Monday, 15 November 2010

Government unveils plans to reward councils that tackle empty homes

You may recognise the property in this photograph. It lies on the corner of Kendrick Road and Christchurch Road and it was empty for many years - a blight on the neighbourhood (a Conservation area) and a cause of frustration for residents. Thanks to the hard work of Reading Borough Council officers working with the landlord this property is now back in use. However, this house could still be empty if the Council did not have an empty homes strategy (and you could argue) a motivated ward councillor. Some councils do not have either of these things so shamefully thousands of homes lie empty. This is unacceptabe given the scale of the affordable housing crisis we face. However, if the plans put forward by the Coalition Government at the end of last week go ahead all councils will have more good reasons to bring empty homes in their area back into use.
Following my post last week the Government has unveiled proposals to incentivise councils to bring empty homes back into use via the New Homes Bonus
The consultation asks whether bringing long-term empty homes back into use should be counted as additional supply for the New Homes Bonus. Local authorities would then be able to consider these properties with equal weight alongside new build.
I've attached the relevant bits of the consultation document below:

'The Coalition Agreement set out the Government’s commitment to explore a range of measures to bring empty properties back into use.

'There are a number of reasons why properties become and remain empty including low demand, the cost of repairs, reluctance to rent, or personal circumstances. Around 300,000 privately owned homes have been vacant for over six months and many are in areas of high demand. Empty homes are a blight on local communities and a waste which we cannot afford. We need to harness this potential to meet pressing housing need.

'The Spending Review announced that the Government is investing £100m - through the Homes and Communities Agency - to support housing associations to refurbish over 3,000 empty properties and manage them at an affordable rent for up to 10 years.
'Many local authorities already work with property owners to bring homes back into use. Some also take enforcement action where advice and support fails. Through the New Homes Bonus, the Government proposes to strengthen the incentive for local authorities to identify empty properties and work with property owners to find innovative solutions that allow these properties to be brought back into use.

'Bringing empty homes back into use is also important in overcoming some local opposition to new housing. We therefore propose to reward local authorities for bringing empty properties back into use through the New Homes Bonus.'

The consultation document suggests that Council Tax data will be used to track empty homes and homes brought back into use. This makes sense (and it's one of the ways we track empty homes in Reading).
The practicality of these measures will need to be considered as part of the consultation (on until Christmas) but I really welcome this radical new thinking from the government. Empty homes are a wasted resource and we must explore more ways to bring properties back into use to aid housing supply - particularly when housing need is great and space for new build in many areas like Reading is in short supply.

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