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


Visit to the North West — 5 and 6 November 2001

1      Members and staff participating in the visit

1.1  Members

    Andrew Bennett MP
    Clive Betts MP
    Louise Ellman MP
    Chris Grayling MP
    Helen Jackson MP
    John Pugh MP
    Christine Russell MP

1.2  Staff

    Mr David Harrison (Clerk)
    Claire O'Shaughnessy (Committee Specialist)
    Professor Ian Cole (Specialist Adviser)
    Mr Brendan Nevin (Specialist Adviser)

Monday 5 November

2      Liverpool

David Henshaw (Chief Executive, Liverpool City Council), Richard Kemp (Executive Member for Housing, Neighbourhood and Community Services), Elaine McLean (Assistant Executive Director, Regeneration Initiatives) and Tom Cray (Assistant Executive Director, Housing and Neighbourhood Services) Danny Clare (Executive Assistant), Steve Robinson (Chief Executive, Community Seven Housing), Angela Glanville (former Kensington NDC Board member and member of Fairfield Neighbourhood Planning Group), Stephen Boyle (Chief Executive, Kensington NDC) and Graham Burgess, Development, Housing and Environment Manager, Liverpool City Council) and Richard Keenan (Vice Chair, Kensington, NDC).

2.1  The City Council told us about the importance of community consultation, their frustration with the number of regeneration initiatives, each with its own rules and regulations and described how they have commenced new working arrangements with neighbouring authorities on housing renewal.

2.2  In the Kensington New Deal for Communities (NDC) area, there has been significant population loss in the 25 - 45 age range and people "get a job and move out." There was a high student population in the area, which has now moved back into the city centre, which has caused a sharp drop in demand. Competition with moderately priced, new houses on greenfield sites has been one of the causes of the decline in demand.

2.3  The housing stock in Kensington included a street of 3-storey Georgian properties where demand has fallen and levels of owner occupation have fallen to be replaced by private renting. We also saw streets of pre-1919, back pavement terraced properties with a high rate of abandonment and a large number of vacant shops and closed pubs.

2.4  Steve Robinson (Chief Executive of Community Seven Housing) told us about the problems caused by some private landlords. Housing Benefit payments of up to £80 per week were being made in areas where RSL rent is about £42 per week.

2.5  One of the aims of the NDC is to increase the level of owner occupation in the area. However, there are concerns in the local community about 'gentrification.'

3  Bootle

Joe Robertson (Housing Director, Sefton MBC) and Cllr James Mahon (Sefton MBC Cabinet Member with Housing Portfolio).

3.1  We visited the Bedford Road Regeneration Area in Bootle. This area is described in the Council's memorandum, EMP 75. The houses in Bootle were substantial Victorian properties, appearing to be larger and better built than many of the back-pavement terraced houses we saw elsewhere. There has been significant investment in houses in the area in recent years but the total number of empty homes has remained static and houses which received £15,000 worth of investment are still only worth £15,000.

3.2  The market for properties in the area is shrinking as people are increasingly moving out of it, and there is almost no inflow of new residents. There is no significant demand for social housing in the area.

3.3  The Council has decided to stop making piecemeal investments in the area and wishes to pursue a strategic approach. There are 4,000 properties in the area, which need to be cleared; many may not be replaced. There is, however a £350 million funding gap to achieving this.

4  Burnley

Peter Pike MP, Cllr Steve Wolski (Executive Member with responsibility for Regeneration), Cllr Peter McCann (Chair of Regeneration Scrutiny Committee), Cllr Stuart Caddy (Leader of the Council), Cllr John Lloyd (Independent Group Leader), Cllr Roger Frost (Liberal Democrat Group Leader), Cllr Peter Doyle (Conservative Group Leader), Dr Gillian Taylor (Chief Executive), David Riley (Housing Needs and Strategy Manager), Steve Jackson (Project Manager, Housing), Sarah Whittaker (SRB Customer Services Officer), Michael Wellock (Senior Planning Officer), Pete Millward (Planning Officer), Andrea Meade (PR Officer), Dave Greenfield (Blackburn with Darwen BC), Julian Hickinbottom (Hyndburn BC).

4.1  In Burnley, we heard that aspirations had changed and that people wanted more space and higher quality housing than the existing pre-1919 stock. Burnley Council is also concerned that there has been insufficient co-ordination across the sub-region in terms of vacancy rates being taken into account before greenfield planning consents are given. The Council is also very concerned about the loss of SRB funding which has, until now, allowed councils to work in areas of private sector housing. The North West Development Agency has told the Council that its priorities have been shifted by central Government and it will no longer be able to make funding available for this purpose. Where demolition is proposed there is an additional problem as local residents are frequently trapped in negative equity and relocation grants are inadequate. The areas visited are seen as 'risky' by developers who therefore seek gap funding of approximately £30,000 per unit for new housing. We also heard how Burnley Council is working with neighbouring authorities through the East Lancashire Partnership on a number of initiatives including a joint approach to housing market renewal.

