2002 was the year housing found its rightful place on the national agenda. Facing a collapsing housing market in the North and a mass exodus of nurses, teachers and firefighters from the South, the government finally woke up to the sector's importance – and was even prepared to put a bit of money where its mouth was. But that's not all that's worth remembering about 2002. Saba Salman brings you some of the year's highs, lows, heroes, villains, nuisance neighbours, stock shocks, mutating departments, bright ideas and transfer fever
Bad behaviour
Antisocial behaviour was the issue that just wouldn't keep quiet this year. From January to December Whitehall churned out ideas faster than you can say "ASBO" and it seemed the world and its Rottweiler had an opinion on the way to tackle troublesome tenants.

In January, Tim Winter, national organiser for the Social Landlords' Crime and Nuisance Group, said: "Increasingly social landlords are becoming aware that tackling nuisance and antisocial behaviour is part of their core business." Later the same month, home secretary David Blunkett sprung an offensive aimed at both yobs and bureaucrats, giving housing associations powers to apply directly for antisocial behaviour orders.

In June, after MP Frank Field stoked the debate with proposals to strip unruly tenants of their housing benefit, work started at the Department of Work and Pensions on a register of troublemaking tenants. The idea was slammed by the National Housing Federation and the Chartered Institute of Housing, which both warned benefits minister Malcolm Wicks not to use the tenants' rent to target loutishness. But that didn't deter Fearless Field. He just moved on to his next brainwave: putting nuisance neighbours in bunkers under motorways. Field's bill ran out of parliamentary time and there was no mention of the proposals in the Queen's Speech in November, although the speech otherwise crackled with promises to get tough on everything from teen tearaways to chewing-gum louts.

Finally in November came the news that homelessness czarina Louise Casey is to be shunted over to strike fear into the hearts of nuisance neighbours at the Home Office's new antisocial behaviour unit – and what better proof that the prime minister is taking the issue seriously than the headline-grabbing appointment of yet another czar?

Stars in their high rise
The sector that glamour forgot? Certainly not. This year we had more links with luminaries from the glamorous worlds of pop, rock, royalty and sport than you could shake a copy of Hello at.

Pop queen Madonna (left) ruffled feathers in September when she was quoted in Vanity Fair saying she loved London "minus all the council estates". Incensed, Greenwich council invited the material girl to visit its estates. "How would she feel if she was homeless and had nowhere to go?" fumed tenant Maureen Johnson.

Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour was more gracious: the man who once said the amount he earned was "obscene" pledged £4.5m from the sale of his London home to charity Crisis in January.

Big Brother housemate Jade Goody and French aristocrat Prince Henri VII were both in trouble over unpaid rent in July. Prince Henri sold some heirlooms to pay his £96,000 bill; Jade, on the other hand, made enough wonga from her mercifully brief infamy that she'll never again be troubled by arrears.

Meanwhile, ex-football manager Big Ron Atkinson (above) should know a thing or two about transfer – at least that's what Birmingham council must have thought when it got him on side to sell stock transfer to an unimpressed public. It ended up being an own goal, though, as tenants resoundingly rejected transfer.

In December, fellow sportsman Phil DeFreitas (above) wrote to Housing Today after Stonham Housing Association agency manager Adam Penwarden revealed he once hit the test cricketer "for a six and a four off successive balls". Nonsense, said DeFreitas, it was "an inside leg narrowly missing leg stump".

The umpire strikes back?

Trouble at the top

The Housing Corporation will be glad to see the back of a year in which it was battered from all sides. A white paper in May revealed that investment work would be handed over to regional assemblies and in July the government announced the sector was to have a single inspector. The Audit Commission and Housing Corporation fought for pole position with the commission emerging victorious in October. But all was not lost for the corporation’s brave boys and girls: the announcement in November of a role in a new network of regional housing boards was an acceptable consolation prize.

