, as to how many more houses you have built over the last five years than you have demolished and what your expectations would be over the next five years?
  (Mr Steinberg) Demolitions are carried out largely by local authorities although associations carry out some of their own demolition programmes.


  183. You have a capital budget to spend. Presumably in allocating those capital grants you take into account what is going on. You should know how many houses have been taken out of the system.
  (Mr Steinberg) For housing associations, I do know that.

  184. What is the implication for housing associations if quite a lot of their stock is taken out? Could that not mean those housing associations go bust?
  (Mr Steinberg) The first implication for the question is that increasingly in replacement housing the numbers do not balance. We know the figures for housing associations in terms of the houses being taken out by associations and we have some information coming through the HIP report from local authorities about the totality of the housing. What we lack information on is private sector housing, which is increasingly being researched by us. Coming back to the second part of the Chairman's question, if some of the reports we are seeing are proved to be correct, this in my view raises a question mark about some associations' part in this. To the extent the corporation is concerned about that, I have initiated a study with Manchester City Council about the number of associations currently operating and there are something like 45 to 50 operating housing associations in Manchester.

  185. You are avoiding the question. Do the associations go bust? There are different implications for that on credit rating for the whole of the housing sector. The alternative is that properties in desired streets are sold for profit to reduce debt. Would that not be disastrous?
  (Mr Steinberg) I was not trying to avoid the question. It is open to question. Most will survive.

  186. In the past, the ones not surviving have been taken over by different bodies who have said, "For the good of housing, we will take this association over, even if it has a considerable debt to bring with it." Is that going to continue?
  (Mr Steinberg) No, because no doubt it is increasingly unattractive to some associations to take on some of these properties.

Mrs Ellman

  187. There are 18,000 empty homes in Liverpool. Should they be filled or demolished?
  (Mr Styche) Some are undoubtedly capable of being restored, renovated and refilled. There are others which are probably beyond that. It is a matter of fact that there are now too many of a particular house type around to meet the market demand. Most of what has happened is about people's aspirations. People used to be content to occupy a two up, two down or a Victorian terraced property. Now they aspire to something better. Part of the task we have at the moment is understanding how that market works and deciding what we need to do in similar areas across the region to make them sufficiently attractive for people to aspire to move to.
  (Mr Steinberg) You will have seen deprivation forcing decline in some areas and some of the areas which are deprived are exactly the same as they were 22 years ago, despite the programmes we have put in, because people have been voting with their feet. We face a significant demolition programme in Liverpool and this cannot be avoided.

  188. Would you like to see any estimate of the balance in that 18,000?
  (Mr Styche) I had a discussion a couple of days ago with colleagues from Liverpool City Council and they were talking in terms of two for one. If it is 18,000, we are talking about maybe ten remaining at the end.

  189. Are there any new programmes or resources that we need to be able to develop strategies?
  (Mr Steinberg) Liverpool's inner core does not exist in isolation. As a Liverpudlian, I watched successfully developed speculative housing on the eastern fringe of Liverpool draw population out of the city. We are talking about conurbational issues here. I would venture figures not dissimilar to Peter's. We do not have at our disposal the kind of funds to effectively intervene in the housing market but we can work with owner occupiers who may be in negative equity, who may aspire to stay in occupation, but who appear to be moving to rent. You will be aware from the briefing you have had on the new tools that the corporation has been investing in some older private housing areas. These tools are going to be extended in the Liverpool and Wirral areas, but they are still small scale. These kind of proposals, evaluated by universities in the Midlands, can, in Liverpool and other key cities mean very effective interventions in those markets. But intervening at only one level will not turn those markets round.

  190. What is wrong with planning policy if we have new houses in low demand areas and more problems in the inner city?
  (Mr Styche) It is difficult for me to answer this in a specific way because I cannot comment on the merits of what the Regional Planning Guidance says. The Secretary of State may possibly. It is not so much a problem with the policy. We have PPG3 etc. The planning system is very slow to adapt to market conditions.


