Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence


Memorandum by the Goole Action Group (AH 24)

THE POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF AND SCOPE TO PROMOTE GREATER HOMEOWNERSHIP

  1.  JC: Regaining the stature of being part of the community and taking a pride, not only in the home, but in the street. Being a neighbour and not just being next door.

  ET: Owners are usually more committed and responsible citizens when they have an investment in their property, and interest in their neighbourhood.

  2.  HC: The prospect of buying a home is preferable to renting because by renting more restrictions are imposed on tenants.

  ET: By diminishing dependence upon social housing, it provides the freedom and opportunity to develop a life-style that suits the individual/family and to consider a long-term future, not simply living day to day.

THE EXTENT TO WHICH HOME PURCHASE TACKLES SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC INEQUALITIES AND REDUCES POVERTY

  3.  JC: By having a commitment, the work ethic is encouraged, which by itself reduces economic inequalities and poverty.

  ET: Buying your own home encourages "settling down", a sense of financial responsibility. However, many people are under-valued, and if employment is low-paid, at minimum wage levels, it is often insecure.

  4.  ET: Running a mortgage is a better investment than paying rent. Capital appreciation of property belongs to the home-owner, not a landlord.

  5.  JC: Once people are self-sufficient and not living on handouts they regain their self-esteem.

  ET: Home ownership provides social inclusiveness, security, independence, self-confidence (status) and self-reliance.

  ET: Ideally it demonstrates aspiration; social improvement; contributes to example of personal and family values; offers opportunity for community responsibility and leadership roles; awareness of environmental standards leads to acting, not accepting, litter or dog fouling; recognises the importance of education and skills (need to get on in the world).

  ET: But in practice, even home-owners may remain apathetic and unaware, particularly where local authorities are remote and invisible agencies that fail to support a community.

THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL IMPACT OF CURRENT HOUSE PRICES

  6.  JC: House prices are directly affected by the anti-social elements operating within the current society.

  Just improving conditions and housing stock does not have any positive effect on the local market.

  As most social problems are caused by youths having nothing to do, clubs should be set up to cater for their needs. Be successful here and everything else will follow.

  7.  ET: There is no longer any quality of life.

  In my experience, widespread gross ignorance of social mores also affects house prices.

  Due to irresponsible attitudes, a growing anti-social element creates mayhem for neighbourhoods. It alienates the rest of society when those who act outside rules feel no compunction to adhere to social codes. What have they got to lose by ruining the place where we live?

  Residents then take matters into their own hands—fixing industrial lighting and keeping barking dogs in back yards, to deter intruders.

  My 45 years' occupation of a terraced street in Goole (classed as "sustainable") serves as example. In 1961 this three-storey Edwardian house was regarded as a middle-class address. We were a young, working man and his wife-to-be. Our two children grew up here successfully.

  Since retirement in 1992 the neighbourhood has gone steadily downhill, blighted by social problems arising from problem tenants—individuals or families with anti-social attitudes and criminal behaviour—drugs, burglary, back-yard dealers, traffic night and day, cars screeching to a stop in the middle of the street outside your windows in the small hours, headlights and horns blaring and beeping. The police did not want to know although I co-operated with them for nine months to stop drug dealing. The landlord's agency did not want to hear nor act upon my complaints. In November 2000 my bedroom window was shot-up with an air-rifle.

  Throughout, our MP Ian Cawsey (Lab) has been supportive but he experienced difficulty in attempting to resolve these issues, due to the apparent inability or lack of interest on the part of East Riding council officers and ineffectiveness of the police.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HOUSE PRICES AND HOUSING SUPPLY

  8.  JC: This is a simple case of supply and demand, if there is a sufficiently large demand the prices will rise.

  9.  HC: The relationship between house prices and housing supply in Goole is negative because there is a shortage of affordable houses. Despite national trend, prices are high in this area of Yorkshire. Elderly people are now unable to follow the trend.

  10.  HC: No elderly person can possibly afford another house, at the going selling rate today. Such persons should get an automatic exchange for similar type of house and private backway as the one that they are in, with no money involved, plus an allowance to pay for removal and towards cost of curtains etc. Failure to do this can make elderly people into paupers having to go cap in hand for rent payments when any monies they receive runs out.

  11.  ET: There is less scope for finding a run-down property on which DIY can be undertaken and a profit realised at a later date.

  eg two bed terrace with back garden and front forecourt ("sustainable" street), sold 2002 two years after bereavement for £22k. (to a builder/developer?). Within weeks, with kitchen and bathroom improved, on market at £46k, and currently for sale at £76,950.

