The NAO is the first major body to carry out a study into the nine Pathfinders which were set up in 2002, by then deputy prime minister John Prescott, to tackle the issues of acute low housing in the north of England and the Midlands.
Over the last five years the programme has regularly hit the headlines – mainly due to often contentious plans to bulldoze large areas to make way for new housing.
Now the NAO has added further fuel to the fire by raising severe doubts over the value for money and method of the initiatives.
The report added: ‘There is no guarantee that intervening in the housing market in this way will address the causes rather than the symptoms of the problems experienced in these neighbourhoods.’
Edward Leigh, chairman of the public accounts committee, held no punches. He said : ‘So far over 10,000 homes have been bulldozed as part of the Pathfinder Housing Market Renewal scheme, over 1,000 new homes have been built, and 40,000 have been refurbished.
‘Many local inhabitants of these areas feel as though the DCLG [Department for Communities and Local Government] has run roughshod through their towns and communities, but the question is to what benefit?’
He continued: ‘There is no evidence that Pathfinders are bringing about improved social cohesion and, although low demand for properties has fallen in the Pathfinder areas, it hasn’t fallen as quickly as it has in the rest of the country. You have to wonder if these areas would see the same or greater regeneration if left to their own devices.
‘This is a 15-year initiative and £2.2 billion has already been committed to it. Given its performance to date, it is hard to think of another programme which was trumpeted with such a fanfare, but which has hit so many wrong notes.’