4.2  We visited Burnley Wood, Daneshouse, Stoneyholme and Accrington Road. Burnley Wood currently has a 30 per cent vacancy rate. We saw row after row of pre-1919, back-pavement, terraced houses where homes were interspersed with derelict and vandalised empty properties. Community consultation in the area has highlighted a desire for vacant properties to be demolished and for communities to be concentrated in the remaining streets. SRB funding is available in this area and some demolition has already taken place. In all the areas visited, the sites created by demolition have been grassed over and the council will consider any proposal for the future use of the sites. In Daneshouse and Stoneyholme we saw an area where the presence of a concentrated community of ethnic minority residents had resulted in higher demand than in similar housing stock nearby.

5  Rochdale

Paul Beardmore (Rochdale MBC)

5.1  In Wardleworth and Hamer, an area in which 95 per cent of the local population comes from black and minority ethnic communities, 46 per cent of houses are 'unsatisfactory' and health in the area is poor. There are very few empty homes in the area but there is a concern about how long current levels of high demand will last as aspirations of local people change and younger residents are less inclined to want to bring up their children in the area. Housing in this area is almost entirely pre-1919, back-pavement, terraced properties.

5.2  We passed a nearby, more modern, local authority housing estate, which is experiencing high turnover at 17 per cent, a potential sign of falling demand. A group of Asian families have recently moved onto the estate, following co-operation between the local housing department and the Police and significant investment in community development. In a nearby development, Surma Close, a Bangladeshi housing co-operative has built 30 homes, within a larger housing development. The development has been successful because of the development of the right type of affordable home (including several with 6 or 7 bedrooms), sufficient households moving in at one (to provide peer support), a balanced mix of communities and appropriate involvement early in the scheme by community, health and education professionals.

5.3  We also visited Freehold Estate, a 1960s "deck access"estate. There was significant expenditure in the area in the early 1990s, through Estate Action, however, this did not address the social problems. By 1999, turnover was 65 per cent with voids at 17 per cent. Using SRB5 funding, a neighbourhood management initiative has been developed, with a total of 60 staff providing security services, 'super-caretaking,' community and asylum seeker support services within the 900 properties. Rent has increased by £3.60 per week to fund some of the service costs but the balance of funding for this has a 3 year lifespan. The Council hopes to access mainstream resources which have been able to reduce their level of expenditure in the area (eg reduction of expenditure by Police and Social Services as conditions on the estate have improved), to fund this thereafter. Crime has been cut by 40 per cent.

Tuesday 6 November

6  Manchester

Cllr Basil Curley (Executive Member, Housing), Eamonn Boylan (Director of Manchester Housing), Derek Martin (Assistant Director), Annie Grist (Principal Strategy Officer), Fionnuala Stringer (Principal Team Leader), Julie Connor (Acting Chief Executive, North Manchester Regeneration), Scott Wise (Principal Team Leader), Sean McGonigle (Principal Regeneration Officer) and Suzanne Price (Principal Strategy Officer).

6.1  Local residents in the Baytree Renewal Area believe that the back- pavement, terraced houses in the area have a sustainable future and have been asking the Council to invest. The Council is now pursuing a policy of "thinning out." Terraced houses in the area have seen a collapse in value from £30,000 in 1990 to around £10,000 now.

6.2  Within half a mile of the renewal area are new build houses and flats developed by Bellway Homes. The originally anticipated scale of development has never been achieved despite Bellway receiving gap funding of approximately £10,000 per unit to reduce the perceived risk of investing in the area.

6.3  Approximately 100 obsolete houses are due to be demolished in the Albine / Cole Street Clearance/CPO Area, another area of pre-1919, back-pavement terraced housing. The area has a 70 - 80 per cent vacancy rate and Manchester City Council report that it was already in decline before the new Barratts Ashley Park development commenced. The Ashley Park property is in demand but measures to address the wider area are considered essential to maintain that. There was a discussion about the small size of property available in Ashley Park, the design of the area and the concerns amongst residents about crime.

6.4  Larger houses, built between the wars and immediately after 1945, with gardens are located within yards of these properties. They have seen their values sustained at around £40,000. The Council has found the problem of low demand to be more deep-seated in areas of monolithic provision where properties are small and of low quality.