  Although terraced houses in Goole are "low-priced" by comparison with new-build developments on outskirts of town (£160,000 plus), the rise in market prices means that properties built around 1900-20 specifically for working people cannot be afforded by the low-paid today.

  12.  JC: Demolishing older properties will only exacerbate the problem, reducing the supply will create a false market and put some properties beyond the reach of first time buyers.

  13.  ET: eg—two bed terrace in Neighbourhood Renewal area (a "fragile street") in a cramped and commercial locale, current asking price £79,950.

  14.  ET: The small first-home in a terraced street is a jumping-off point for later moves. If first homes cannot be sold to first-time buyers, then upwardly mobile families will not be in the market for higher priced developer's estates.

  Developers will be unwilling to pay higher prices to take first-time homes off prospective purchasers if their margins for letting tenancies at a compensatory rental are reduced. One local developer (Pullan) spelled this out at the inaugural meeting of Goole Action Group.

  15.  ET: According to local planners, Goole has sufficient affordable housing that new developments do not need to provide more, but consider this question and answer given on East Riding of Yorkshire Council's online Local Plan webpage:

    06) Why is the Council making it more difficult to build houses in the area? With the increasing house prices it is making the East Riding unaffordable for many people.

    Unfortunately, increasing house prices are a real problem for many first-time house buyers. There is no single reason for this. The Joint Structure Plan recognises that it would be unsustainable to keep building on new land because it is a finite resource. It also acknowledges that there are large areas of Previously Developed Land that are suitable for reuse, and that there is a surplus of certain types of housing in the region, in particular, a large number of vacant houses in Hull. Because of these factors, the JSP sets out targets for annual completions of new houses, and states that over the next few years, as the number of completions planned for each year in Hull goes up, the number of planned completions in the East Riding should go down.

    Whether the targets will have any effect is not so straightforward; more houses have in fact been built in the East Riding than were planned for in every one of the last seven years. (emphasis added)

    Research into the phenomenon of increasing house prices has found that it is more complicated than just a simple shortage of supply. Increases in expendable income, aspirations and building quality are all factors that contribute to this complex relationship.

OTHER FACTORS INFLUENCING THE AFFORDABILITY OF HOUSING FOR SALE INCLUDING CONSTRUCTION METHODS AND FISCAL MEASURES

  16.  JC: construction methods can always be improved but it is the materials used in construction and the price of the land that governs the final cost of the house.

  Other construction materials have been tried timber frame etc, but the question to ask is why we used stone or brick. This suits our climate. Wood rots, and maintenance costs are high.

  The options are high capital cost, long live (four generations or more) low maintenance. Or cheap materials, low capital cost, short life, high maintenance. The Victorians chose the former, and we revel in their success today.

  17.  ET: It is cheaper to build new homes than to regenerate older. spacious and solid properties of character. Allowing local authorities to demolish Victorian homes is a scandalous waste of resources and environmental vandalism, that risks additional cost of ill-health and trauma caused to owners being compulsorily moved in old-age and retirement, because "homelessness" is enforced upon them after a working life afforded a home for themselves and their families to enjoy the fruits of their labours.

  18.  ET: VAT at 17.5% on repairs means that homes fall into disrepair. Many cash-poor would-be purchasers are prepared to buy a run-down property and DIY but older and long-term owner-occupiers find the cost of modernising, renovations and regeneration to be ridiculously impossible and make-do with aged facilities and unmodernised homes.

  19.  ET: In East Yorkshire, £2,000 grant for exterior face-lifting in streets the council designates "fragile". Other grants (maximum £5,000, currently under review) are means-tested. Most retired people find themselves excluded from assistance under these rules.

  20.  ET: A lack of local architectural/design skills available for consultation on home improvement. Inappropriate "modernisation" results in the decline of street architecture.

  21.  ET: An unwillingness to rely upon "cowboy" builders after the phasing out of apprenticeships in construction. Proposed new training arrangements (eg YouthBuild) will not replace skilled experience and college-graded skills. If these arrangements are a social exercise, it smacks of training offenders and real intentions should be explicit. Otherwise, little confidence will be placed on unknown characters undertaking "improvements" to the street scene.

  22.  ET: The RICS says new pension laws will "spark property spree" from cash-rich, upper-tax-payers investing in buy-to-lets, at less cost and greater capital appreciation than any first-time buyer could afford? How will such investment affect affordable housing?

