Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540-558)|
WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2001
540. Are you satisfied with the role that the
North West Development Agency has in relation to housing where
it appears not to want to be proactive but to leave housing to
(Dr Perry) I think we do regard the North West Development
Agency as being proactive in that it is working pretty closely
with us. It is not calling for large sums of money to be put into
its funds, which I think is very sensible because for the sake
of argument we are a national agency called the Housing Corporation
and we are supposed to know about housing, and we have a good
track record on spending, but we would want our spending to be
locked within the regional economic strategy and the sub-regional
strategy which local authorities and the RDA have worked out.
The only distinction at the moment between regions is in a sense
what position they are in on the path of understanding the importance
of housing markets within their overall strategy.
541. Does that mean that you are satisfied with
the position in the north west?
(Dr Perry) Yes, we are very satisfied with our relationship
with the NWDA.
542. How do you view regional housing statements?
Are they able to cover the variety of need within their region?
(Mr Hadden) The purpose of regional housing statements
is to bring together views from all the interested players, stakeholders,
interested parties, as to what the housing circumstances are within
those regions and to help to try to form priorities both in terms
of geography and also in terms of the type of new development
or housing activity that should be funded either through the ADP
process, the Housing Corporation's funding programme, or through
local authority finance. Regional housing statements we see as
a very useful tool. We accept though that there is some way to
go before they become strategic documents. We really want them
to become more strategic and by that I mean by really highlighting
the priorities in terms of geography and type of activity. That
needs a lot of work in terms of bringing all the players together
and coming up with some agreements as to what those priorities
are, and we are working hard in trying to get those agreements.
543. Do you see one of the problems with strategic
planning being that big local authorities have the brief to determine
their own housing policy and the Regional Development Agency cannot
really develop an overview between different local authorities
within that region?
(Dr Perry) I think, with respect, they probably could.
A sensible large city would not regard its boundaries as being
impermeable. They know that what happens in their city depends
on what happens in the housing market round about. Indeed, even
the biggest city is not a single housing market. Before I took
this job I was a metropolitan local authority Chief Executive
for 11 years and we clearly saw merit in working within the West
Midlands in that instance to try and develop strategies which
included the housing market and the labour market dimensions.
This is starting to come together.
544. We saw instances where the actual boundary
between local authorities made a huge difference to the housing
market either side of that boundary, whether it was the education
policy or the rates or the council tax. How do you develop a housing
strategy in that situation?
(Dr Perry) Part of the answer is for the local authorities
concerned to reflect upon what is causing some of those discontinuities
at the boundary. We know that housing markets, as you rightly
say, depend on other factors, and probably it is right to say
that there is no unique housing solution to housing problems because
they are a reflection of wider social and economic factors and
those have to be addressed by the partners, the public agencies
and the private sector, at the same time as you are working on
the housing. Whether it is the RDA or whether it is some of the
emerging geography of sub-regional partnerships across the country,
which I have some experience of and which are really good, the
problems are starting to be addressed.
545. Moving to areas with high waiting lists,
I wonder if you could tell us how you encourage RSLs to work with
local authorities to bring empty properties back into use, (a)
in general and (b) specifically to help families who are homeless?
(Mr Hadden) We expect housing associations to work
very closely with local authorities. Looking at empty housing
strategies in particular, we have encouraged local authorities
to have their own empty home strategies and to involve RSLs, housing
associations, in developing those strategies and in the implementation
of those strategies. A long time ago when this was becoming an
issue in my days as a Director of the Corporation's West Region,
we supported Reading and Southampton Councils to undertake surveys
of empty properties and to create their empty property housing
officers and their strategies which would involve working very
closely with housing associations as the vehicle for getting those
properties back into use, buying them from the absentee owner
and letting them out to people on the waiting list. We have some
very good examples of where the RSLs and the Housing Corporation
work very closely with local authorities to effect those strategies.
546. What do you think could be done to enable
RSLs to make more use of properties that are actually government
properties? NHS properties are a common example.
(Dr Perry) So far as the NHS is concerned I do not
think there are many empty NHS properties. In fact it is the reverse.
We are working very closely with the NHS Housing-Co-ordinator,
John Yates, to bring partner RSLs on board with NHS trusts to
develop housing for key workers and that is operating quite well.
Mr Yates has managed to broker about 4,000 homes for NHS workers
in the past year. We are working with him at the moment to try
and develop preferred partners in different areas so that NHS
trusts do not have to shop around too much before they find one.
