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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 559-579)




  559. Can I welcome you to this the final session of the Committee on this inquiry and ask you to identify yourselves for the record?
  (Mr Montgomery) I am Joseph Montgomery, Director General of the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit.
  (Ms Wallace) I am Moira Wallace, Head of the Social Exclusion Unit in the Cabinet Office.

  560. Do either of you want to make a statement or are you happy for us to go straight to questions?

  (Ms Wallace) I would like to say a little something if I may. I wanted to say that our main involvement with the issues you are confronting has been through the work we did in developing the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy which is now being implemented by the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit which we handed over in the spring this year. That is the main basis on which I feel I am here.

  561. Do you want to say anything, Mr Montgomery?
  (Mr Montgomery) Only that as a new unit we are keen to embrace these issues and to respond to the questions you have.

Mrs Ellman

  562. Is it a mistake to focus on neighbourhoods rather than wider areas?
  (Mr Montgomery) I would have said certainly not. There are severe pockets of deeply ingrained deprivation that might otherwise be lost in a larger city but which are keenly felt in specific neighbourhoods. There are neighbourhoods where a whole range of social ills—poor health, deeply ingrained joblessness, high crime—all coincide to mean that the people living in those neighbourhoods have an incredibly poor standard of life and experience considerably reinforced difficulties over and above any limited income that they have.

  563. In Liverpool the New Deal for Communities is focussing on the Kensington and Smithtown wards. Can you realistically deal with that without looking at what is happening in the city centre, neighbouring areas and indeed the new house building on the outskirts of Liverpool?
  (Mr Montgomery) No, I do not think it would be possible to address the needs of the Kensington area or the needs of that particular NDC area even though we have given Kensington NDC a significant amount of resource to make a start with those problems. Those problems have to be addressed in the wider context of the city's renewal and regeneration strategy and we fully expect that the local neighbourhood renewal strategy published by the emerging local strategic partnership for Liverpool would come in behind that and support the work of the NDC in Kensington.

  564. There is some evidence that when there is more economic prosperity in declining neighbourhoods people want to move out rather than stay. How do you approach that in terms of neighbourhood renewal?
  (Mr Montgomery) The classic problem of renewal and regeneration programmes in the past has been that everybody they have helped in a deprived neighbourhood has left that neighbourhood as soon as their prospects have improved because their housing choice has broadened. What we hope to do through programmes like Neighbourhood Management, through the introduction of street and neighbourhood wardens, is to improve the livability of deprived neighbourhoods so that people who may find improved prospects do not feel so quickly compelled to move away.

  565. When you are looking at and defining neighbourhood how do you reconcile the interests of people who want to remain in a neighbourhood which is seen to be in decline with the interests of those who you might want to bring in? In Kensington, for example, you deal with the communities in the area. There is a great deal of concern that some of the improvements being spoken about are designed to bring better-off people into the neighbourhood at the expense of those who are living there now. How do you deal with situations like that?
  (Mr Montgomery) There always has to be genuine concern that people who may have been decanted from a regeneration area are talked to properly and honestly about the right to return, but at the same time if we are to have balanced and sustainable communities then it certainly ought to be admissible that we have a broadening of the range of families living in an area because there needs to be sufficient spending power to sustain local parades of shops, there needs to be a sufficient range of families that can sustain boards of school governors and mixed and balanced communities have a better chance of weathering economic downturns. I would always argue for balanced and mixed communities wherever possible, though respecting the need to be fair to people who have asked for the right to return as part of any decanting exercise.

Mr O'Brien

  566. Can you think of any ways in which we could cross boundaries on this issue because problems do not stop at the end of an avenue or a street which is ring-fenced for the renewal programme? How do you approach that situation where there could be extending problems in a community?
  (Mr Montgomery) There is always a trade-off and a balance to be struck between concentrating resources on tightly focused neighbourhoods and being realistic about the fact that those problems may not end at the specific boundary of the programme's catchment area. We have operated a regime that has been fairly relaxed about funding specific initiatives, schools, community centres, that may be on the hinterland or just outside the boundaries of some of the target neighbourhoods. At the same time the more you spread the funding the more you dilute its impact.

  567. We have situations where youths from other areas congregate in a particular neighbourhood, so it is important that we try and occupy the time of the youths in their own areas rather than allow them to congregate or assemble in the area where the renewal starts. How do you approach that situation? Have you thought about that?
  (Mr Montgomery) We have certainly thought about the fact that whenever you survey people living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods they complain about two sets of things. They complain about the general detritus, the street scene, the quality of the environment outside their homes, and they also complain about the absence of facilities for young people. I think that the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy through making flexible resource available both through the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund and directly to specific communities through programmes like Neighbourhood Management and New Deal for Communities has made it possible for some communities to increase the availability of services for young people. To deal with the other aspect of your question, we have not operated boundaries rigidly in recognition of the very issue that you are pointing out.

