Examination of Witnesses (Questions 213-237)|
6 DECEMBER 2005
Q213 Chair: Welcome, Mr Jones. Thank
you for coming.
Mr Jones: Thank you. Good afternoon.
Q214 Mr Betts: Thank you for your submission.
Do you agree that actually more housing is needed in Barking and
Dagenham? Are you comfortable with the sorts of projections that
we are seeing for future house-building?
Mr Jones: Yes; and the revised
figures from the London Housing Capacity Study for Barking and
Dagenham we are perfectly content with. In fact, we feel probably
slightly more unusual than many of our neighbours, we feel that,
in fact, the number is perhaps rather low, but that would be totally
dependent upon the social infrastructure and the infrastructure
for public transport being in place. We are very comfortable with
Q215 Mr Betts: You are sending a message
out to the rest of the South East that you do not want them to
come to bother you in Dagenham, is that right?
Mr Jones: We are saying a number
of things. Firstly, we need to attend to the needs of the existing
community, so we are looking at a balance between social rented,
intermediate forms of home-ownership and also aspirational housing,
because currently there is a shortage of that sector of housing
in Barking and Dagenham. Barking and Dagenham has, I think it
is, the second highest percentage of social rented homes in outer
London. Again, we are quite atypical of a number of our neighbouring
Q216 Mr Betts: Despite this, you are
still after more socially-rented housing. Would you not be looking
more at affordable housing for people to get on the first ladder
Mr Jones: Our experience is that
there is a considerable demand. I was interested to see the Joseph
Rowntree Foundation Study recently in terms of that intermediate
sector of housing. We do believe that there is a considerable
appetite and demand for that form of housing. The issue for us
is ensuring that actually it is affordable, because we have the
lowest income levels in London, so we have to get the equity share
pitched at the right kind of level. We have done that with our
housing association partners on a number of developments, where
we have gone down to something like the person purchases just
25% initially and then staircases up as their careers progress.
Q217 Mr Betts: In terms of that, given
that can help with initially getting to home-ownership, but eventually
those people can move on subsequently and often make quite a nice
profit, sometimes, out of the initial benefits to enable them
to get on the housing ladder. Have you looked at any methods of
locking in any initial assistance to first-time buyers, so that
when they eventually sell on the property the next buyer of that
property also gets some sort of benefit?
Mr Jones: Yes. This a very interesting
point. We have done that on a number of our developments where
the Council actually own the land, so that we retain the part
of the value we called, I think, in this particular instance "community
bonus" so that share of the property was always retained
by the Council. It ensured that, irrespective of the staircasing
effect that you point out, a proportion of the value of the property
will always be retained, so you are retaining the affordability
in perpetuity. We have done that in one instance. We are also
extremely interested in doing that on some of our larger developments
that are to come in the years ahead.
Q218 Mr Betts: You are not experiencing
any problems with mortgage lenders or others on that?
Mr Jones: On that particular development,
we did have extensive discussions with the developer, but they
agreed to that in the end. I must say that, in that particular
development, which we are trying to cement in with all of our
developments, there was a breakdown between approximately a third
for social rent with a housing association partner, about a third
then for intermediate and then a proportion of that specifically
on the term "community bonus".
Q219 Mr Betts: In terms of "buy
to let", you have expressed concerns about that. What would
you want to see for that particular issue to be tackled in a proper
Mr Jones: It is a major issue
for us and, in fact, it is thwarting a number of our attempts
to try to facilitate more balanced communities, because what has
happened in many instances is that, the proportion for market
sale, investment companies come in, purchase large sections of
that property and then it goes to "buy to let". I think
there are two things really. Firstly, clearly, when the land is
publicly owned we have considerable control over that. I think,
as well, at the moment it is about negotiations with developers,
we are trying to forge long-term relationships with developers,
so it is not just come in, do a development and out, it is long-term
relationships with developers and partnerships with the Council.
In those instances, it is not really in anyone's interests to
have an excessive amount of "buy to let", it is not
good for the reputation of the development, quite frankly, so
it is that kind of discussion that we are trying to pursue.
Q220 Chair: Why exactly is "buy
to let" not good?
Mr Jones: I think there are two
points really, I would say. Firstly, as I mentioned before, we
have high concentrations of social rented accommodation within
the Borough. We have some estates, 2,400-flatted estates, all
owned by the Council, with some "right to buy" on there.
If you are trying then to get a more balanced community, some
outright market sale, sure summary provision of rented and some
intermediate, you are losing that impact if a high %age of the
outright market sale then is to let. A second point I would make
on that is it can have quite a destabilising effect on a community
in terms of transience, a high turnover really it is not good
for the local community.
