Empty homes in Britain reaching the million mark

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Fri Feb 25 02:52:50 GMT 2011

Vacant Position
Michael Parker – p.46 - Big Issue - Feb 14-20th 2011
With the number of empty homes in Britain 
reaching the million mark, what is the government 
doing to combat this problem? Michael Parker investigates
For every two families that need a home there is 
one property that could house them lying empty, 
according to the Empty Homes Agency, a charity 
that has been highlighting the less well 
understood side of the housing crisis for 20 years.
The number of empty homes across Britain has 
reached the million mark, jumping by a third 
between 1996 and 2008. But the moves by the 
government this year appear to show a confused approach towards the problem.
There are already two methods that are aimed 
specifically at bringing empty properties back 
into use: an EDMO (Empty Dwelling Management 
Order), introduced in the Housing Act 2004; and a 
PROD (Public Request To Order Disposal), brought 
in by the Local Government Planning And Land Act 
1980. Councils can also use a CPO (Compulsory Purchase Order).
Eric Pickles, the communities and local 
government secretary, announced in January that 
houses would have to have laid empty for two 
years, up from six months, before an EDMO could 
be served. This month, Grant Shapps, the housing 
minister, announced the launch of the Community 
Right To Reclaim Land, a new formulation of the 
PROD powers. But crucially it can only be applied 
to public bodies, while the overwhelming majority 
of empty homes are privately owned.
David Ireland, chief executive of the Empty Homes 
Agency, said: "Whole housing estates have had 
their redevelopment stalled. The problem is that 
these cases are much more entrenched than a few 
single houses. All you need is a slight dip in 
property prices, and developers involved in large schemes pull out."
However, Ireland was content that the government 
understood the problem. It has put aside £100m to 
tackle empty homes and has provided the same 
financial incentives for bringing old homes back 
into use, as for building new ones.
One area of the country took up the challenge in 
earnest: Kent County Council, in a joint effort 
with a dozen district councils, has operated the 
No Use Empty scheme for five years. Using 
approximately £3.5m made available to homeowners 
as interest-free loans to bring empty or 
dilapidated properties up to scratch, the scheme 
has brought 1,481 homes back on to the market. By 
the end of next month, £lm worth of loans will 
have been repaid. And it is working: the number 
of empty homes in Kent has decreased from 8,000 to 6,000.
Steve Grimshaw, regeneration manager at Kent 
County Council, said: "We concentrate on advice 
and guidance for landlords. We have property 
offices to approach landlords in each district. 
We all come together every six weeks to discuss 
what has worked. We have had no defaults so far, 
touch wood. But we have had many calls from other 
county councils wanting to discuss how the scheme works.
"DCLG [the Department For Communities And Local 
Government] has been taking an interest, and 
hopefully we will be able to at least influence 
how they spend that £100m investment." .

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