6.5  The Lightbowne Renewal Area (with more pre-1919, back-pavement terraced housing) was the subject of substantial investment by the City Council and its partners in the housing fabric. Since 1994 significant grants have been invested in the area on the basis that its popularity would be revived by bringing homes up to standard. There was, however, a rapid market collapse about 6 years ago. One property (which is now on the market for £5,000) received a grant of £74,000. One of the main causes was the growth of the city centre economy which resulted in local people becoming more affluent and those who could afford to leave the area did, leaving a "residualised population." Levels of owner occupation have fallen from 50 per cent to 12 per cent. The Committee went inside a number of the houses. Each has a small front room and modern kitchen downstairs and two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. Although boarded up, the houses were in good condition.

6.6  The regeneration of East Manchester brings together a New Deal for Communities area and an Urban Regeneration Company (in which the Regional Development Agency is very involved). There are also plans to extend the Tramlink to the area.

6.7  Hartwell Close is part of a private development, which at the time of completion (10 years ago), was oversubscribed. Over the past 5 years, the tenure shifted to private renting but as rents reduced for this sector, many of the properties were left vacant / abandoned. However, the recent CPO of properties in nearby Lower Beswick has resulted in people moving from Lower Beswick, purchasing properties in Hartwell Close, thereby stimulating the market for houses and restoring the close to 100 per cent owner occupation.

6.8  Lower Beswick is less than 1 mile from the city centre with 257 back-pavement, terraced properties. The area received investment in the 1980s. By 1996 it was blighted by crime, including drugs and prostitution and private landlords were able to buy a property for as little as £2,000 and then receive a 150 - 200 per cent return through housing benefit. Negative equity (property values had fallen from £30,000 in the 1980s to £10,000) constrained people's ability to move out of the area. Discussions between the Council and the local community about how to tackle falling demand, began in 1996. Many of the owner occupiers received discretionary relocation grants and chose to remain in East Manchester, many are still paying off previous mortgages. The Council has found giving a "right to return" important in building trust with local residents. The relocation of residents is now complete.

6.9  Since clearance began, the area has seen immense interest from the private sector, given its location. They are reported to believe that with the "right product" the city centre demand can be pulled out to this area. The cleared area will provide sufficient space for the development of a mix of properties and values "to enable people to move up within the neighbourhood."

6.10  We visited Abbey Hey, where the property market is described as "not failing but fragile." A large number of for sale signs can be seen. Parts of Abbey Hey were the subject of General Improvement Area / Housing Action Intervention programmes during the late 1980s / early 1990s, but resource constraints have led the City Council to concentrate, through the 1990s, on adjoining areas where more immediate problems were evident.

6.11  The visit concluded in Hulme which was first redeveloped in the period 1964 - 73, with clearance of older terraced stock leading to the creation of a series of local authority estates, featuring extensive linked, deck access flats in the centre of the community and tower blocks on the edge of the area. Although mainly medium rise (4 - 8 storey), density was low and there were large areas of green space. The Council view is that it was rapidly evident that the estate, including the crescent shaped properties in the middle of the site, was unpopular, with building and design defects evident from very early on. Vacancy rates began to rise in the late 1970s and early 1980s and only an influx of students to the areas sustained occupancy levels. The decline in family occupancy was accompanied by a rise in crime and the area became a haven for drug dealing and drug related crime in the 1980s.

6.12  In 1991, Hulme became one of the first City Challenge schemes. Following extensive community consultation, it was agreed that the existing housing stock should be demolished and replaced with new homes, at a higher density, with a range of other employment leisure and commercial uses in the neighbourhood. The consultation process led to a masterplan for Hulme and a design guide, which promoted the principles of good urban design.

6.13  Over 3,000 deck access flats, over half of which were empty and abandoned were demolished. They have been replaced by an equivalent number of homes for sale and rent, with capacity for further development in the area. Prices for houses in Hulme have risen from a starting point of around £30,000 per unit (for early apartments built with significant gap funding) to up to £150,000 for townhouses overlooking the park (with no gap funding).

6.14  The total public investment in the area has been approximately £200 million, taking account of City Challenge, English Partnership, the Housing Corporation, local authority and ERDF funding. The City Challenge "pump priming" was "critical". Attention was also focussed on the road and bus links between Hulme and the City Centre, to "reconnect" the two.

6.15  The difference between Hulme and the type of redevelopment proposed elsewhere in the city is the fact that in Hulme, the freehold of all the housing was owned by the City Council. The costs and timescales involved in acquisition and demolition in areas with a mix of tenures are likely to be much greater.

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