Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Sixth Report



83. Measures such as the work empty homes officers, grants for the refurbishment of individual properties and improved public sector housing management have had some success in healthy housing markets. They appear to have been far less effective in failing markets. In some cases they are considered to have been a waste of money. Sefton Council's memorandum described what happened in Bootle:

    "In 1996, the Council declared a regeneration area in one of the most deprived areas of Bootle. At that time the area had 60 vacant homes and over the last four years, the council and four partner registered social landlords have managed to refurbish or demolish and replace all of these homes. This was at considerable cost and over £10 million was targeted at the area. At the end of four years of this joint investment and having developed a strong partnership with local residents, there still remained 60 vacant properties in this area. (These having become empty during the intervening period.)"[200]

84. In Manchester, we visited the Lightbowne Renewal area, described in the City Council's memorandum:

    "A city wide empty property initiative was launched in 1995 along with a targeted local project in the North Manchester Regeneration Area. Through these the City Council and its partners has developed a menu of measures primarily directed towards empty properties in the older private sector stock, including targeted acquisitions by RSLs, homesteading grants to owner-occupiers and an innovative procedure for enforced sales. The initiative was judged 'Best Empty Homes Strategy' by the Empty Homes Agency in 1996 and 'Highly Commended' in 1997. These measures have been successful in bringing approximately 1,800 empty properties into use and continue to be employed on individual empty properties in areas which are broadly sustainable. However, in areas undergoing more radical market change, these positive steps have been swamped by widespread tenure change and abandonment."[201]

We saw for ourselves, how widespread this abandonment was with a high proportion of the homes lying empty.[202]

85. In the social sector, improved housing management has reduced voids but in failing markets, there is a concern that such changes are unsustainable because of a fundamental lack of demand. The Places for People Group's memorandum describes the organisation's work in the Viking Lea Estate in Sheffield,

    "In 1995, Viking Lea was transferred from Sheffield City Council to NBH [part of the Places for People Group]. 50 per cent of the properties were vacant but within a year and a half this had been brought down to 5 per cent, mainly due to a local lettings plan and some key physical investment. It is still at that level." However, "It has to be recognised that this is not sustainable in the long term as the underlying issue there is the housing market and the nature of the product available. No matter how successful we are at re-letting vacant property, this level of turnover[203] is unsustainable for a viable community in the long run."[204]

86. Traditional measures to alleviate the problem, for example the renovation of houses, will be unsuccessful and unsustainable if they fail to take account of housing market conditions.[205] We recommend that such interventions should not be targeted at individual houses or estates without a clear understanding on the part of the local authority that market conditions are such that the investment will be sustainable.


87. The incoming Government in 1997 decided that too much emphasis had been placed on 'bricks and mortar' in previous housing-focused regeneration programmes. This view was echoed by David Cowans, who told us:

88. The National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal published, in 1998, was intended to reverse that trend.[207] The Strategy identified the size of the problem of deprivation and highlighted the failure of previous regeneration initiatives to bring about sustainable regeneration of their areas and the need to develop a "joined-up" approach to the problem. The Strategy changed the focus of regeneration activity to the neighbourhood and the people living within it.

89. Subsequently, eighteen Policy Action Teams were set up to develop the themes of the National Strategy, including one looking at unpopular housing, and to put forward detailed recommendations for action. The Report by the Unpopular Housing Action Team published in 1999, identified a number of concerns, for example, the need to take full account of the availability of brownfield sites prior to greenfield planning consents being given, the need for joint strategic working by a range of regional bodies and the problems caused by anti-social behaviour.[208] We have heard many of these concerns repeated in this inquiry, two years on.

90. The National Strategy Action Plan was published in 2001.[209] This document drew together the conclusions of the eighteen Policy Action Teams and set out the Government's 105 key commitments to achieving neighbourhood renewal. Commitment Number 68 was to:

    "Monitor low demand and abandonment with the aim of achieving a turn around in declining demand," by 2010.

