Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Jim Wintour (AFH 36)


   So far as affordable housing is concerned, the United Kingdom is divided into two countries; separate and unequal; one North, one South. In parts of the North, affordable housing is in surplus. In much of the South, affordable housing is in acute shortage.

  In the North of the United Kingdom, tens of thousands of good houses have been demolished. The estate I used to live on in inner Glasgow still stands, but all around the homes have been demolished and replaced with grass. From the air it looks like a village in the country. About a further 10,000 affordable homes are likely to have to be demolished in Glasgow over the next decade. In Knowsley about 8,000 homes will have to be demolished. A similar pattern is repeated in Liverpool, in Newcastle and in County Durham. Tens of thousands of affordable homes, and scores of schools, are being demolished.

  In London and the South, the problem is the opposite. There is a desperate shortage of affordable housing. In 2000/1 London boroughs were legally required to house 29,685 homeless households. Yet only 35,164 council house lettings and housing association nominations (excluding transfers) became available. One third of London boroughs were legally required to house more homeless households than they had social housing lettings available.

  In 2002-03, after the 2002 Homelessness Act comes into force, most London boroughs are likely to be legally required to house more homeless households than they have social housing lettings available. And this would theoretically mean these boroughs housing no teachers or nurses or people in acute medical or housing need.


  The paradox of a surplus of affordable housing in the North and a shortage in London has a simple explanation.

  The population of Scotland, the North East of England and the North West of England is static or falling.

  The population of London is growing. DTLR population projections estimate that London's population will grow by 538,000 in the twenty year period between 1996 and 2016 reaching 7,608,000. The number of households is expected to increase by 517,000 over the same period. Because of the 2002 Homelessness Act the growth in demand for one of the main forms of affordable housing in London, social housing, is likely to be particularly fast.

  At the same time the supply of social housing in London is falling. The number of social housing units in London has fallen by 62,600 from 877,000 in 1990 to 814,4000 in 2000, largely owing to the effects of the Right to Buy outpacing the building of new housing association properties. The total stock of social housing in London is projected to continue to fall over the next twenty years. Yet the Government spent about £500 million on social housing in London in 2000/2001. It could be said that at a cost of about £500 million a year the Government is reducing the amount of affordable housing in London.

  The Mayor's Housing Commission suggested that about 224,000 more affordable homes will be needed in London over the next twenty years and that the net affordable housing capacity is only about 75,000 homes.


3.1  A More Active Regional Policy

  The central need in United Kingdom public policy is a more active regional policy. We need to steer some of the growth in population and employment from the South to the North of the country. At present, the United Kingdom only spends 30 per cent of the European Union average per head on regional aid in areas of high unemployment. France spends twice as much as the United Kingdom on regional aid to firms. Italy and Germany spend six times as much as the U.K. And regional aid works. There is a substantial body of research that points to the capital incentives of the 1960s and 1970s as having created over 600,000 jobs in the assisted areas of the North, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland (Regional Studies Association, Labour's New Regional Policy, November 2001, pages 18 and 11)

  A better funded regional policy would not merely tackle the paradox of a glut of affordable housing in the North and a shortage in London.

    —  it would reduce the congestion in London, congestion that may make it difficult for London to compete as a financial centre with Frankfurt and Berlin;

    —  it would reduce unemployment and therefore crime and inter-communal tensions in places like Burnley and Belfast;

    —  it would save the vast costs of demolishing homes, schools and hospitals in the North and at the same time as building 500,000 additional homes in London over the next 20 years;

    —  it would help to deliver on the Government's key manifesto commitment at the last general election to deliver improved public services by reducing the shortage of nurses, teachers and so on in the South—a shortage partly caused by the shortage of affordable housing.

3.2  Restrictions on the Right to Buy in Areas of Housing Pressure

  The effect of Government policy is to spend about £500 million a year of public money in London reducing the stock of the main form of affordable housing, ie social housing. This is because of the right to buy.

  In Scotland, the 2001 Housing (Scotland) Act Section 45 permits the Scottish Executive to restrict the right to buy in areas of housing pressure. An alternative might be to re-cycle capital receipts in areas of housing pressure.

3.3  Registered Social Landlords (Housing Association)

  Government policy is to transfer many council houses from council ownership to housing associations. At the same time the statutory duty to house homeless households remains with local councils. There can be no future in local councils being legally required to house the homeless while housing associations increasingly own the houses.

  In Scotland, the 2001 Housing (Scotland) Act Sections 4 to 5 places a legal duty on housing associations in Scotland to help local councils to house the homeless. An alternative might be to change the law so that London boroughs could discharge their duty to homeless households with the offer of accommodation in an area of housing surplus.


  The ideas in this paper may seem a little radical. However, the problems that we face are so severe that we need courage. The surplus of affordable housing in the North, and the shortage of affordable housing in the South can not be ignored.

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 1 July 2002