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PR 35 - Planners criticise national audit report on Pathfinders

19 November 2007

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) calls on Government to maintain and extend its support for the Housing Market Renewal Pathfinders and in doing so criticises the National Audit Office (NAO) report doubting the impact of the programme. The Public Accounts Committee will finish its hearing on the 20th November. The RTPI also calls on Government to set out a national framework for coordination of policy and delivery.

The NAO has accepted that around 10,000 units of housing have been taken out of the market as a result of acquisition and demolition by the pathfinders but according to the NAO report this is not having an impact on the market. The report does not acknowledge that substantial amounts of additional housing have already been acquired on a voluntary basis to enable rebuilding with new higher demand housing in the areas concerned and further impacts can therefore be expected with a high degree of confidence.

RTPI Policy Director Rynd Smith said: \"The NAO's apparent uncertainty as to whether the Pathfinders have made a significant impact in the early stages of the programme is illogical and flies in the face of the laws of supply and demand.\"

\"The reasons why people leave pathfinder areas are deep-seated and related to the effects of failing neighbourhoods. As old industries close or run-down the environment and economy suffer. New businesses and jobs don't come into failing neighbourhoods. Pathfinders must attract new businesses and jobs through high quality housing and business space that creates attractive neighbourhoods. It is crucial the economy, the housing stock and infrastructure are transformed in parallel.\"

\"We would accept that there has been significant in-migration from the Accession countries in some pathfinders. This may have helped some of the pathfinder areas to slow or counter population loss in the short term. But there can be little doubt that taking out significant amounts of unpopular housing stock has made a difference to the mix of supply.\"

Against this background the RTPI welcomes the NAO's view that all Government departments should be pressed to work together to address the problems of low demand. An enhanced level of coordination across Government is badly needed if the economy, housing, infrastructure, skills, education, health and policing are to be upgraded to generate sustainable communities in both housing market renewal and growth areas. The Government has tended to treat the housing market renewal pathfinders and the growth areas as different programmes but the challenges of these areas lie in the same spectrum and need similar elements of coordinated strategy and action – they are all issues influencing sub-regional markets.

The RTPI argues that to ensure delivery of Government, stakeholder and community aspirations in these areas more attention is needed to ensure effective delivery structures and decision-making at the sub-regional level. The new emphasis on Multi-Area Agreements could provide important answers but, given the number of stakeholders that need to be involved and agree to an MAA, clearer funding and flexibility incentives are needed to encourage the level of collaboration needed to drive progress forward convincingly. The RTPI has long campaigned for a National Spatial Planning Strategy to form the basis for cross-departmental coordination, to guide regional and local plans and to act as the platform for mobilising delivery. Now is the time for this idea to be brought forward in response to the NAO's recommendation.
ENDS

For further information please contact:
Andrew Kliman, RTPI Communications Manager, 0207 929 9479,

Rynd Smith, RTPI Director of Policy and Communications, 0207 929 9478,

Angus Kennedy, RTPI Regeneration Network Chair, tel. 07813-697647

Notes to Editors

1. The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI)
The RTPI is a dynamic organisation leading the way in the creation of places that work now and in the future. We understand that just as people develop places, so places develop people. We are committed to the enhancement of our natural and human environment, using spatial planning to manage competing pressures on our built environments and the very real effects on our space. Through our 20,000 members, we constantly seek to create areas and places in which people want to live and work.

For further general information, visit the RTPI website at: www.rtpi.org.uk
41 Botolph Lane, London, EC3R 8DL, charity no. 262865

2 Background to the NAO Report:
The National Audit Office Report: 'Department for Communities and Local Government: Housing Market Renewal' was published on 9th November 2007. It is being reviewed by the Public Accounts Committee which is hearing evidence in relation to the report on 19th and 20th November 2007.

3 Government Policy Background:
The UK Government designated nine Housing Market Renewal Pathfinders following its adoption of the Sustainable Communities Plan ('Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future' 5th Feb 2003 – see DCLG website www.communities.gov.uk), which established policies to address severe problems of low demand in the North and Midlands and to promote growth in selected areas of the south-east region outside London.

4 Where are the HMR Pathfinders?
The Pathfinders cover defined sub-regional areas in Merseyside (New Heartlands), South Yorkshire (Transform South Yorkshire), Newcastle-Gateshead (Bridging Newcastle-Gateshead), North Staffordshire (Renew North Staffordshire, Manchester and Salford, East Lancashire (Elevate), Hull and East Riding of Yorkshire (Hull Gateway), Birmingham and Sandwell (Urban Living). They have been operating since 2003 and have all adopted long-term strategies and programmes for transformation of their areas through a mix of interventions including refurbishment and redevelopment of priority neighbourhoods.

5 How long will they operate?
Pathfinder programmes are designed to challenge the problems of low demand and transform conditions in their areas within c15 years – although this could be influenced by national and regional economic conditions, interest rates etc. Housing Market renewal is a long-term programme. The types of change involved are complex and take a long time to deliver – not least due to planning and legal processes designed to safeguard human rights and to take community and individual interests into account. The HMR programme is therefore still at a relatively early stage in delivery, a point acknowledged in the NAO report.

6 Refurbishment and Delivery:
As the worst neighbourhoods experiencing market failure are cleared, Pathfinders are working with delivery partners to bring forward new development. The marginal areas adjoining them are being refurbished (in fact many more homes are being refurbished than cleared – see NAO report for statistics). Delivery partners are normally developers and housing associations procured through a competitive process. Efforts are being made to ensure that new-build is of the right quality and that skills training and assistance is provided to help local people secure construction jobs and local contractors to work with the house-builders concerned. The RTPI wants to see more emphasis from all Government and Pathfinder partners to address the low education and skills in the areas concerned and to link economic development more closely with the work on housing that Pathfinders are now bringing forward in consultation with local communities.