The Action Plan set out two long term goals:

  • "in all the poorest neighbourhoods, to have common goals of lower worklessness and crime and better skills, health, housing and physical environment; and
  • to narrow the gap on these measure between the most deprived neighbourhoods and the rest of the country."[210]

91. It also set out a number of measures designed to achieve those goals. These included the establishment of Local Strategic Partnerships and the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund, targeted at the 88 most deprived local authority areas. It called for "joined-up" working between local services and "bending of mainstream resources" to address the problems caused by "too many special programmes and short-term initiatives rather than a comprehensive, sustained response through mainstream services."[211] This refers to the situation where projects are developed within area-based regeneration programmes and receive regeneration funding for, say, three years, rather than a project being developed within the context of the local authority's strategy and funded through its ongoing revenue resources.

The extent to which neighbourhood renewal is achieving its objectives

92. Unfortunately, it has been clear during our inquiry that the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy is not meeting its objectives and more fundamentally that its original objectives failed to take account of what is required to tackle the devastating problem of low demand and failing housing markets. The National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal and the National Strategy Action plan called for new ways of "joined-up" working to resolve the problems of the most deprived neighbourhoods. Although the Strategy was published over three years ago, Lord Falconer of Thornton, QC, Minister of State for Housing, Planning and Regeneration told the Urban Affairs Sub-committee that, "I do not think that it [bending of mainstream resources] has adequately changed," and that there was evidence that the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund was being used as a substitute for mainstream funding in some cases.[212] Matthew Baggott's memorandum also suggested that co-ordination could still be improved to bring about a 'joined up' approach to tackling neighbourhood problems, such as anti-social behaviour, by local partnerships.[213]

93. There is little evidence that the Local Strategic Partnerships, launched as a result of the National Strategy Action Plan, have yet taken practical steps to address the problems of empty homes. South Yorkshire Housing Association, for example, stated that, "Locally no housing associations have been able to secure places on Local Strategic Partnerships."[214] However, the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit has told us that the strategies to be published by Local Strategic Partnerships in April 2002 are expected to state how the partnership will respond to low and declining demand. There is also a concern that the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund is, in fact, operating as another area-based initiative of the type that the Government is trying to reduce.[215] Liverpool City Council described the ongoing administrative burden created by the plethora of regeneration initiatives, each with its own forms, rules and regulations.[216] The Community Cohesion report said that the Fund is, "ironically seen as yet another initiative."[217]

The limitations of the neighbourhood renewal approach

94. More fundamental concerns relate to whether the neighbourhood renewal approach, as the primary mechanism for social regeneration, is capable of addressing the problems of failing housing markets. We were told of a series of limitations:

  • the potentially perverse effects caused by employment and training schemes which result in people getting jobs, increasing in affluence and moving out of the neighbourhood;

  • the failure of consultation to take account of the views of potential residents;

  • insufficient emphasis on neighbourhoods at risk;

  • negative effects on other neighbourhoods in the conurbation;

  • a scepticism as to whether indeed every neighbourhood can be saved; and

  • a reluctance to confront the enormity of the changes required.

95. With the increased emphasis on employment, crime, education and health in the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal, witnesses were concerned that insufficient attention is now being paid to housing regeneration. David Cowans added to his comments about the problems of housing regeneration programmes in the 1980s and early 1990s:

Housing was introduced as a priority in the second round of New Deal for Communities, after exclusion in the first round.

