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

Memorandum by Stoke-on-Trent City Council (AH 46)


    —  Stoke-on-Trent has many thousands of terraced properties no longer suitable for modern day living. Many of these properties are in unsustainable locations close to roads and industry and have very poor ground conditions.

    —  The poor housing offer is a potential disincentive to inward investors.

    —  Earnings in the City are considerably below regional and national averages and this affects ability to secure affordable, well-maintained and sustainable housing.

  For many low-income owner-occupiers the poor housing offer at the lower end of the market creates inequalities in the amount of equity they can build up and thus affects their future housing choices.

    —  The Market Renewal Pathfinder programme aims to redress the current imbalance in the housing market through renovation and clearance. Survey and consultation work undertaken for the programme identifies the pressing need for quality affordable housing in advance of clearance.

    —  Twin pressures of clearance linked to the market renewal programme and the emerging more general problem of affordability in the City, not least related to the widening gap between incomes and prices, mean that the City is likely to face an affordability gap for the first time.

    —  In areas of poor ground conditions and stigmatised neighbourhoods the planning system alone will be unable to deliver sufficient numbers of quality affordable homes in the early years of the programme.

    —  The West Midlands RSS presumes that residential development will be largely focussed on the Major Urban Areas (MUAs). Any large scale development of housing in the hinterland of the North Staffordshire conurbation is likely to impact adversely on the market renewal strategy.


  The North Staffordshire Market Renewal Partnership has a strategy for the long term renewal of the housing market in North Staffordshire. The strategy is based upon a programme of both clearance to remove unfit properties, and a major new build programme. The issues around the current stock include poor quality, the exceptional small size of many dwellings, even by the standard of terraced properties, and the very poor ground conditions, making clearance a necessity. There are many thousands of properties within North Staffordshire that can be described as technically obsolete. The transformation of the housing market in North Staffordshire is based on the removal of substantial numbers of these properties, the majority of which are not suitable for modern day living.

  The existing housing stock is largely the product of a low wage and poorly performing economy and the quality of the stock is now, in relative terms, so poor that it is potentially a significant disincentive for inward investors in the local economy. The North Staffordshire economy is now moving from a position of persistent net contraction in employment, to one where the new economy, characterised most visibly by logistics and distribution, is adding enough jobs to offset the contraction of traditional industries. However, there are spatial implications to the pattern of economic development and deindustrialisation within the conurbation which will have an impact upon the Market Renewal process

  The West Midlands RHS supports the RSS and presumes that residential development will be largely focussed on the Major Urban Areas (MUAs). Any large scale development of housing in the hinterland of the North Staffordshire conurbation is likely to impact adversely on the market renewal strategy as it will tend to continue the trend of drawing people who can afford to move out of the urban core and thus increase its fragility, whilst at the same time increasing the level of commuting with all the adverse effects that this has.

  Low earnings compared to the region, health, economic activity, skills and education and employment opportunities affect many residents' ability to secure affordable, well maintained housing, particularly in the owner-occupied sector. There are clearly equity issues for owner occupiers arising from this. Those who can afford to move out of inner core areas leaving deprived communities and environments in neighbourhoods offering an extremely poor quality of life with households having little opportunity to retain wealth through their housing. Ironically these areas are often in the most accessible and potentially sustainable locations. The imbalance in the housing market means that home owners in "overheated" areas benefit from rising values and conversely homeowners in poorly performing market areas are falling further behind the national/regional average.

  Survey and consultation work undertaken in the market renewal programme areas of major intervention clearly identify the need for replacement affordable housing (social rented and low cost home ownership) in advance of clearance. Whilst economically active residents in clearance areas have been able to make their own way in the market it is clear that there are immediate and pressing needs emerging for more vulnerable groups of people. In addition there is the need not to break up existing communities where there are strong community ties. In areas suffering from poor ground and environmental conditions and stigmatised neighbourhoods it is very difficult to use the planning system alone to deliver sufficient good quality affordable housing to meet these needs.