  23.  ET: The role of HBOS in government Pathfinders does not sit well. HBOS offers mortgages with one hand and re-possesses with the other. When house repossessions are rising, it makes a mockery for HBOS to benefit from higher valuations of (un)affordable properties, while advancing capital sums to local authorities to accommodate first-time buyers without private resources/savings, in "fragile" streets.

THE SCALE OF THE GOVERNMENT'S PLANS TO BOOST HOUSING SUPPLY

  24.  JC: Economic stability determines supply and demand due to disposable income. The people determine what they require, and act accordingly. Trying any kind of social engineering always fails.

  25.  ET: House prices are affected by locality. New-build homes in leafy greenfields are as densely laid-out as the 19th century terraced streets in town-centres.

  Greenfield developments have led to a flight from urban streets, and will continue to do so. It simply drives down the desirability of living in an old-established neighbourhood. Terraced streets offering well-built homes are being allowed to physically and socially degenerate, due to environmental and social factors in mixed communities. People aspire to new-build greenfield developments for a better class of life, leaving occupants of terraced homes to despair the intrusiveness of incomers who do not share similar values. Only the well-paid will benefit from greenfield living.

  Supposed £60,000 new builds are still out of reach of the low paid. £60,000 is not a true price if built on government land—or brownfield developments compulsorily purchased by/from local authorities (with taxpayers' money—many of those elderly and retired being financially disabled from jumping the gap by moving home—see HC: paras 9 and 10 above).

THE RELATIVE IMPORTANCE OF INCREASING THE SUPPLY OF PRIVATE HOUSING AS OPPOSED TO SUBSIDISED HOUSING

  26.  JC: Depending on the method of subsidised housing. If it is on a hand out based on means testing it will fail. The old system of tax relief on mortgages is the best way forward. This rewards people willing to make a commitment for their own future.

  27.  ET: It is not the business of government, central or local authority officials, to engineer housing markets, neither in partnership with building societies nor local authority acquisition of land and property for subsidised tenants.

  28.  ET: Single people should sort out their own accommodation. Why is government responsible for single people when East Riding of Yorkshire Council intends demolishing small homes of elderly owner-occupiers, to acquire a re-development site?

HOW THE PLANNING SYSTEM SHOULD RESPOND TO THE DEMAND FOR HOUSING FOR SALE

  29.  JC: More use should be made of brown field sites. The use of green field sites should be restricted.

  30.  RW: The easiest and most reasonably priced way of getting onto the property ladder in Goole is to buy a house in these terraced streets. Traditionally thought of as starter homes, if fewer had been bought by housing associations that rarely sell their property, there would be a more balanced property market. It would then be unnecessary to build new homes at the expense of the historic environment if the East Riding of Yorkshire Council agreed to sell the empty and boarded up homes to first-time buyers (several people wish to do so), thus saving millions of pounds earmarked for demolition.

  31.  RW: New builds would be overly expensive and poorly constructed in comparison to our historic terraces. Unlike the Shuffleton terraces, which were built to last, occupants of modern houses elsewhere in Goole are unable to hang pictures on the wall because large holes appear in the plaster boarding.

THE SCALE OF HOUSING DEVELOPMENT REQUIRED TO INFLUENCE HOUSE PRICES AND THE IMPACT OF PROMOTING SUCH A PROGRAMME ON THE NATURAL AND HISTORICAL ENVIRONMENT AND INFRASTRUCTURE PROVISION

  32.  JC: Government should not try to influence house prices. They will fail in the long term and feel the wrath of the voting public.

  33.  JC: It is not just the housing it is the whole infrastructure that has to be put in place and this in itself puts an extra burden on an already overcrowded island.

  34.  ET: There is a lack of infrastructure to support suburban housing developments—sites at Goole are on low-lying land, accessed by narrow traffic-congested streets without cycling paths, and further from post-offices, doctors, schools, bus routes, shops and carparks than terraced homes nearer the centre.

  35.  ET: This is not about designing a well-planned extension of a town or city. It is piecemeal developers' heaven, a sprawling mess without rhyme or reason. See what Norman Foster the UK architect has to say on the obsession with development and planning inquiries in "Taller, higher, bigger, Foster" by Jonathan Glancey in The Guardian 24 November 2005. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/)

  36.  ET: What environmental and sustainable arguments support constantly-extending developments in remaining countryside? What type of socially-mixed community is built?