Q221 Anne Main: Really this could follow
on from that, because you say it is transient, are you not creating
the right sorts of homes for families to live in, do you feel
that you have enough family housing in your area, or is there
too much focus on high-density housing?
Mr Jones: I think the point about
larger homes for families is a very important one to us and indeed
to London generally and the sub-region of east London of which
we are a part. Certainly the London Housing Strategy looks at
something like 40%, I think, of new developments being three-bedroom
and above and our view is maybe that is slightly too high but
it is about right. You have this tension with developers because
obviously they are looking to maximise their profit, that is fine,
and to pursue that they want to create developments which are
populated largely by one- and two-bedroom apartments. Again, what
we want to try to create are balanced communities, places where
people will stay, we do not want people not to have the opportunity
then to move on in the Borough.
Q222 Anne Main: Do you think that 30
to 50 per hectare as a minimum is actually working against you,
because you are having to deliver very small, high-density units,
rather than founding homes which you feel would give a more mixed
Mr Jones: I am sorry to keep using
the word `balanced' but I think it is about balance, actually.
I think, for example, in some of our town centre settings high
density is right and maybe there are ways imaginatively with design
to create opportunities in town centres at pretty high density
to have homes, three- or four-bedroom homes, at the lower levels
perhaps, for families. You want a variegated approach: town centres,
where you have the infrastructure there, you have the close links
into central London from Barking town centre, you want high density,
but I do not think that argues necessarily against some family
Q223 Anne Main: Do you think enough assessment
has been made of the demographic in your area, of the sort of
people who want to live in the units that have been built, or
units being built speculatively, or whatever, without a lot of
thought of the sort of people that want to live in them, families
Mr Jones: It is an issue that
certainly we consider quite a bit and certainly it is an issue
that our neighbouring boroughs in east London consider, because
if we take the point of social rented accommodation, we know that
we have protocols across London for sharing the nomination rights
to those properties, and there is an issue about choice. Will
people from Hounslow, for example, want to move to Barking Riverside
development, where there is a planning application currently before
the Council for something like 11,000 new homes, will people want
to move there; I think that is a question that really we do not
have an answer to at the moment.
Dr Pugh: Barking Reach, it says in my
notes here you are planning to build 26,000 new homes and to generate
15,000 new jobsactually it says in my notes 260,000 new
homes but that is probably a tad optimistic, I thinkand
this is to take place over the next 20 years.
Chair: I am incredibly sorry. There is
a vote and I will adjourn the Committee.
The Committee suspended from 5.45 pm to
5.51 pm for a division in the House.
Chair: Can we restart. John, can you
remember what you were asking?
Q224 Dr Pugh: I was asking about working
with all the new homes and all the new jobs and I was sceptical
as to whether it was all going to happen. What do you think?
Mr Jones: Two hundred and sixty
thousand homes are not going to happen. There is an application
at the moment for almost 11,000 homes in Barking Riverside. It
will happen only if the infrastructure is in place, particularly
the Docklands Light Railway Extension through the site. If that
is not there and some other infrastructure, for example, there
needs to be on the A13 a new gyratory or junction, and of course
it is the investment in terms of the schools, the PCT facilities
and the rest, if that is not there and on time then, firstly,
the development in that number I do not believe will happen. If
it did happen, by any strange chance, then I think it would be
a place where people just would not choose to live. I think it
is as blunt as that.
Q225 Anne Main: Are you saying that the
infrastructure has to be there beforehand?
Mr Jones: The infrastructure has
got to be timely, it has got to be there or phased so that there
is a very, very clear commitment that it comes in at an early
Q226 Dr Pugh: You will appreciate, you
are on the horns of a dilemma, are you not, because a light railway
is very, very expensive, in many respects, as infrastructure goes,
and nobody is going to invest in very expensive infrastructure
if there is not a real purpose behind it and a large community
to serve. Yet, at the same time, what you are saying is, until
you get the transport there you are not going to get that community?
Mr Jones: There is somewhat of
a community there at the moment. There are something like 1,000
homes there. There is also an existing estate, built by the Council
in the 1950s, of something like 2,000 homes adjacent to the main
development. There is something to be built upon. I think there
is another point that I would want to make though, in terms of
the Council's overall approach, and that is, which I hope came
through in the submission, that we actually maximise and build
out from existing centres, because that seems to us to be the
correct approach, in terms of maximising the usage of the existing
infrastructure. There is a town centre there, let us develop that.
Q227 Dr Pugh: What you are saying is
that you want to develop Barking Reach so it is compatible with
the evolution of the town centre rather than the alternative?
Mr Jones: Yes.
Q228 Dr Pugh: In terms of how this new
community is to be envisaged, is there any sort of premium put
on environmentally-efficient housing and sustainable lifestyles?
