Wednesday, 22 February 2012

A failure to learn valuable lessons from the HMR programme.

I am deeply concerned about any suspension of the HMR Transitional Fund that may occur with any legal challenge to the way the fund is being spent.

In Woodnook last May, the new Labour Council scrapped the demolition programme of the outgoing Conservatives and began a programme of refurbishment turning some 100 unwanted and mostly empty properties into 70 modern, larger, desirable properties.That £7m scheme would be in jeopardy without HMR TR which is required to fund the purchase of the remaining properties.

The criticism by the Empty Homes Agency is around demolitions. In Hyndburn there will be no demolitions. 

As a board member of the EHA I have to say that I do not recognise the wholesale criticism of the HMR programme or the reasons given in the opposition to demolition. Housing minister Grant Shapps has also made unfounded adverse comments about HMR that diversified from reality from the very first word. 

This weeks summary document form the 12 pathfinder chairs offers a balanced review of the programme and should be obligatory reading if lessons are to be learned.

Like many HMR areas there are more houses than people. Critics have failed to recognise this point and subsequently are unable to determine a satisfactory outcome.

At the end of the HMR programme empty rows were left with residual residents for whom this 'winding up the scheme' fund was clearly targeted on trapped residents based on occupancy rates of 50% or 10%. That those people should be helped. 

The Housing Ministers offer of an exit fund included no indication of, and neither should there have been, a top down prescription for the future of those empty terraces once trapped residents had been relieved. Demolition was always an option and should have been an option. Criticism of demolition fails to recognise the facts on the ground. Local authorities should be able to exercise localism on the future of these empty rows of properties.

It is simply a vain argument to say there are 750,000 empty properties and housing shortage crises. Conflating low demand in HMR areas with waiting lists in other parts of the country where excessive demand does exist, shows a complete misunderstanding of the issue in areas where there are more properties than people and further, where housing choice is limited by mono-type.

I would urge critics to come to Hyndburn and review the consequences of these dislocated arguments. Schemes such as the one in Hyndburn seek to attain the governments preferred aspiration of refurbishment.

HMR transition fund to be spent on demolition

21 February 2012 | By Tom Lloyd

Councils are spending around 98 per cent of funding designed to ease the end of the housing market renewal programme demolishing homes.

Charity Empty Homes has discovered the 13 councils who won funding through the £35.5 million housing market renewal transition fund intend to demolish 5,125 homes and refurbish just 113.

The data, which was gained from Freedom of Information Act requests, builds on information gathered by Inside Housing that suggested the majority of the funding is being spent on demolishing homes.

Housing minister Grant Shapps is understood to be concerned by the move, and has ordered a review of how the funding is being spent. Councils have to match fund the allocations so £70 million has been set aside for the work.

Empty Homes said the majority of the demolition schemes will see homes replaced with grass spaces or informal car parks, with no imminent plans to build more houses.

Chief executive David Ireland said: ‘Most people would think it potty that a country with a housing shortage would spend millions knocking down homes just to create open space.

‘We think this is a deeply unimaginative and unappealing way of dealing with empty homes and we urge the councils involved to change their plans and consider renovating empty houses, or even giving them away conditional on new owners renovating them.’

Intended purpose of transition fund by area
Council/AreaHomes to be RefurbishedHomes to be Demolished
Blackburn and Darwen0155
Hull 0524**
Redcar and Cleveland013
Stockton on Tees0103
Stoke on Trent43486

Source: Empty Homes FOI requests
*Hyndburn applied for alternative options for 70 homes, both are shown
**Figures from press release, FOI declined

Councils angry at regeneration funds claim

Councils have hit back at claims that they misspent government money earmarked for regeneration schemes on major demolition projects.

Housing minister Grant Shapps has called for a review of how councils are using a £35 million transition fund for Housing Market Renewal pathfinder areas, amid concerns that it has been spent on demolishing thousands of homes.

Inside Housing has found several councils have spent the cash, which was allocated in November, on either demolishing homes or buying up properties in advance of demolition.

Hull, Stockton-on-Tees and Wirral councils have used their full allocations - £7.5 million in government funding - to clear former HMR sites.

Sefton Council in Merseyside will spend £4.4 million on acquisitions, with 480 homes slated for demolition in one estate alone, but only £800,000 will go towards relocating residents.

Bidding guidance issued by the Homes and Communities Agency last summer specified the money should mainly be spent on relocation and refurbishment ‘and at the margins some site security or clearance costs’.

But councils this week retaliated with claims that the money was always intended to be used for clearing ‘ghost streets’ created when the coalition pulled HMR funding in 2010.

Alan Lund, director of built environment at Sefton, said that refurbishment was not viable in the area. ‘From my perspective, this [funding demolitions] was why the fund existed,’ he said.

A source at Hull Council, which is spending its entire £3.3 million allocation on site clearance, said: ‘It could not have been made any clearer: this was intended for demolitions.’

David Ireland, chief executive of Empty Homes, said he was ‘shocked’ by ‘the difference between the rhetoric used about this and what it is actually doing’.

Mr Shapps said councils ‘should not be pursuing large-scale demolition’.