Monday, 27 February 2012

Empty Homes Agency v. Hyndburn Council

(and Hyndburn Council are right to a point)

Following last weeks press release by the Empty Homes Agency which I am am a member, and Hyndburn Council in light of the EHA's criticism of HMR and post HMR funding. I thought I'd publish the  correspondence - in this case healthy debate - so readers can review the arguments on both sides.

Dear Mark, Thank you for that very helpful clarification. I'm very heartened to hear that plans have progressed since the transition fund bid was made. It certainly reinforces my view that Hyndburn's HMR exit plans are the most constructive of the councils that were awarded funding. The information we published was what we were given through FOI, and appears consistent with what you say here, albeit that the numbers we published don't show that renovation is the preferred option for Woodnook. We'll add a note to that effect on our website.

Our view remains that overall the HMR transition fund has been handled in an appalling way, and I make no apologies for getting the issue into the public domain.

I do take your point about demand. Since I've been in this job I've visited every one of the eleven pathfinder areas, some of them on many occasions and I certainly accept that different approaches are needed in different places, including on occasion demolition. But I do think that clearance has been used far too readily as a policy over many years and what I have seen is that more often than not the blight (and consequent drop in demand) it causes are as bad as the problem it seeks to address.

Demand is of course directly linked to price, which is why we talk about giving away houses (conditional on new owners refurbishing them and living in them as their sole home) . This is not a gimmick, I have seen it work and I'm convinced that it should be considered where demand is low. We are working with two councils in the north of England developing schemes of this type. I would of course be very happy to help if Hyndburn were interested in this approach.

I'm copying Graham Jones who I promised I would keep informed

With Best Wishes, David  
David Ireland | Chief Executive
Empty Homes

75 Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7HS

Empty Homes is the operating name for Empty Homes Agency Limited.
Registered in England as a charitable Industrial and Provident Society No. 27697R

-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Hoyle Sent: 24 February 2012 15:40
To: David Ireland

Subject: FW: Freedom of Information Request 1685 HYNDBURN

Dear David, I apologise for interjecting in your email to Sarah, but I wanted to respond on the Council's behalf.

The East Accrington (Woodnook) bid was for 5 terraced blocks comprising of 89 dwellings. At the time of the bid only 9 dwellings were occupied, the remainder were vacant with 60 in the Council's ownership. The Council's bid, consistent with the funding guidance, was to help relocate remaining residents from the worst blocks, which had already been subject to HMR investment.

Our bid identified three options, with the preferred option being to bring the properties back into use. Whilst the second and third options could result in demolition, these are only considered the 'fall back' position should it become apparent refurbishment is not viable or possible.

I am pleased to advise that we are making very good progress with the project and a preferred partner has been appointed and Heads of Terms are currently being finalised. The project is very innovative and £7m will be invested to refurbish, remodel and modernise the houses whilst at the same time retain the character of the terraces.

The potential legal challenge has created some uncertainty and I am hoping that the current publicity around the funding does not jeopardise our project.

On Project Phoenix (West Accrington), our bid included acquisitions with a view to demolishing 22 homes. This was the remaining acquisitions for a project where over 400 houses have already been acquired and cleared. But I want to stress the project in question is already subject to an Overarching Development Agreement and 78 new homes have been built. Again our bid was consistent with the guidance as the site is subject to a development agreement where the site has been transferred to a developer and registered provider.

I hope I have been able to clarify our position which I would have been happy to do before the press release.

Your press release refers to an overall national housing shortage. This is not the case everywhere with regional and local differences. I welcome the publicity for bringing empty homes back into use but the debate needs to reflect the significant different housing market conditions that exist across the country. I am sure a more balanced approach would generate even more support.

Hyndburn does have an oversupply of housing and I am sure you will appreciate the issues are complex. I want to reassure you that Hyndburn has taken, and will continue to take, a balanced approach to addressing low demand and vacant homes. During the former Housing Market Renewal Programme whilst we cleared 415 low demand / unfit homes, at the same time we supported 722 homes via refurbishment. Bringing empty homes back into use is a priority for the Council, hence out plans for the Woodnook area. I also want to bring to your attention the Pennine Lancashire bid to the Government's Empty Homes fund which aims to bring over 500 homes back into use, 45 of which are in Hyndburn.

If I can be of any further help, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kind Regards, Mark

Mark A. Hoyle, Head of Regeneration and Housing
20 Cannon Street
Accrington BB5 1NJ