Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Pathfinders - Plenty of pain, let's wait and see about the gain

A new and highly analytical report National Evaluation - Baseline Report prepared for the government by consultants Ecotec gives us the best information yet on the impact of the 9 housing market renewal pathfinders. The Pathfinder programme started in 2003 and was envisaged to last for 10 to 15 years with the aim of transforming the housing market in 9 of the most depressed areas in the country.

You have to hand it Ecotec this really is a fantastic report it provides a huge amount of data and carefully analyses it against national trends. Everybody knows that the housing market in the country as a whole has changed in the last three years, the question is have the markets in the pathfinders been catching up, keeping up of falling behind ? The original target set by the government was that they should close the gap by one third by 2010.

Two of the most important indicators are house prices and vacancy rates.
House prices have most certainly risen and in most cases above the regional average area. This is evidence that the market is catching up, but as the report acknowledges the reality of this change is that house prices are becoming unaffordable for residents who are generally on low incomes. How much of the increase in prices is down to speculators buying up properties in the expectation of price rises? The report doesn’t say.

Vacancy rates are the indicator which as you might expect interest me the most. The government’s press release claims that vacancy rates have dropped. This is not a lie, but it’s pushing the boundaries of the truth a bit. The overall percentage of empty homes in pathfinder areas has indeed gone down but not by as much as in non-pathfinder areas. But of course this only tells part of the story, the real indicator of the problem is long-term empty homes. They’ve gone up in every one of the pathfinder areas except South Yorkshire. This is the table from the report on long-term empty homes.

To give the pathfinders the benefit of the doubt these high vacancy rates may be an inevitable stage of renewing the housing market. It is certainly true that councils and pathfinders have been buying up homes either for demolition or refurbishment. Many of them are standing vacant waiting for something to happen. It may be a case of no gain without pain but at the moment we’ve got the pain we’ll have to wait and see whether there is any gain.

1 comment:

  1. Having had first hand experience of the Oldham Rochdale Pathfinder, I have to disagree with both the assessment of the Ecotec report and the implication that the Pathfinder scheme is in any way intended as a solution to empty homes.

    The Oldham Pathfinder area, by the admission of the local authority's Executive Director of Regeneration, had no housing abandonment prior to the intervention of the scheme. The selection of the areas to be demolished has nothing to do with abandonment and everything to do with the value of the sites to developers.

    While Ecotec has as a consultant the mastermind of the Pathfinder project and is producing reports to the specification of DCLG, I was still prepared to examine the report impartially. However, the omission of some extremely relevant facts, such as the public enquiry and judicial review occurring in Oldham as a result of people objecting to being forced from their homes, gives the report a very skewed appearance.

    As you have rightly pointed out earlier, properties which are being built in pathfinder areas, such as Salford, are being purchased and held vacant by property speculators. I fail to see how demolishing occupied homes and replacing them with empty investment properties can ever be a solution to the waste of empty housing.