  The Housing Market Assessment (HMA) carried out for the Renew North Staffordshire Prospectus in 2003 showed that the areas programmed for major intervention are located towards the bottom end of the housing market hierarchy with properties more than a quarter lower than the already low Stoke-on-Trent average. The HMA showed that 51% of residents in the major intervention areas own their own home with just over half of these owning outright. Two key groups were identified:

    —  owner occupiers with an existing mortgage (24% of all households) whose average age made it likely that they could purchase a replacement property through a further mortgage, although the new-build market is not likely to be a major option for them;

    —  occupiers owning outright (27% of all households) whose average age of 59 made it unlikely that they would be in a position to purchase a replacement property through a further mortgage. The only purchase option for this group would be an unmodernised very basic terraced house on a like-for-like basis which would perpetuate the mismatch of provision to need and moreover represent a switch to a dwelling that is likely to be subject to eventual clearance. It is this group that will need significant financial support should rehousing through an alternative purchase be preferred.

  The 2003 survey results showed that half of existing owner occupiers expected to buy for their next move and most of the remainder did not know. Very few wished to move to other tenures. A further key finding was the extent of health and mobility problems in these communities. 31% of those interviewed had a household member with a long-standing illness, disability or infirmity indicating potential housing need. 41% of those with mobility difficulties (10.3% of all households) needed but lacked a suitable domestic adaptation. These findings were made before a significant rise in house price that has not yet been matched with a rise in incomes.

  Average households incomes for the city are still very low. In 2005 the average gross household income was £23,590, an increase of 10% on 2003 (but this from a very low base point, the national gross household income for 2004 was £29,374). Furthermore 18.9% of all households in Stoke-on-Trent have an annual gross household income below £10,000, compared to 14% nationally. Only 6.6% have an income in excess of £50,000. This means than almost one in five households will face severe affordability issues, and will be unable to purchase a property in the city in almost all neighbourhood areas. Without intervention through the market renewal programme and National Affordable Housing Programme (NAHP) the most vulnerable households would be forced into the least sustainable areas of the City.

  There is still an incomplete picture of the impact of the market renewal programme on affordable housing requirements in the City but it is evident that there is likely to be an upward pressure on the number of households falling into the affordability gap. The draft Renew North Staffordshire scheme update (October 2005) identifies key outputs for the period 2006-10, including proposed levels of acquisitions, demolition and new build. In terms of creating and addressing new housing need, over and above that identified in the Stoke-on-Trent 2005 Housing Needs update, the key statistics are acquisitions and new build. Although there are difficulties in using these statistics to model future affordable housing need, it is fairly safe to assume that, at least in the short term, the planned acquisitions are likely to cause an increase in the number of households needing affordable housing. Delivery of the market renewal programme will clearly exact a time limited pressure for the affordable rehousing of affected households.

Work undertaken to define affordable housing in the North Staffordshire context identified that the demand arises at two levels:

    —  As a result of a "one-off" housing re-provision requirement, following programmed demolitions in given areas where subsequent housing market restructuring and renewal will, by design, result in a quantum leap in house prices (as described above).

    —  As a result of "ongoing" variable demand over time due to new household formation, migration, changes in household circumstances, broader economic restructuring, as well as from the pool of people in housing need, such as hidden households, those living in poor quality accommodation in the private rented sector and the statutory homeless.

  Recent assessments of changing affordability in the City suggest that rising house prices mean that many first time buyers, and families on low incomes, may be struggling to buy in the City—particularly in more sustainable areas. In 2004 the Stoke-on-Trent Housing Needs survey showed a surplus of affordable housing but the recent update and recalculation (2005) suggests that whilst there is still a net surplus there is a trend towards a net shortage, particularly if house prices continue to increase. Within two to three years the market could be in balance in terms of numbers, although given the issues of quality, type, size and location this would not remove the need for new supply of good quality affordable housing of the right size, tenure and location. Supply side factors have also changed with a falling supply of local authority and RSL relets due to continuing high levels of Right to Buy sales and the increased costs of house purchase, particularly for first time buyers.

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