  568. Is this advice passed down to local authorities?
  (Mr Montgomery) It is, and to the local community partnerships.

Sir Paul Beresford

  569. In many of the areas that I have seen that have had successful regeneration the key factor has been increasing home ownership, particularly low cost home ownership. Do you agree with that?
  (Mr Montgomery) This is a similar issue to that described in Kensington. If people have a continuing stake in their communities they may well be more likely to participate in community life more generally and an area that has a continuing succession of transient families has precious little wherewithal to turn around the problems that it faces. I would always say that communities that have families which have a continuing stake in the quality of life, the vibrancy of local institutions there, will have a better prospect of fighting their way out of decline.

  570. Can I take that as a yes? On that assumption can I also assume therefore that you are using the private sector to bring their expertise on funding into exactly that area?
  (Mr Montgomery) Yes and yes.

Mr Betts

  571. The National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal has this commitment to turn round the incidence of low demand by 2010. Have you got the powers and resources to achieve that?
  (Mr Montgomery) Certainly the DTLR, who own the target that we will monitor, is committed to being able to turn round substandard social housing by 2010 and it is looking forward to the detailed analysis of the product of HIP returns to allow it to pinpoint specific areas where low demand is becoming a deeper problem. As for whether they have the resources to be able to deal with all of this, it partly depends on the scale of the problem as it turns out both from the HIP returns and from the forthcoming product of the English House Condition Survey.

  572. You seem to target only social housing. Is that realistic when we are looking at low demand in a declining community? Should it be any housing? If it is owner-occupied housing and you find that people are walking away from it on the basis is that not a problem?
  (Mr Montgomery) It is and it has been a problem. It needs to be fully quantified through the survey that I have just mentioned. I do not know whether DTLR has all of the reasons that it might wish to specifically target on privately owned stock.

  573. In your view from the knowledge you have so far and the experience of going round the country looking at areas, is it realistic to try and save every one of these areas or should we be trying to address what happens to these areas or allow those to decline as well as we could manage and start concentrating about what areas where resources might well have a bigger impact and there might be a bigger chance of saving them?
  (Mr Montgomery) I would not take the view that we should passively allow them to decline. I think that even in a situation where you had said that demolition is warranted it ought to be actively managed as part of the strategy to pull together not only by the housing authority but by the Housing Corporation with the involvement of the RDA also.

  574. Do you think the department actually understands that at present, that they may be faced with quite a bit job in managing the effective decline and demolition of a lot of areas?
  (Mr Montgomery) I know colleagues have looked closely at the M62 study and the market renewal bids that are starting to come through. I think the scale of the problem is coming home to officials.


  575. Are you sure you are not really looking at the wrong areas? You are actually looking at the worst areas, are you not? Would it not be better to pump in a substantial amount of government money to those areas which are just on the brink where perhaps you can turn them round much more effectively?
  (Mr Montgomery) This is one of the inevitable conundrums. Much of the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal focused on the need for work that was preventative in nature. At the same time there are neighbourhoods that have been allowed to decline so sharply that it would be wrong for us to fail to intervene to assist them.

  576. How quickly do you think a neighbourhood can go down?
  (Mr Montgomery) I think with massive job layoffs and with some of the other problems that can be generated as a consequence of the rapid changes in a local economy an area can edge towards decline really rather quickly.

  577. What do you call rather quickly?
  (Mr Montgomery) I think certainly within a year to a two-year period in areas where, for example, on a recent visit to Burnley, they were telling me about 1,200 jobs having been lost in the last two months. I think those kinds of blows can inflict severe damage on a city but particularly on a specific neighbourhood.

  578. We got some evidence when we were looking particularly in Manchester and Bootle that some neighbourhoods were going down within a matter of a few months. You get one particularly difficult family moving into a street and it can almost clear the street. Are you in a position to respond quickly enough to those sorts of situations to stop decline where suddenly the market falls and the owner occupiers are caught with very substantial negative equity?
  (Mr Montgomery) I think in those areas where we have specific machinery on the ground we can make a definite contribution. We do not through the Neighbourhood Renewal Programmes have national coverage. We have 20 Neighbourhood Pathfinder areas, 39 New Deal for Communities areas and some significant contributions going through local authorities to 88 local authorities receiving £900 million of Neighbourhood Renewal funding. We do not have a national coverage so I do not think we could claim to be able to attack that problem all over the country.

  579. A drop in the ocean?
  (Mr Montgomery) A significant contribution to an acute problem.

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