Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Michael Farnworth Esq (EMP 43)


  I should like to submit some background information about the above topic. I am presently in my final year undertaking an MSc in Urban Renewal and have carried out a literature review into the topic of low demand housing which is closely linked with the problem of empty homes. I have attached a review of some of the literature available on the subject and identified the authors' findings on low demand housing areas. This I trust will give you a broader view into the topic, its causes, consequences and some feeling as what might be done to address the empty and low-demand, housing areas.

  Furthermore, in my professional life I am Chair of the Northern Consortium of Housing Authorities, Declining Areas Working Group which has been looking into the problems associated with empty, private sector homes in the northern region. In this capacity I have reviewed the experience of other housing professionals and would like to offer these observations.

  1)  Some empty homes are no longer desirable to the general population and whatever is done to them on a bricks and mortar level will not bring them back into full use.

  2)  An oversupply of cheap new build properties makes some older properties less desirable and they remain empty.

  3)  Current methods of dealing with areas of low demand areas with many empty homes are inadequate, new techniques need to be employed such as private sector partnerships for clearance and renewal.

  4)  Government has to accept that the housing markets in the regions are different and local initiatives will have to be accepted to bring about improvement at local levels.

  5)  The evidence shows there are links between empty homes and degeneration this was clearly seen as early as the 1960s and 70s in the USA following the loss of industry in what was called the 'Rustbelt'.

  6)  Housing should not be viewed as an economic commodity, rather a national resource that should be managed. The concept of negative equity stems from individuals expecting to "play the market" and win every time. People should be aware that investments can go down as well as up.

BATE, R, BEST, R and HOLMANS, A (ed) (2000) On the move: The consequences of housing migration. Joseph Rowntree Foundation.


  A tour de force of statistics, graphs and charts showing the developments, trends and consequence of migration on housing. The evidence presented shows that the perception of an exodus from North to South is misplaced and that most of the migration takes place within regions. Similarly, the perception of a flight from the cities is not supported by the evidence and argues there are complex factors affecting outward flows and equally the balancing influx.

  Coupled with the movement of people, the supply of suitable housing is shown to be inadequate in terms of both location and type. The preferred housing types are not being built to meet the demand and the replacement of the older stock is below the market requirements. Several policy strategies are discussed ranging from the tighter controls to a more relaxed approach to settlement and land use. No effective solutions are but forward to ease the flow or consequences of migration but there is an acceptance of the inherent difficulties of interference at all levels. The current orthodoxy of neighbourhood based approaches and urban renaissance are seen to be away forward. Throughout the publication there is an acceptance of the influence of London as both an economic force and a social magnet.


  There is a clear acceptance of area abandonment as a result of voluntary migration. Northern conurbations such as Manchester and Newcastle are mentioned and there is a further acceptance that this is now affecting smaller urban areas. Although the earlier experience of abandonment in the USA is mentioned it is not explored in depth. A clear view is expressed that area abandonment and low demand are affecting areas of sound housing not as previously experienced, the abandonment of slum housing areas. This type of abandonment is seen as recent, in contrast to the longer standing problem in the USA.

  On the whole there is an acceptance of area abandonment and low demand but no radical solutions are put forward to deal with the new phenomenon. The way forward is seen to be through working towards an Urban Renaissance and regional and local strategies but little else which, perhaps, indicates the relative newness of low demand leading to area abandonment of basically good housing.

BOURNE, LS (1981) The Geography of Housing. Edward Arnold.


  A text book on housing dealing with the main issues surrounding the subject. The standpoint of the book is from the perspective of the behaviour of the key players in the processes and mechanisms of production and consumption. A comprehensive review is undertaken with a strong element of international comparisons particularly with the U.S.A. Consideration is also given to alternative housing models to that of the UK including socialist systems and third world experiences. Also, the author discusses the concept of a paradox in housing conditions, that of the reduction in the deficiencies in housing with the rise in the demands for quality. This is said to be one problem, that of deficiency, being replaced by rising expectation, the demand for quality.

  Emerging trends in housing are discussed from the perspective of 1981. Clearly set out by the author are the factors that appear to him will affect the housing market in the 1980s and 1990s. These are seen to be the general demographic changes such as household size and make-up, an ageing population and a rise in expectation. Also predicted is that the geographic inequalities of housing will widen owing to the effects of a continued population migration.


  The chapter on obsolescence, physical decay and abandonment is particularly relevant. Statistics used in the book relating to the 1970s U.S.A. experience of decline is not dissimilar from the urban experience in the UK today. The process of obsolescence leading to abandonment and low-demand appears to be the same model as observed in the UK now some 20 years later. Significantly the U.S.A. was considered to be the country experiencing the problems of low demand and the UK was cited as not having the problem at that time. It appears that this book provides evidence that 20 years ago the problem of low demand, following the present pattern, was not then prevalent in the UK.

CARLEY, M (1990) Housing and neighbourhood renewal : Britain's new urban challenge. Policy Studies Institute.


  A comprehensive review of the housing market at the start of the 1990s, including discussions on the introduction in 1989 of statutory Renewal Areas. There is an outline of the current problems with the nation's housing stock and presses the case for continuing intervention to prevent "permanent ghettos" (p 1) becoming a feature of the urban environment. Contributing to the problem is seen to be the lack of effective policy from the centre following two decades of industrial decline.

  The continuing theme is of the need for an integrated approach to deal with not only housing issues but also the socio-economic and environmental aspects of regeneration. Partnership working was seen to be a way forward, with the need for the institutions involved to accept that their respective roles had to change if partnerships were to be effective. A need for sufficient resources of all kinds was seen to be vital to meet the continuing challenges of urban regeneration. Several examples of regeneration schemes were reviewed and their relative merits discussed.