  37.  ET: Goole is max 10 feet asl. Pockets considered for release are subjected to flooding, from poorly drained ground-water, not the river Ouse overflowing. Fields named in feudal times—eg. carrs, marsh and holmes—indicate a watery landscape, and global warming warns against developing on such foundations.

  38.  ET: It is environmentally unsound to pull down dignified Victorian/Edwardian buildings. Why does government feel it necessary to "clone" the whole of the country according to its own standards? Where is regional and vernacular architecture in this scenario?

  39.  RW: Goole renewal area forms part of the town's historic environment. These original living quarters, were built to the highest social and hygiene standards of the time, and have survived well for the last 100 years. Until occupants were bought out and emptied homes boarded up, almost all were occupied. Now, these terraces are tainted by supposed "fragile" and "non-sustainable" status, which has adversely affected the housing market.

  40.  RW: Terraced streets and houses are good places to live, are not necessarily urban slums many people make them out to be. The very nature of terraced streets means there can be a strong and close-knit community, although this is only achievable if people want to live there. The need for social housing is recognised, however housing associations whose main aim is profit and not necessarily a social conscience at heart, should not be allowed to buy up large sections of a single street or area—they create an unbalanced community, and in Goole's experience cause social problems that many people worry are spiralling out of control.

  41.  RW: Goole people recently recorded oral histories of residents past and present of Richard Cooper Street and Phoenix Street, recalling the strong sense of community and belonging, and want it brought back into their historic environment. Plans to demolish those streets and the scale of proposed housing re-development will adversely affect the present community.

  42.  RW: "Face-lift" grants available under the Advance Goole urban renewal scheme are for properties in selected "fragile" streets. Merely giving a "face-lift" to a property is not sufficient to regenerate historic housing stock or tackle problem areas in the long term. Currently, Goole's heritage is not an issue on any authority's agenda, despite its importance to the community living in these terraced streets. The historic environment needs meaningful regeneration that incorporates solutions to social problems in a holistic way, not demolition and new-builds that chip away at the historic environment, and ultimately creating an "us and them" attitude.

  43.  RW: Goole's terraced housing in the renewal area should be thought of as part of the historic environment and should be looked after, not considered expendable. Several initiatives have created new economic and social centres at Goole. New infrastructure has left the traditional heart of the town in decline. Georgian and Victorian buildings stand empty because long-term future of the historic environment has been considered too late. Consultation that has been undertaken was overshadowed by the lure of compensation, designed to buy people out of their homes as cheaply as possible before compulsory purchase processes begin. For the sake of the future, regeneration of Goole's historic environment, our viable heritage assets, is essential proof that the environment is cared for and valued, and that community will feel that what it cares about and values, is meaningful.

THE REGIONAL DISPARITIES IN THE SUPPLY AND DEMAND FOR HOUSING AND HOW THEY MIGHT BE TACKLED

  44.  JC: This again refers back to the economic wellbeing of the community. There will always be a disparity. London is popular, Liverpool isn't. Try moving parliament to a deprived area. This may improve it, but only at the expense of somewhere else.

  Do not tinker with natural selection.

  45.  KF: There is evidence that declaring a renewal area and identifying many streets as "fragile" eg in Goole, has stagnated the housing market in that area and artificially inflated prices outside the area. The availability of affordable houses for first time buyers is greatly reduced exacerbating the stagnation of the market. This could be avoided by proper appraisal of the renewal area in the first place. As the senior housing officer for ERYC appears confused whether "fragile" applied to streets or the market, the council has in fact created a "fragile" market. In Goole's case, documented evidence supporting the "fragile" assessment is unavailable therefore residents are having to experience this intolerable situation for no valid reason.

  Likewise, this situation applies to the streets identified as "non-sustaining" therefore earmarked for demolition whose residents, especially long-term owners, face an even more uncertain future as to their re-housing situation.

NB

DEFINITIONS TAKEN FROM NRA

Fragile

  Often characterised by the presence of one or two empty properties and a growing presence of the private rented sector. The amount of disrepair and housing failing the decent homes standard is above average for the study area. Reported crime rates may also be above average for area.

Sustaining

  Streets where demand is generally robust and the number of properties in poor repair or failing the decent homes standard is at or below the average for the area. These streets generally have a fair or good reputation with residents.

Non-sustaining

  . . . In these streets there is a need and an opportunity for significant investment to tackle existing and future problems.





 
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