So far as other government properties are concerned, Mr Hadden
and I had a meeting recently with Addington Homes who bought the
entire MOD estate and they are very active (which is not widely
known) in fostering low cost home ownership. There are a lot of
homes that they have bought from the MOD in places where there
is key worker demand and where the physical state of the properties
makes them more suitable for young families just starting off
on the home ownership ladder. They have got mortgage packages
negotiated and we were quite encouraged by the contribution they
are making and possibly there could be more publicity for what
they are doing.
547. I want to ask you a bit more about dealing
with the owner problem. Can you tell us a bit about your experience
of authorities where they have tried to move populations in order
to deal with housing problems?
(Dr Perry) I am trying to think of any that have.
548. We have too few houses in some parts of
the country and too many in others.
(Dr Perry) There are a number of initiatives where
certainly housing associations which have properties which are
available in the Midlands and the North are working with particular
London boroughs to offer those houses and there are some well
publicised successes and some well publicised lack of successes.
549. Are we talking about 100 people moving
or are we talking about 1,000 people moving?
(Dr Perry) At the moment it is hundreds rather than
550. You think it is even hundreds? It is not
twos and threes?
(Dr Perry) I do not think we have those figures to
hand. We could find out and write to you, Chairman. One of my
former authorities, Wolverhampton, is currently talking to Lambeth
Council about providing homes in Wolverhampton for Lambeth people.
Sir Paul Beresford
551. I was interested in your answer about what
the arrangement between local government and RSLs. There seems
to be an abysmal failure in London. Many of the local authorities
in London have vacancies well into four figures which is bad,
and then when you look at the vacancies declared for the RSLs
who have a smaller stock, proportionately they are as bad if not
worse. Just to give one example, Newham has declared as a council
317 vacanciesthis is at the 1 April 2001but the
RSLs 464. Should the councils not be helping the RSLs?
(Dr Perry) In the London context there are very few
RSL properties which are empty because they are available and
no-one wants them. There is quite a lot of decanting which takes
place. Associations have to hold properties vacant in order to
temporarily house tenants who are having their own homes improved.
Across the whole of London there are about 4,500 empty properties
like that which in the context of the whole of the RSL stock in
London is pretty small. I could not say that it is absolutely
every property that is of that kind but we are certainly not aware
through our regulation or through our investment teams that there
is a problem of empty homes in London not being wanted.
552. The figures are quite staggering. There
is Hackney with difficulty on housing and it has got 1,526 empty
properties that they have declared, and just under 1,000 vacant
over 12 months, and the RSL have 942. As a proportion of the stock
I would have thought that was horrendous.
(Dr Perry) I do not have a breakdown of those figures
but I would be happy to seek further information and write to
553. Do you support the moves of some London
boroughs and the proposals they are developing to help people
from areas with very high waiting lists move up to areas in the
north, say, where there are very low waiting lists and there is
a high housing availability?
(Dr Perry) Yes, we do. We encourage associations and
local authorities to do that. As the Chairman pointed out, it
is not exactly a flood at the moment.
554. How will that happen?
(Dr Perry) Essentially we are talking about individual
people. People have got to want to move. That means that the association
which has the empty property needs to do quite a successful selling
job on the location, the area, the type of housing.
555. In Tower Hamlets, for example, there are
15,000 families on the waiting list. I am sure quite a few of
them might be delighted at the prospect of a three-bedroomed property
somewhere else, but how can they have that option?
(Dr Perry) Most local authorities in London will have
details in their neighbourhood housing offices of associations
which have properties available. Part of the reason why this has
not become a flood is that you are talking about individuals who
have family connections in areas. There has been, it is said,
some reluctance to uproot themselves and their families and move
north. I was in Newcastle recently and they are taking the initiative
of offering not only to particular homeless people or tenants
who want to move but almost to their extended familybring
the entire family up with you. It is all down at the end to individual
people being persuaded that a new life in another part of the
country is what they want.
Sir Paul Beresford
556. Are they offering jobs for these families
or are they moving to unemployment?
(Dr Perry) I do not think in many cases you are talking
about a buoyant job market where you have got lots of empty properties
but quite often you are talking to people who are already on full
557. Being miserable in Lambeth or being miserable
in Wolverhampton is not exactly the ideal combination is it?
(Dr Perry) I think, Mrs Dunwoody, sometimes it is
the option of being
Mrs Dunwoody: Miserable in a bigger place.
Ms King: Absolutely. We visited a family with
16 people and two bedrooms. I think they would welcome the option.
They would not necessarily exercise it but they would welcome
it. In Tower Hamlets they do not have that.
558. I am afraid I have to stop the Committee
now because we have overrun on this session. Can I thank you very
much for your evidence.
(Dr Perry) Thank you very much, Chairman. We will
send the information that we promised.