  191. In giving advice to the Secretary of State, do you know how many planning permissions have been granted on greenfield sites in the north west?
  (Mr Styche) I do not at the moment. We did produce some figures in the Policy Action Team 7 Report for parts of the north west based on a fairly random survey we did two years ago. We could do that again, but I do not have the figures available today.
  (Mr Steinberg) There has also to be better coordination between ourselves and the Regional Planning Guidance, the Regional Economic Strategy and the RDAs in place so that there is clarity between planning guidance and the development of housing. Within the current review of RPG, we can do useful work locally to interface properly with the economic strategy statement, so that there is the synergy for things to happen very effectively.

Mrs Ellman

  192. Where should that be targeted from? Should it be a guidance from the RDAs or the Regional Assembly?
  (Mr Steinberg) Through communication channels and transmission mechanisms. It is incumbent on us and others who are not here, whether the RDA chief executive and other bodies, the Assembly perhaps in the north west, to ensure that this happens.


  193. It is not happening at the moment.
  (Mr Steinberg) No, not as effectively as it could.

Christine Russell

  194. Undoubtedly there is some very robust economic growth going on in the north west and we have seen it here in the centre of Manchester. I represent the booming city of Chester. How do you feel the benefits of that economic growth can be harnessed to help improve these unpopular neighbourhoods?
  (Mr Styche) It is essentially about aspirations and image. The reason we now have the National Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy which talks about a coordinated, comprehensive approach to issues of deprivation, looking at a whole range of issues, is because in many of these cases the state of the housing stock is not the problem. It is about perceptions and image, crime, fear of crime, quality of education and so on. We have to get all that right alongside housing issues.

  195. How are we going to stop this enormous pressure of building on the green fields of Cheshire, so that it takes account of the Manchester housing stock?
  (Mr Styche) We have to create the conditions in the conurbations which will attract people and make people want to live in Liverpool and Manchester inner cities.

  196. Do you feel that community regeneration programmes should be targeted at the worst first areas or should they be targeted at that are perhaps teetering towards the edge?
  (Mr Styche) The stock Civil Service reaction is to say it is a local decision but there is an argument which says we need to look at both. We need to probably pay more attention to areas which are on the brink than in the past. We have tended to concentrate on the most deprived areas and there is concern that that might not be the most appropriate approach in every case.


  197. Given the limited amount of money, the first evidence from the Abbey Hey Residents' Association said the housing market in their terraced housing is fragile. A bit of effort put there now might save spending a lot more money in a few years' time. If it is a choice between something like that and one of the areas we saw this morning, where the market has just gone and it would take a lot more resources, if you have a choice for resources, should it be to support areas which are fragile or to try to sort out the problems of those that have collapsed?
  (Mr Steinberg) There is an expectation about that, all communities can be saved. We should become more involved with those that are fragile. There are areas in the north west where we have tried, for a number of years, to support people's willingness to stay. But there is to be more demolition.

  198. Will you tell those people?
  (Mr Steinberg) I worked for a local authority in a past life and it is very difficult when the government policy seems to indicate that all communities should have the right of surviving in perpetuity in all cases. I cannot see that policy makers and funders can guarantee that. When I was a child in Liverpool in the fifties, it had a population of 750,000; it is 420,000 today and this highlights the problems faced by the people in these areas. In some areas, the housing is just not sustainable. You could argue that perhaps a new deal in Kensington would have undoubted benefits for that area. However the housing market will suck more people into that area, perhaps creating an even more chaotic housing market. We have to create conurbational strategies. We will continue with some of the things we have done in the past and not recognise the ebbs and flows that take place in housing markets which do not respect local authority boundaries at all.

Mrs Ellman

  199. Are you saying the new deal for communities programme is a mistake?
  (Mr Steinberg) No. We have to have housing strategies into which agencies like ours and the department can get involved. These must not be in isolation.

3   Note by witness: Figures will be supplied as an annex to the Corporation's general submission of evidence in December. Back

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