Memorandum by Burnley Borough Council
1. Burnley and much of the wider sub-region
of East Lancashire have high proportions of empty properties in
both the social rented and private sector housing stock. The private
sector housing issues are particularly significant. These are
at the heart of a spiral of decline involving poor environmental
and living conditions, ill health, low educational attainment
and community safety problems.
2. The Council and its partners welcome
all additions to the "tool kit" of Local Authority and
RSL powers and procedures. However, it is a fallacy to characterise
the "empty homes" problem as being a result of bureaucratic
procedures and incompetence. This may be true in some parts of
the country. However, the crucial issue here is in fact a substantial
mismatch between housing supply and demand, alongside an associated
structural failure in the private housing market.
3. Against this background, the fundamental
need is to provide:
new policy provisions to drive the
housing market renewal process; and
additional resources to support this
and existing policy tools.
4. The Council invites the Select Committee
to visit Burnley in order to see the issues and problems at first
hand. We also invite the Committee to hold some of their hearings
5. Burnley has some 40,000 dwellings, of
which 85 per cent are privately-owned. Approximately 6,500 dwellings
are social rented. (The Council transferred its own stock to a
new Registered Social Landlord, Burnley & Padiham Community
Housing, in March 2000.)
6. More than 50 per cent of the remaining
privately-owned dwellings are "two-up two-down" terraced
houses built before 1919. Most of these are owner-occupied, but
there is an increasing proportion that is privately-rented.
7. A quarter of the overall housing stock
is "unfit," in accordance with the statutory definition,
and a similar proportion is in disrepair.
8. Almost 10 per cent of the total housing
stock is empty. After allowing for "normal" vacancy
rates, it is estimated that there are more than 2,000 privately-owned
dwellings in excess of the existing and foreseeable number of
households. This surplus is the most obvious cause of neighbourhood
problems in the inner areas of Burnley.
9. House prices are low in comparison with
regional and national averages. Average prices fell in the last
quarter, contrary to a national increase. Individual houses can
change hands for less than £5,000.
10. These features of the housing market
are substantiated by a thorough assessment of East Lancashire's
and a national research project
in which Burnley was a case study area. In addition, Burnley has
the fifth highest score nationally in an index of "private
sector low demand" (behind only Manchester, Liverpool, Stoke-on-Trent,
and Kingston upon Hull).
11. A conservative estimate of the cost
of bringing the private sector stock up to standard (by a combination
of demolition and improvement) is £150 million. The Council's
resources to do this are less than £2 million per year.
12. Public sector resources for housing
have increased nationally, but this has consisted largely of the
introduction of the Major Repairs Allowance (for Council housing).
This has had a disastrous effect on the funding of private sector
housing renewal. Across East Lancashire, contrary to the rosy
picture painted by the headline figures, it is estimated that
private sector housing capital programmes are 33 per cent less
than last year's.
13. This concern is also highlighted by
the fact that national housing targets linked to the "Public
Service Agreements" relate only to social housing. This inhibits
access to other sources of funding, such as the Neighbourhood
14. The Single Regeneration Budget (SRB)
and other special programmes have been something of a lifeline
for private sector renewal in recent years. However, even this
is to be removed with the re-prioritisation that the North West
Development Agency has carried out in favour of more mainstream
economic development. This appears to be as a result of Government
15. It would be a diversion to require local
authorities to establish an "Empty Homes Strategy,"
particularly in those authorities like Burnley where revenue resources
(for staff) are under severe pressure. The logic of this suggestion
would demand that there should be a separate strategy for up to
10 or 12 different policy areas, which would be absurd and contrary
to a "joined-up" approach. Instead, local authorities
should be required to include appropriate measures in their overall
Housing Strategy, as part of a comprehensive package of policies
to deal with all relevant issues.
16. The main policies and procedures to
enable local authorities to deal with the issues particularly
associated with empty properties have been in place for a number
of years, in terms of enforcement, renewal and compulsory purchase/clearance.
Forthcoming changes to allow local authorities more discretion
in formulating their own private sector renewal provisions are
welcome, but their impact will be marginal in comparison with
the scale of the problems and the resources available to deal
17. However, there is a need to provide
for speedier and cheaper housing clearance procedures (see below).
18. There is a more fundamental need to
initiate new mechanisms and provide new resources for "Market
Renewal" in areas like Burnley (also see below).
19. It is apparent to the Council that the
compulsory purchase and clearance of properties has to play an
increasing part in its strategies to tackle the poor housing conditions
and surplus. We have therefore embarked on a substantial programme,
primarily using SRB (round 6) resources.
20. These clearance programmes are receiving
widespread community support. Indeed, there is clear frustration
at the Council's inability to proceed more speedilyboth
in relation to the progression of specific Compulsory Purchase
Orders and in terms of the size of the overall programme.
21. Current procedures are lengthy, bureaucratic
and costly. The Government has been reviewing them, and is shortly
to issue advice to local authorities. We are disappointed however
that there is not intended to be a more fundamental review.
22. This Council supports moves being co-ordinated
by the National Housing Federation, the Centre for Urban and Regional
Studies in Birmingham, and a number of Regional Housing Forums
to create a new designation and resource in relation to "Market
Renewal". Indeed, Burnley Council officers were specifically
asked to provide detailed figures and arguments for the case studies
being put forward, in recognition of the seriousness of the situation.
23. Burnley's proposal takes the form of
a notional bid from a Northern industrial town and highlights
the many problems and issues facing the Council. It underlines
the need for local authorities to be given the necessary tools
to employ a wide range of initiatives to stimulate the housing
market both through direct intervention and by motivating private
investment in the housing stock, by individuals and by companies.
The detailed proposal will be the subject of separate submissions
to the Select Committee. However, we stress that such measures
are crucial to resolving the major empty homes and associated
regeneration issues in East Lancashire.
24. Against the above background, the Council
resources for private sector housing
and neighbourhood renewal should be increased substantially by
the Government in the next Comprehensive Spending Review;
there should be more continuity in
funding programmes, thus allowing more sustained effort to deal
with problem issues and areas away from an uncertain annual bidding
clearance and compulsory purchase
procedures should be shortened and made less costly;
the Public Service Agreement national
targets should be amended to include provision for private sector
Regional Development Agencies should
be advised to re-include provision for resourcing private sector
housing renewal initiatives as one part of their comprehensive
programmes for neighbourhood renewal;
Local Authorities should be advised
to include appropriate measures for dealing with empty properties
in their Housing Strategy, rather than in a separate strategy;
there should be a new designation
and resources for Market Renewal in order to tackle the particularly
severe issues of housing market collapse and associated neighbourhood
decline in Burnley and elsewhere.
Housing Needs and Strategy Manager
Burnley Borough Council
14 "Changing East Lancashire-the Housing Market"
(DTZ Pieda Consulting, on behalf of the East Lancashire Partnership,
February 2000). Back
"Low Demand Housing and Unpopular Neighbourhoods" (Heriot-Watt
University, on behalf of DETR, June 2000). Back
"Allocation of Housing Capital Resources" (DTLR Consultation
Paper, July 2001). Back