What the columnists said

"Creativity often works best in groups and, of course, the fire brigade would look silly at home waiting with a bucket of water"
Sandi Toksvig on the shortcomings of telecommuting

"The Tories didn’t want to know about the future of the NHS drugs budget, they wanted to know about their hips and haemorrhoids"
Niall Dickson braves the Tory conference

"With physical harm and humiliation out of the picture, what else is there? What about eviction? Hang on, we can’t do that any more"
Gerorge Tzilivakis tackles nuisance neighbours

Changing faces

whitehall saw more cast changes this year than the West End production of Chicago. The entire Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions went through a spasm following the tail-between-his-legs resignation of embattled transport secretary Stephen Byers (above). After numerous disasters on transport, his spin doctors’ attempts to bury bad news backfired and he instead found himself in the political graveyard of the backbenches. In June, John Prescott returned to his old stomping ground, taking charge of regional government, housing, planning and regeneration at the newly rechristened Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Lord Rooker replaced Lord Falconer as housing and planning minister and Tony McNulty became junior housing minister. Then, in September it was announced that Sarah Webb, head of the government’s community housing taskforce, will step into John Perry’s shoes at the Chartered Institute of Housing in March 2003 when he leaves for the calmer waters of Nicaragua.

Statistically speaking

number of stars awarded by the Audit Commission to the housing maintenance services at the prime minister’s local council, Sedgefield in County Durham

1 in 10
number of housing completions deemed affordable as a result of planning gain, a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report found in October

number of antisocial behaviour convictions in three years before housing benefit would be docked under Labour MP Frank Field’s proposals

councils facing government takeover after this month’s comprehensive performance assessments

councils in line for extra borrowing powers because of the same performance assessments

estimated number of years a person spends on a council waiting list before being housed, north-east London’s Waltham Forest council warned in July

ambitious number of homes to be created in London and the South-east through the Challenge Fund, a quarter of them to be affordable

number of homes Birmingham must transfer if it is to meet the decency target, said the independent housing commission’s report in December

number of affordable homes that could be built in the growth area around Milton Keynes, said government-backed consultant Roger Tym & Partners

Nurses in need

The government finally realised what everyone in housing had known since 2001: that the starter home initiative was just that, a starter. July’s spending promises included £5.9bn a year for housing by 2005, part of it destined for key-worker homes in the South.

Defining images 1

Union Jill: A tenant of Southampton council’s Millbrook Towers celebrates the Golden Jubilee in June

Defining images 2

Let the games begin: “World Cup fever is not a medically recognised condition – at least not one requiring time off work,” said London & Quadrant’s group director of human resources, Sally Jacobson, in May; the next month, there were complaints of antisocial behaviour by youthful World Cup fans (pictured)

Baron Greenback

The government didn’ t exactly shower the sector with cash this year, but housing had many reasons to doff its cap to chancellor Gordon Brown. Hard lobbying by the sector led to the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions asking the Treasury to consider a housing market renewal fund in January. The idea for a fund was backed by housing minister Lord Falconer. “I’ve seen with my own eyes the real problems of low demand and abandonment,” he told Housing Today in January. “That problem requires a solution.” The influential DTLR select committee inquiry on empty homes put its weight behind the sector’s bid for an £8bn, 10-year fund in March, demanding the issue be tackled in the comprehensive spending review. In April, the DTLR announced nine housing market renewal pathfinders. When the spending review came, in July, it brought more proof that housing had shot up the political agenda. The chancellor revealed that spending on housing will rise 4.2% during the next three years – an estimated £2.5bn in new money. Two months later, London mayor Ken Livingstone – in the editor’s seat of power at Housing Today – called the extra cash “a big advance” but demanded the government give more to create 10,000 affordable homes in the capital every year. This month, CPA league tables left the sector with hope that 51 of the best-performing councils may get extra borrowing powers. "Affordable housing has gained some recognition at last – but it’s still the tip of the iceberg. A revolution is required"
Director of planning council room, Kelvin Macdonald

PFI: politically frankly impossible

The next big thing that never was. There was yet more evidence in 2002 of the problematic nature of housing PFI. Experts issued doom-laden verdicts on the policy. In March, transfer consultant Graham Moody warned “the private sector is running scared because of the risks involved”. Steve Wilcox, professor of housing policy at York university, declared in August: “PFI in housing is a dodge to get additional resources for long-term projects that otherwise wouldn’t get funding.” The same month the government tried to breathe life into the flagging policy by announcing it would increase spend on housing PFI by £390m over the next three years to £1bn. In a move that smacked of desperation, the government held urgent talks with councils on how to rescue the troubled initiative.

