Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Sixth Report


I. INTRODUCTION

1. Empty homes can cause a great deal of misery to those who live next door to them. The problem becomes even worse for those people who live in areas with a large number of empty homes and who find themselves unable to move because no one wants to buy their house and those who rent are unable to move on. We received over forty submissions from members of the public. The following are typical:

    "Many residents who own their own homes are greatly discouraged as they see the value of their property continually reduced."[1]

    "Some home owners have seen their property depreciate in value. Some are faced with having to live on streets which are 90 per cent empty."[2]

    "Because we own our own home, we now feel trapped and cannot move on because the area is in decline... Lots of younger people and families still have mortgages that are more than the value of their property."[3]

    "We are owner occupiers of a semi-detached property and the adjoining semi is an unoccupied private house. The property has been unoccupied for 7 years and still has items of furniture inside... The empty property degrades the whole road and in particular reduces the value of our property."[4]

    "The sight of boarded up houses inevitably brings down the value of other houses in the street and there are several houses that have been on the market for several years. They seldom get any viewing and offers become progressively lower. I estimate that at the present rates of decline, my parents property will soon be worth as little as £700 — the price they paid 43 years ago when they bought it."[5]

    "The house is not the reason I cannot sell. Everyone assures me that it is in excellent condition. The problem is the area the house is in and, in particular, the street itself... The frustration and anger that I feel about the fact that I cannot sell my house, that I have cared and maintained over the years, because of the surrounding area is huge. The whole thing is out of my control and I feel furious. This is not helping my health at all."[6]

2. The Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) estimate that there were 763,900 homes empty across the country in April 2000,[7] representing 3.6 per cent of the housing stock. A number of these (perhaps 2 per cent of the stock)[8] are properties empty for a short period of time, whilst they are sold or let or whilst repairs are carried out and it is the longer term vacancies which cause the real problems. As well as blighting their neighbours, empty properties represent a wasted resource, particularly in areas with high levels of housing need. The southern regions, for example, are said to require 50,000 additional affordable homes per annum in the period to 2016[9] and reported 327,100 empty homes.[10]

3. The DTLR estimated that in April 2000 there were 844,100 houses in streets or blocks where low demand has been identified.[11] The majority of these are concentrated in the north and midlands. Changing Housing Markets and Urban Regeneration in the M62 Corridor (known as the M62 Study) found that 280,000 households containing 15.9 per cent of the population within the study area (eighteen local authorities in the North West) were at risk of low demand.[12] The number has been widely reported to be growing in recent years.[13] Whole streets in parts of the north and midlands have now been abandoned. The continued building of new homes on greenfield sites in those regions where there is already a mismatch between the demand for and supply of housing, makes the situation worse. In these areas, many of the homes currently empty have had large sums of money spent on them over recent years. We heard of one property which had received grants of £74,000 in the last 6 years and is now on the market for £5,000.[14]

4. In view of the scale of the problem and the serious issues which it raises, the Committee decided to look at the problem of empty homes. Our terms of reference were announced on 20 July 2001[15] and are summarised below:

  • the consequences of so many homes being empty and the benefits which would arise from bringing empty homes back into use;

  • the reasons why so many homes are empty;

  • the effectiveness of Government policies to date;

  • what additional measures should be taken by the Government, the Housing Corporation, local authorities and others to bring privately owned properties back into use;

  • what Government departments and agencies, local authorities and registered social landlords should do to bring more of the properties they own into use; and

  • what specific steps should be taken in areas of low demand, including whether

    • too many homes are being built and proposed on greenfield sites,
    • planning policy should be more vigorously implemented,
    • too many homes for rent continue to be built,
    • measures should be taken to deal with negative equity, and
    • some homes should be demolished.

5. In response we received 91 written submissions, 44 letters from members of the public and took oral evidence from 24 organisations over one evidence session in Manchester and four in London, concluding in December with evidence from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Planning and Regeneration, Sally Keeble, MP (referred to as the Minister, throughout this report). A volume of evidence was printed in October 2001.[16] We visited Liverpool, Bootle, Burnley, Rochdale and Manchester in the North West and Tower Hamlets in London. We wish to thank Professor Ian Cole, Brendan Nevin and Professor Christine Whitehead for their advice, Liverpool, Sefton, Burnley, Rochdale, Manchester and Tower Hamlets Councils for their hospitality and all those who gave evidence to the Committee.

6. A number of central and local Government departments and agencies are involved in trying to address the problem of empty homes. They include:

  • the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) which has responsibility for housing, planning and regeneration;

  • the Social Exclusion Unit of the Cabinet Office, which developed the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal and the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit of the DTLR, which implements the strategy;

  • the Housing Corporation, a Non-Departmental Public Body, sponsored by the DTLR which is responsible for the registration, regulation and funding of registered social landlords in England;

  • registered social landlords, most of which are housing associations, which provide social housing. They receive funding from the Housing Corporation, local authorities and the private sector;

  • local authorities which have strategic responsibility for housing in their area and collate information about housing in all tenures, including the number of empty homes. Many local authorities remain direct providers of housing but an increasing number have transferred their stock to housing associations. Local authorities also have responsibility for land-use planning and a power to promote the social and economic well-being of their area;

  • Government Offices for the Regions which have a regional strategic responsibility for housing and the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal and are responsible for the development of Regional Planning Guidance; and

  • Regional Development Agencies which produce the Regional Economic Strategy and have responsibility for the sustainable economic development of their Regions.

7. There are two distinct parts to our consideration of empty homes. The first relates to the general problems, which occur nationally; the second is concerned with the desperate situation in areas where the demand for housing has collapsed and the quality of life of thousands of people has been destroyed, which urgently requires quite different measures to tackle it. Accordingly we have structured the report to consider first the national problem, in section 2 and then failing housing markets, in section 3.


1   Liverpool Resident, Letter from the public, 44 Back

2   Burnley Resident, Letter from the public, 37 Back

3   Manchester Resident, Letter from the public, 16 Back

4   Darlington Resident, Letter from the public, 39 Back

5   Letter describing parents' home in Moss Side, Manchester, Letter from the public, 3 Back

6   Oldham Resident, Letter from the public, 30 Back

7   EMP26, Annex 1, Table 2 Back

8   EMP26 Back

9   The Shelter Investment Report, Holmans, Whitehead and Currie, 2001, quoted in the National Housing Federation, Chartered Institute of Housing and Local Government Association Submission to the Comprehensive Spending Review, 2002 Back

10   EMP26, Annex 1, Table 2 Back

11   EMP26, Annex 1, Table 4 Back

12   Changing Housing Markets and Urban Regeneration in the M62 Corridor, Nevin, Lee, Goodson, Murie and Phillimore, Centre for Urban and Regional Studies, University of Birmingham, 2001, Paragraph 1.6 Back

13   Report by the Unpopular Housing Action Team, DETR, 1999, Paragraph 1.5 Back

14   Note of visit to the North West Back

15   The full Terms of Reference are set out in Press Notice No. 2 of the 2001/02 Session Back

16   HC240-II Back


 
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