I think it is an attractive feature of any new community really.
Mr Jones: Yes, and I think it
is a very important point. In fact, I think it swims with the
tide in terms of modern methods of construction as well, because,
in terms of trying to do something about build costs and also
in terms of capacity in the construction industry, which we have
not considered so far this afternoon, there really does need to
be a drive towards the modern methods of construction, of site
manufacturing, which is going to deal with some of the overheating
in the industry. Also you can get very high, or much higher, environmental
sustainability standards from that kind of development.
Q229 Chair: Before I pass on to Martin
to start on Thames Gateway, can I press you, you said that you
did not think, even if the Docklands Light Railway went to Barking
Reach, that anybody much would want to live there.
Mr Jones: No; no.
Q230 Chair: That was what we thought
Mr Jones: Oh dear; oh no.
Q231 Chair: Let me try again, for the
Mr Jones: For the record, yes,
indeed; if we have the infrastructure in place, DLR and the other
social infrastructure, then, yes.
Q232 Chair: People would want to live
Mr Jones: Indeed, yes.
Q233 Chair: Why was the bid turned down,
the bid for the Docklands Light Railway Extension, was there not
a sufficiently convincing case presented?
Mr Jones: No, it is a current
submission, I think it will be within the next Spending Round,
the Comprehensive Spending Assessment period, and certainly there
are negotiations ongoing with the Mayor of London to get that
as a line within the TfL. Certainly the Mayor has given commitments
in the past; now we just need to see a very firm commitment, but
it is a desired programme of the Mayor.
Chair: Thank you for clarifying that.
Q234 Martin Horwood: We heard earlier
on from the West Midlands Regional Assembly that they thought
greenfield development in shire counties was actually undermining
their attempts to try to regenerate the central urban areas in
Birmingham, in their case, and elsewhere. Do you think that is
a problem for you, too?
Mr Jones: No. I think we are looking
at a different set of circumstances. If you look at the proposals
from the Mayor within the London Plan, we are three miles from
the Olympics. I really do not think that the problem you have
presented is an issue for us. Perhaps the issue for us, I suppose
going back to the point before, is the relationship of the developments,
and I do believe that town centre developments, intensifying development
there, increasing density, improving design, getting the kind
of mix right, and then allied to the brownfield developments,
like Barking Riverside and others within the Borough and indeed
within the sub-region, is the right way forward.
Q235 Chair: How can you be sure you are
going to get the jobs as well as the houses, or is it suggested
that many people will be working in central London?
Mr Jones: It is probably the expansion
of the Isle of Dogs, Canary Wharf, that area, in actual fact,
to which many people will be commuting, and we are very close,
it is literally two or three miles. Again, Barking and Dagenham
is very unusual, in the sense that we do have a higher percentage
of working population actually in manufacturing. It is declining,
obviously, but it is still reasonably high, compared with the
rest of London anyway, and we think that there is certainly opportunity,
again around town centres, to increase commercial activity. There
will be displacement of industry from the lower Lee Valley as
well for local jobs.
Q236 Chair: There seem to be a very large
number of different development agencies in the Thames Gateway.
Do you think that the numbers should be reduced and, if so, how?
Mr Jones: The life of the UDC,
it is very early as yet. We have established relationships with
that and I think we have come to understandings, certainly about
the planning protocol. I think they need the confidence that we
are actually going to bring forward developments; we are. I think
they are acting in a co-operative way with us. We have had very
good involvement, very good co-operation with English Partnerships,
extremely helpful, around site assembly issues, again in town
centre development. I think at the moment we are reasonably comfortable
with the arrangements. The GLA family, LDA, again have had considerable
involvement in the Borough and we have some tensions in relation
to targets that are set by the GLA in terms of mix, for example,
between affordable homes and market-price homes.
Q237 Chair: Can you be more specific;
are they requiring more affordable homes than you want, or fewer?
Mr Jones: I am absolutely signed
up, as is the Borough, to a London-wide target of 50% of new development
being affordable homes, I think that is absolutely correct, and
within that something like 70% being social rented. I think that
is fine as a target across London then you have to look though
at individual circumstances of local boroughs. Whereas that may
be perfectly correct for some boroughs, for Barking and Dagenham,
as I mentioned before, we have the lowest house prices in London,
we have the lowest income levels in London, we have got the second
highest social rented, is that the right prescription for Barking
and Dagenham; I think not. We have had discussions with GLA and
they have been very fruitful discussions and there appears to
be understanding, but the proof will come when we get major planning
applications coming through and discussion then takes place with
Chair: Thank you very much indeed. I
am sorry that your session got (a) delayed and (b) then interrupted.