§ Dr. Whitehead
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assessment he has made of the extent of a reduction in demand for social housing; and if he will publish the sources and nature of the evidence his Department has collated. 
§ Mr. Raynsford
Much of the current research on low demand is small scale and based on a diverse range of definitions and methodologies, including estimates 105W extrapolated from a small number of sample case studies. There is, therefore, a range of disparate figures on the scale and distribution of the apparent reduction in demand for social housing. Evidence from 1997 local authority Housing Investment Programme returns to my Department suggests that the incidence of vacancies in social housing is increasing, particularly in the northern regions.
My Department has recently commissioned Heriot-Watt University to carry out research that will provide robust data on the nature and extent of low demand across all tenures. The research will also identify practical solutions for tackling the complex problems connected with reduced demand. The study will report in late 1999. The research will inform the work of an Action Team set up to tackle the problems of unpopular housing as part of the new national strategy for neighbourhood renewal being brought together by the Social Exclusion Unit.