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Empty homes initiatives

Communities Minister Andrew Stunell has announced that community groups will be able to apply for Government cash to bring empty homes that blight neighbourhoods back into use.

Community and voluntary organisations will now be able to bid for part of a £100m Government fund for pioneering housing schemes that will ensure empty properties that ruin neighbourhoods are lived in once again, and at the same time provide affordable housing.

The minister said that tackling the 700,000 empty homes across the country was a top priority for the Government, and would be a key feature in the drive to increase the provision of affordable housing.

The Government will also consult on plans to allow councils local discretion to introduce a council tax premium on homes in their area that have been empty for more than two years, to provide a stronger incentive to get the homes back into productive use and remove the blight from such properties on local neighbourhoods.

He said: "There is a desperate need in this country for affordable housing, and yet for every two families that need a home, there is one property standing empty. This is a national scandal, and after years of inaction and inertia, this Government is determined to get to grips with the problem.”

Community and self-help groups will now have the opportunity to apply for financial backing to tackle empty homes, with formal bidding guidance to be published shortly.

In the autumn the Government will also publish its approach to tackling empty homes, as part of the wider housing strategy.

Ministers have made it clear that homesteading – where empty homes are brought back into use through self-renovation – will be encouraged.

The planning officer for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Kate Houghton, welcomed the action on empty homes.

“We are pleased to see the minister taking serious action to tackle the scandal of homes sitting empty while England's affordable housing shortage worsens. Of the 700,000 empty homes in England, more than half have been empty for well over six months. CPRE knows that we need to start building genuinely affordable homes, but it would be crazy not to make use of the resources we already have first.”

Meanwhile, at the Liberal Democrats’ annual party conference in Birmingham, Business Secretary Vince Cable advocated allowing councils to auction land with planning permission and use the proceeds for social housing.


Roger Milne

22 September 2011