Module behaviour

Once confined to building-site offices and draughty school classrooms, in 2002 prefab was reborn. Simultaneously rechristened “off-site manufactured housing” and “modular housing”, it was this year’s solution to the affordable housing crisis – or so the government would have us believe. May was the month of the pods: housing minister Lord Falconer heralded it as the best way of billeting key workers, Yorkshire Housing Group proudly unveiled the first modular housing development outside London – a £2m development of 24 flats in York – and the Peabody Trust put forward plans for a prefabricated inhabited bridge containing 92 homes over the River Lea in east London. In September, Housing Today revealed that prefab was to get a dollop of cash from Lord Rooker in the form of the £200m Challenge Fund. Intended for the construction of 4000 homes, with 1000 using modular technology, received more than 90 bids, far more than expected. But will they be as innovative as the sector hopes?

Just say no

It seemed like a good idea at the time – but the government’s favourite way of reaching the decency standard through transfer had a rocky time. Glasgow, where tenants said yes to transferring their 88,000 homes, was one of the few to celebrate. The crushing no-vote in Birmingham in April was a wake-up call to government that it could not rely on transfer alone to hit to 2010 target. In May, housing director David Thompson admitted in a Housing Today interview his feelings of “real shock” over the no vote. The following month there were rumblings in Sheffield as councillors warned transfer might be impossible. “We are in limbo at present,” said cabinet member for housing Tony Damms following £120m funding gap and tenant hostility towards transfer. Housing minister Stephen Byers hinted that under-performers might get more borrowing powers – but the hopes were false. June’s draft Local Government Bill published proposed extra powers for top-performing councils but failed to mention their poorer cousins. In August Birmingham council antipated the result of its independent inquiry into the transfer failure with by publishing a housing strategy to split its homes into 55 neighbourhoods. By October Sheffield council had been dropped from the transfer list and in December the Birmingham report concluded that a series of small community-based housing organisations and associations were the answer. Watch this space.

The year’s bon mots

"I no longer have the convenience and comfort of the tumbler of water always ready at the dispatch box. There have been times when I have addressed the house in the past 12 months when something stronger than water may have been helpful"
Ex-housing minister Stephen Byers settles into the backbenches

"We have not heard that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge are about to march on the city, and in the absence of such a stimulus we cannot believe that over 26,000 council properties are in imminent danger of being abandoned"
An upbeat response to the Audit commission’s verdict on Hull council, from Labour group leader Colin Inglis

"Stock rationalisation is a bit like colonic irrigation. It’s good for you but you know it’s going to hurt"
Housing Corporation northern supremo Max inberg gets to the bottom of the matter

"The council wasn’t Old Labour, it was positively prehistoric"
Independent councillor Chris Jarvis on formerly left-controlled hull council’s descent into chaos

"If you beamed down from Planet Zog you would think it strange that housing association staff get so much money, while board members hardly get a penny"
John Castleberg, chief executive of Kingston-upon-Thames Housing association, on the alien concept of paying board members

Wrongs of right to buy

The right to buy, Thatcher’s proud flagship, came under heavy fire this year Labour MP Oona King kicked it off by calling for the policy to be suspended in regeneration areas, then Shelter wanted it scrapped in high-demand areas. But news that the government would review right-to-buy abuses led to a surge of applications in September – some councils reported a 45% increase. A Mori poll for Housing Today found seven out of 10 members of the public want to keep the right. This didn’t dissuade the office deputy prime minister who warned the Labour Party conference in Blackpool in October that he “will act” to stop abuses, and six out of 10 backed Tory shadow deputy prime minister David Davis’s suggestion that right to buy should be extended to housing association tenants.

Let us pay?

She wasn’t quite giving, as she insisted in February, “a nod and a wink” to the issue of pay for board members, but Housing Corporation chair Baroness Dean hinted the matter would be on the agenda within the year. As if by magic, in October Corpy unveiled its plans for board members to be paid up to £20,000 a year. Immediately, the sector was divided.