Monday, 25 July 2011

Urgent Letter to Grant Shapps, Housing Minister

Monday 25th July 2011 - Urgent Letter to Grant Shapps, Housing Minister who reads this blog.

Dear Mr Shapps,

Unitary and Districts – an unfair playing field
Following our recent conversation in the lobby of the House of Commons I am writing to you with serious concerns regarding current tendering process for £30m HMR transitional relief which is some £14 oversubscribed I understand. From the figures I can see Merseyside, the second worst affected area as measured by past funding, has bid a total of £17.3m combined. The issue as I raised at the back of the speakers chair is that Merseyside is able to draw on the financial resources of a unitary authority. Hyndburn Council however has not and will not receive any financial support from Lancashire County Council who collect 84% of Council Tax combined.

Local problems a barrier to progress
Hyndburn has £2.4m of outstanding commitments in the West of Accrington as that scheme comes to a conclusion. A combination of CPO and effective ransom strips or outstanding acquisitions in an intervention area preventing full assembly and full site value. Legal agreements that it cannot renege on. In the East Accrington where HMR has just begun and where there are rows of boarded up houses which have recently been a target for arson whilst people remain living in them. In this area the Council has bought almost acquired 5 blocks.

Too big a problem for a District Council
Currently Hyndburn Council has a small shortfall on the 5 blocks in East Accrington it was trying to acquire.

There are however another 12 blocks which qualify (150-180) where there exists under 50% occupancy rates qualifying them for a HMR transitional relief submission. Any bid to resolve this issues is hampered by the £2.4m overhanging costs from West Accrington.

In detail Hyndburn’s current bid of £4.6m (£2.3+£2.3m) to the transitional relief must first accommodate the £2.4m overhang leaving just under £2m (there is a small budget shortfall on the 5 blocks).

Funding unfairness
Aside from the degenerative wasteland that encompasses the Council owned properties, people within the 12 blocks with more than 50% vacancy will question why they are not getting any funding when they qualify under the criteria laid out by DCLG and your good self. Why is it that Liverpool are able to bid £17.3m and potentially find a solution for their residents yet Hyndburn’s residents have little or no hope of funding? Hyndburn would increase its bid if it had financial support from Lancs. County Council.

This current process is clearly unfair. The transitional scheme design is unsuitable but that is another argument as is the original decision to withdraw HMR in the CSR. Hyndburn has also seen the withdrawal of the ABG. The largest support grant cut and a pitiful £63,000 new homes bonus which punitively deducts demolitions of short term voids.

In summary
It is not fair to criticise Liverpool. They are bidding based on need and within a restrictive process. Hyndburn faces a glass ceiling as a small District authority. It qualifies for further funding but cannot get it.

Promised visit
I hope you will be able to fulfil your promise to come to Hyndburn before the end of 2011 and take a look at the scale of the problem.


Graham Jones MP
House of Commons