Thursday, 17 February 2011

Coalition Government makes real progress on empty homes

Last November the Government launched a consultation on plans to reward councils for building new homes and bringing empty homes back into use.

Today the New Homes Bonus was formally launched.:
"Through the New Homes Bonus the Government will match the council tax raised from new homes for the first six years. The bonus available for an affordable home will be up to 36 per cent more than for a similar market home, equivalent to an extra £350 per house premium every year. Empty properties brought back into use will also receive the cash bonus for six years.

This works out at payments of over £9,000 paid on average to each Band D home or almost £11,000 for an equivalent affordable home. So if an area increased the number of homes by 1,000 units this could earn a community £10m to spend as they see fit - significant funding at a time when public finances are tight."
Over 500 organsations including my local council responded to the consultation with the majority of responses very supportive of the plans. You can read a summary of e responses here.

Of the 189 groups that responded to the question about empty homes 92% supported plans to reward councils for bringing empty homes back into use. This is a very positive endorsement of the direction of travel taken by the Government in relation to this issue.

This approach is radical change from the approach take to tackling empty homes under Labour where local councils were not incentivised into bringing empty homes back into use, so as a result many councils failed to take steps to deal with this problem in their area.

Thankfully as a result of years of campaigning by myself and other Lib Dems in Reading, Reading Borough Council is one of the most proactive local authorities in the country in relation to empty homes.

£100 million pounds earmarked to help tackle empty homes

Earlier this week the Homes and Communities Agency published the Framework for its Affordable Homes Programme 2011-15. In addition to providing details about investment for the construction of new homes it includes plans to invest in bringing long term empty properties back into use:
'£100m has been earmarked for work to bring empty homes back into use. Funding will be available from April 2012. The funding will be targeted at long term empty properties which are blighting neighbourhoods, and which would not come back into use without intervention.

 We recognise that there are a very wide range of possible approaches to tackling empty homes, and that different approaches might be most effective in different circumstances. We want to offer providers as much flexibility as possible to take the most effective approach locally, whilst ensuring a rigorous approach to value for money. We will shortly be seeking expressions of interest from providers who are interested in applying for funding to tackle empty homes.

Providers are asked to indicate in the standard information template whether they are interested in participating in bringing empty homes back into use once further programme detail is available. Providers who have schemes to bring empty homes back into use which are ready to deliver before April 2012 should provide information through the standard information template.'
Theory aside it will take effort to make these proposals work on the ground, but overall this has been a very good week for those of us who have been campaigning for years to get empty homes on the political agenda and most importantly, back in use.

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