  Although the book is focussing on housing and neighbourhood renewal no direct reference could be found to the topic of low demand areas of housing. The acceptance of the need for clearance because of unfitness is clearly stated but no recognition of the abandonment of areas of fit housing was made. The solutions to area regeneration are well within the policy framework of the time, social as well as physical regeneration, statutory area declarations and partnership working are discussed. It appears that the author has not seen the issue of low demand housing at that time as being relevant. The conclusion drawn is that the issues surrounding low demand areas of housing had not been prevalent in the late 1980's.  

GOVERNMENT OFFICE FOR THE NORTH WEST (1999) North West Regional Housing Overview. Government Office for the North West.


  An authoritative document on the current state of housing in the North West region. The statement sets out a vision for the future based on choice, good quality housing and secure sustainable neighbourhoods. The aims to achieve the vision are also set out, these deal with issues of supply, obsolescence, depopulation, social inclusion, affordability and minority ethnic matters.

  The situation within each of the six sub-regions is reviewed in detail giving a clear outline of the conditions prevailing in each at the present time. Finally, the statement sets out its priorities and targets for the region, how change should be delivered and gives its conclusions and offers a way forward. The statement is clear about the housing conditions in the region and is forthright in its analysis and policies.


  On a regional level this paper clearly identifies the problem of low demand housing in the private sector and accepts that greater intervention is required to address the problem. In contrast to the main themes of the time, the statement sees the need to clear areas of obsolete housing and the replacement of the low demand, housing stock on a significant scale.

  It seems that this is one of the first reports to unequivocally accept the need for renewal of the housing stock on grounds of obsolescence rather than unfitness. Further, it supports other recent findings that low demand is not caused solely by levels of unfitness but by aspirational changes in society and an increase in accessible, more acceptable housing options.

NEVIN, B et al (2001) Changing housing markets and urban regeneration in the M62 corridor. Centre for Urban and Regional Studies, University of Birmingham.


  A comprehensive review of the conditions affecting the housing market in the conurbations in the north west region. The authors looked at the housing and socio-economic characteristics of the area as well as the changes in the processes of demand. The report divided its research into the two sectors, public and private which is in keeping with similar, recent reports on the topic.

  The conclusions and recommendations are far reaching and specifically highlight the key players in the management of the urban housing environment, local authorities, central government, registered social landlords for examples. The conclusions of the research show that the housing market in the region is fragmenting owing to the economic and social changes affecting the population. Perhaps the bleakest conclusion of the report is that the social polarisation of some communities will not be alleviated, despite the governments attempts to tackle social exclusion, unless the driving forces of the processes of change are altered.


  A very relevant report reflecting the conclusions of other pieces of research and comment on low demand. The rather depressing conclusions and recommendations for the need of strong central and local government intervention in the housing market are clearly stated and unequivocal. It is an in-depth analysis of the processes involved in creating low demand housing today backed up by relevant research and statistics.

NINER, P (1999) Insights into low demand for housing. Joseph Rowntree Foundation.


  A succinct paper highlighting the realities of low demand and outlining the associated policy and practice issues. Key factors are reviewed such as the paradox of low demand empty housing whilst there remains an estimated need for more housing and the exodus from the inner cities and the driving factors for this migration. The paper also looks at the concept of the "geography of misery"(p 3) created by low demand housing areas.

  The paper reflects on the need to bring the supply and demand for housing more into harmony and suggest what might be done by bringing together programmes at national, regional, city, district and local levels. The simple one size fits all policy approach is seen as inadequate by the Foundation in tacking housing problems that are different across the regions. A significant observation in the paper is on the question of "frequent movers" (p 3), people who move from house to house on a regular basis in low demand areas. These people are often described as a causal factor in area decline but the paper argues these people are perhaps victims of crime rather than its cause. This dichotomy often makes their interaction with the established community in such areas problematical.


  A very relevant paper highlighting the current themes in low demand understanding. Some very well considered points such as the question of frequent movers, victim or cause, and the overall policy structure being too insensitive to be wholly effective for local conditions. However, the paper does emphasis the possibility of making inner city areas work and cites policy initiatives being necessary at all levels. Whilst this might be appropriate in the long term the problems affecting the inner urban areas now is not fully addressed. Indeed the paper accepts that intervention does not always work and despite policy initiatives to tackle the problem there has been no impact on the lack of demand in some areas.

POWER, A and MUMFORD, K (1999) Slow death of great cities? Incipient urban abandonment or urban renaissance. Joseph Rowntree Foundation.


  A comprehensive body of research into low demand housing in four wards in two cities. It found that good quality homes are being abandoned in inner city areas with the attendant problems of private house prices declining dramatically, the increase of anti-social behaviour, loss of confidence in areas and the intense fear of crime. The instance of low demand housing was found to be prevalent in both public and private sectors.The underlying causes are attributed to the depopulation of the inner cities, job losses and unemployment. Several initiatives have been identified to deal with regeneration but it is not clear whether these have been targeted on low demand areas or run down urban areas, two separate types of urban deprivation.

  The policy implications discussed are geared towards the revival of the inner cities as places to live and work. These are longer term structural issues but there are no realistic solutions identified to resolve the immediate problems of obsolescence and abandonment and the prevention and management of the problems of low demand housing should it continue to develop further.


  A very relevant publication identifying the problems of low demand housing and its ramifications. Clear explanations of the research findings with the significant points highlighted. The problems that are arising as a consequence of low demand housing are discussed as is the alarming speed with which the hitherto acceptable neighbourhoods are experiencing low demand, abandonment and dereliction.

September 2001

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