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

Memorandum by the West Midlands Regional Assembly (WMRA) Secretariat (AH 55)


  1.1  The West Midlands Regional Assembly's (WMRA) Regional Housing Partnership has previously lead WMRA agreed responses to ODPM on the Barker Review of Housing Supply and "Planning for Housing Provision". In responding to this call for evidence, we refer to these responses (which are enclosed as Appendix 1 & 2) and also to the Region's Regional Spatial Strategy approved by the Secretary of State in June 2004 and the Regional Housing Strategy submitted to Ministers in June 2005.


  2.1  WMRA's response to the above consultation exercises have focused on how the proposals appear to have been devised to address South East of England growth pressures and would thus be applied out of context in the rest of the UK, including the West Midlands. WMRA's responses have made it implicit that the proposals in Kate Barker's Review of the Housing Supply (Appendix 1) and ODPM's Planning for Housing Provision (Appendix 2) could reverse our recently approved Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS).

  2.2  The West Midlands is seeking to halt the out migration of households from the conurbation. The proposed approach by ODPM is market led with the potential for increased development on Greenfield sites in areas of high demand. The West Midlands RSS may be ambitious, but is realistic and there is now good evidence of it beginning to work, eg developers increasingly providing more new housing in the Major Urban Areas. WMRA fears that ODPM proposals will undermine developer confidence in the growth of the Major Urban Areas and lead to demands for an ever increasing rural residential land release and further out migration to the Shire Counties. This approach would be highly unsustainable and wholly against the principles of the West Midlands RSS.


  3.1  The Assembly's Regional Housing Partnership has undertaken a great deal of work on behalf of the Regional Housing Board, particularly in ensuring the Regional Housing Strategy 2005 was based on robust empirical evidence and research. This research can be accessed from the following website: and some of the key elements of the research are referred to below in response to the specific questions raised by the ODPM Committee. A copy of the Regional Housing Strategy 2005 can be accessed from the weblink below:


4.1  The potential benefits of and scope to promote greater homeownership

  In certain parts of the West Midlands Region, for example, its South Housing Market Area the scope to promote greater homeownership is limited by the affordability ratio. Local communities want affordable housing in perpetuity and through a system of "staircasing" with such units going back into the system as affordable housing.

  Solutions to promoting greater homeownership in areas of high affordability problems (often in the rural parts of the West Midlands) are to raise incomes for local people via Rural Renaissance (WM Regional Spatial Strategy) and rural employment opportunities. Building more housing will not reduce the price overall sufficiently for local people to be able to afford to buy.

4.2  The extent to which home purchase tackles social and economic inequalities and reduces poverty

  It needs to be recognised that home purchase does not necessarily tackle inequalities and reduce poverty as many people can be made worse off through home ownership—Right to Buy is an example of this as there have been examples, whereby people have been left unable to cope with the properties they have bought, unable to afford renovations and repairs and thus trapped in poor condition owner occupied housing.

  Home purchase can also create inequality and exacerbate problems as wealthy homeowners push up prices in particular areas often forcing out local people and causing the gentrification of areas.

  There are also concerns that the introduction of the inclusion of property portfolios for private pensions under SIPPS will make this problem considerably worse and drive up prices further still, as pressure will be placed on the housing market by private landlords buying up properties for investment purposes. The proposal for property portfolios under SIPPS may be more appropriate if there was a way of ensuring rents on such properties were affordable.

4.3  The economic and social impact of current house prices

  A great deal of research has been undertaken by the West Midlands to support the development of a robust evidence base for the WM Regional Housing Strategy 2005 and of particular interest to this question will be the work undertaken by Sheffield University on identifying distinctive Housing Market Areas within the Region and also the Stage 2 Report produced by the University of Birmingham's, Centre for Urban and Regional Studies. Below is the weblink to the research:

4.4  The relationship between house prices and housing supply

  As stated above in response to question 3 please refer to the extensive research undertaken by the West Midlands Regional Housing Board which can be downloaded from the aforementioned website.

  4.5  Other factors influencing the affordability of housing for sale including construction methods and fiscal measures

WMRA welcomes the use of modern methods of construction if manageable and guaranteeing long life and sustainability of the housing in question.

4.6  The scale of the Government's plans to boost housing supply

  Please refer here to the comments in summary above in section 2 and also the Assembly's full response to ODPM's "Planning for Housing Provision" which is appended (2) at the end of this paper.

4.7  The relative importance of increasing the supply of private housing as opposed to subsidised housing

  It is important to note that the need to increase the supply of housing overall is due in part to the limited amount of Social/subsidised housing being built over the last 25 years at least. This has helped to produce a situation where more and more households are unable to afford a home, either private or social/subsidised. It is considered unlikely that increasing the supply of private housing in the West Midlands could contribute as much as building new subsidised housing towards meeting housing need.

  The lack of subsidised housing has been exacerbated by Right to Buy initiatives which have not only reduced the availability of accommodation but also resulted in the residualisation of the remaining housing stock.

4.8  How the planning system should respond to the demand for housing for sale

  In the West Midlands this depends on where in Major Urban Areas we want the open market to respond with more supply, subject to design, type, size and sustainability and creating pathways of choice in the housing market. In regionally unsustainable areas the planning system should address local needs only and not inward migration pressures.

The planning system needs to consider how to meet all housing needs and requirements, including the creation of a new Social Housing Use Class under Town Planning legislation in order to secure a market value at less than the owner occupation open market level. This would help to achieve more affordable housing. A Social Housing Use Class could be made to relate to the intermediate market housing making new build Shared Ownership more affordable in high priced urban and rural locations, where even now it is often irrelevant in meeting affordability requirements.

4.9  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

  The South West part of the West Midlands Region is overheated therefore adopting a Barker style solution would be to build vast quantities of housing over South Warwickshire, the Vale of Evesham and Worcestershire and this would be totally unacceptable environmentally and in terms of sustainability. It would accelerate out migration from the Conurbation requiring the duplication of huge infrastructure provision that already exists in the Conurbation and as detailed further in our response (Appendix 2) WMRA doubts the approach would reduce house prices and serve only to undermine our Regional Spatial Strategy. This approach will also exacerbate the significant homelessness issues faced by many urban local authorities.

4.10  The regional disparities in the supply and demand for housing and how they might be tackled

  The Regional Spatial Strategy and Regional Housing Strategy are the West Midlands' solution approved by the Secretary of State for re-shaping the market demand and social housing oversupply and poor quality in the West Midlands. As mentioned previously our concerns are that ODPM proposals will undermine our Strategies.

  It is important to be aware of the very different problems facing parts of the West Midlands Region, whose markets are often described as mirroring those of the UK itself, ie high demand, overheating and high affordability problems to the South West of the Region and low demand and poor stock condition problems in part of the Central and the Northern parts of the Region.

  The research on Housing Market Areas accessible via the weblink below will be of interest to the Committee in response to this question.

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