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Independent Commission calls for radical change to Birmingham's housing policy

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Birmingham City Council faces three critical gaps in its housing policy, according to an independent commission headed by LSE academic, Professor Anne Power.

In its final report published today the Commission argues for policy change to tackle:

  • A financial gap in what is needed to improve housing and neighbourhood quality
  • An organisational gap in managing local conditions, which requires a shift towards devolution
  • A communities gap which needs more resident involvement in decision-making supported by front-line staff.

It makes five recommendations to fill these gaps:

  • Devolved management: a stronger local management structure with devolved repairs and budgets, at least for more basic repairs, would help the council overcome cost, delivery and quality problems; openly marketing the stock would generate demand.
  • Local environments and neighbourhood renewal: these largely determine residents' views; the innovative training programme for a multi-skilled, 'super-caretaking' force on estates in Northfield and Hodge Hill showed much early promise and should be extended. Neighbourhood management offers a tool for combining better local environments and local services, including housing and stronger community involvement.
  • Alternatives to demolition: some carefully targeted demolition may be essential within the extreme low demand council stock, but renovation of most homes is possible within a flexible framework.
  • New ways to achieve decent homes: a more flexible and varied set of options would offer tenants higher standards beyond the basic level of the current programme. This would require innovative funding solutions, area by area, as proposed in the Government's Sustainable Communities Plan in 2003.
  • Mixed-income communities: more mixed-income, mixed-tenure communities would help overcome the unpopularity of many of Birmingham's large run-down council estates by integrating affordable homes for sale and shared ownership alongside improved existing homes for rent.

Professor Anne Power said: 'A uniform city-wide approach cannot match varying ground level needs

'In 2002 we said that "one size couldn't fit all" in a city as large and complex as Birmingham. Three years ago the Council set out to devolve its front-line services, but this popular approach was frozen in summer 2004. Our review shows that bringing services closer to tenants would create tailored solutions for the needs of different areas and communities.'

Lord Richard Best of the Joseph Rowntree Foundations said: 'In its first report, the Commission endorsed the view of Birmingham tenants that a single transfer of all Council housing to one new landlord was not the way forward. But the rejection of the transfer option deprived tenants of substantial extra resources, badly needed to improve homes and environments. Returning to these issues, the Commission has now underlined its view that residents should be empowered to take decisions on a place-by-place basis so that solutions - including the possibility of partial transfers - can be pursued to suit local requirements.'

Ends

Contact:

  • Professor Anne Power on 020 7955 6330
  • Lord Richard Best on 01904 629241
  • Jess Winterstein, LSE Press Office, on 020 7955 7060 or email j.Winterstein@lse.ac.uk 

Note to editors:

Birmingham is Britain's second city and its largest council landlord. It has the largest concentration of tower blocks in the country. In 2002 council tenants in the city voted two to one against transfer to a non-profit independent housing association, leaving the Council with no Plan B.

The funding gap, the management problems and the loss of community confidence that followed led to the creation of an Independent Housing Commission chaired by Professor Anne Power of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The Council adopted its proposals in full in 2003 and devolved many key services to eleven districts. Fifty five community groups across the city, covering 26,000 homes started to develop community based housing organisations, inspired by the proposals of the Commission.

But following a zero rating for the Council's repair service and Labour losing its leadership of the Council in 2004, the new Conservative-Liberal alliance 'froze' the devolution of housing and stalled in their support for tenant led initiatives.

The report is by the Independent Housing Commission, chaired by Professor Anne Power of LSE's Social Policy Department and Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion. Members include Lord Richard Best of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Aman Dalvi of Gateway to London, Yvonne Hutchinson until recently a member of the Housing Corporation board, and Jesper Nygaard, a leading Danish housing.

Press cuttings

Birmingham Post
Minister clears Birmingham over low-cost housing claims (1 Apr 06)
An inquiry into Birmingham has found it "not guilty" of failing to provide low-cost housing, according to Ministers. The inquiry was announced by Ms Cooper in the House of Commons three weeks ago, after Labour MPs criticised the local authority. It followed the publication of a report by the Independent Housing Commission, chaired by Anne Power of LSE, which warned Birmingham faced "critical gaps" in its housing policy.

Birmingham Post
Study calls for radical housing policy changes (23 Feb 06)
An independent commission into the state of housing in Birmingham has called for radical changes to city council policy. But the report, published yesterday by LSE Professor Anne Power, was criticised by the city council. The report identifies financial, organisational and community gaps in the council's current policy and made five recommendations.  
http://icbirmingham.icnetwork.co.uk/birminghampost/news/
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Guardian
Second thoughts: Keep in touch (22 Feb 06)
Anne Power, a professor of social policy at LSE and a member of the government's sustainable development commission, tells about the problems of Birmingham council as the country's biggest remaining council landlord.

22 February 2006

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