96. Training schemes designed to improve people's employability can compound the problem of people moving out of areas once they gain employment. The National Housing Federation gave us a copy of their submission to the Comprehensive Spending Review, which stated,

    "An increase level of tenancy turnover has been observed where regeneration schemes have provided former residents with access to employment and higher salaries... Thus, without significant improvements to housing and the environment, successful employment and regeneration can potentially speed up the process of neighbourhood abandonment."[219]

97. The Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy is based on the principle that community consultation is imperative. We heard that consultation is important but is not without difficulties. In Kensington, in Liverpool, we stood in a street of empty homes, whilst local residents told us about their concerns that the area would be "gentrified" as a result of the New Deal for Communities programme.[220] The views of existing residents do not always coincide with the requirements of the potential residents such as the "affluent, economically active households,"[221] described by Birmingham City Council, which the council believes need to be attracted into an area in order to give a failing neighbourhood a sustainable future. We recognise the genuine concern of local residents who do not wish to be 'priced out' of their neighbourhoods as a result of successful regeneration schemes. It is vital that regeneration takes account of the views and interests of potential residents as well. The development of a sustainable future for these areas depends attracting a broad mix of new residents to inner urban areas.

98. The National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal targets the poorest and most deprived neighbourhoods. Witnesses discussed the balance between the 'worst first' approach to neighbourhood intervention and paying greater attention to'at risk' housing markets. The Government Office for the North West accepted that the emphasis had not been right:

    "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 least successful areas and there is a concern that that might not be the most appropriate approach in every case."[222]

99. Furthermore, the focus on the neighbourhood fails to take account of the effect of that intervention on the wider conurbation:

    "Whatever decisions we take at a neighbourhood level impact on other neighbourhoods, we have to be aware of that and able to take an overview."[223]

The Housing Corporation added,

    "You could argue that perhaps a New Deal in Kensington would have undoubted benefits for that area. The housing market will suck more people into that area, creating an even more chaotic housing market. We have to create conurbational strategies."[224]

100. Some of the areas we visited have been in receipt of regeneration funding from a number of initiatives over the last twenty years.[225] Witnesses questioned whether every neighbourhood can be saved as the National Strategy promises. The Housing Corporation[226] said:

    "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."[227]

The Government is at last beginning to agree, Lord Falconer, the Minister of State for Housing, Planning and Regeneration told the Urban Affairs Sub-committee,

    "I am not sure that every single neighbourhood can be renewed. The National Strategy at the beginning identified that there are thousands and thousands of deprived neighbourhoods in the country. Are you going to renew all of them? No, you are not."[228]

200   EMP75 Back

201   EMP23 Back

202   Note of visit to the North West Back

203   31 per cent in Blyth Valley, Cramlington Back

204   EMP69 Back

205   The Housing Corporation has produced an Index of Sustainability as a guide for future investment but an understanding of the dynamics of the housing market and its economic context needs to be more widely appreciated by housing professionals working in all sectors Back

206   Q 23 Back

207   Bringing Britain Together: A National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal, Social Exclusion Unit, September 1998 Back

208   Report by the Unpopular Housing Action Team, DETR, October 1999 Back

209   A New Commitment to Neighbourhood Renewal, National Strategy Action Plan, Social Exclusion Unit, January 2001 Back

210   National Strategy Action Plan, Paragraph 13 Back

211   National Strategy Action Plan, Paragraph 1.18 Back

212   HC373-i, 20 November 2001, Qq 121-2 Back

213   EMP85 Back

214   EMP67 Back

215   The Local Government White Paper (Strong Local Leadership: Quality Public Services, December 2001) sets out the need to "rationalise and streamline"area based initiatives Back

216   See note of visit to the North West Back

217   Op cit, Paragraph 5.5.3 Back

218   Q 23 Back

219   Securing Housing Market Renewal, A Submission to the Comprehensive Spending Review, Produced for the National Housing Federation in collaboration with the Key Cities Housing Group and the Northern Housing Forums Back

220   Note of visit to the North West Back

221   EMP64 Back

222   Q 196 Back

223   Government Office for the North West, Q 200 Back

224   Q 198 Back

225   For example, Manchester, EMP23 Back

226   Also quoted in the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal as saying, "Some neighbourhoods will never again be popular-for a range of reasons-and the right and sustainable approach is to help people move to somewhere better, while managing decline in-but not abandoning-the area." National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal, Page 36 Back

227   Q 198 Back

228   HC373-i, 20 November 2001, Q 124 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 20 March 2002