Empty homes in Britain reaching the million mark
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Fri Feb 25 02:52:50 GMT 2011
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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