Headlines: September 29th, 2005

A new study has found that three estates built more than 20 years ago have avoided many of the problems associated with large concentrations of social housing because of their planned mix of homes for ownership and rent. The research conducted for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and published today, shows that the estates have developed into mature, ‘ordinary’ communities in spite of their higher than average levels of deprivation.The study was carried out in Peterborough, Norwich and Middlesbrough by researchers from Sheffield Hallam University. They conclude that a combination of mixed tenure, well-planned community facilities and a pleasant environment have enabled the estates to remain attractive places to live where demand for empty property remains high.

The researchers say, however, that there is little evidence to support some of the arguments put forward to justify the spread of mixed-tenure developments, including claims that owner-occupiers act as ‘role models’ for tenants and influence their attitudes and improve their access to employment networks. They found that relations between owners and tenants were civil and polite rather than anything closer.

The study used a series of interviews and focus groups with adults, young people and children on the three estates and includes the views of housing professionals. Some households in each area kept diaries of their day-to-day activities and noted interactions with their extended families and other residents. These showed that one of the most significant effects of mixed tenure was that it enabled families to live together in the same neighbourhood. Adult children could rent homes near their families while separated parents could move into affordable accommodation nearby.

Mixed tenure, the study says, was only part of the original vision for the three estates, which also incorporated shopping facilities, schools, meeting rooms and shared parking from the outset. Landscaping and networks of footpaths and cycle routes had also contributed to sustained levels of satisfaction among the residents.

Chris Allen, co-author of the report, said mixed tenure combined with a high-quality physical environment, had helped to create ordinary communities and had provided an effective way of avoiding artificial concentrations of disadvantage. The factors had also allowed people to distance themselves from the kind of prejudice frequently encountered by people living on council estates.

The researchers believe there is a strong case for using planning and housing policies to produce and maintain a genuine mix of tenures in popular neighbourhoods. Chris Allen added, “One key challenge will be to ensure that the current system of planning agreements between local authorities and developers is used as a mechanism for achieving mixed tenure, rather than a means of avoiding it.”