Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Gravesham Borough Council (EMP 58)


  Over recent years the government has placed increasing emphasis upon the role of empty homes in regeneration and community safety issues. With the introduction of BVPI64 in April 2000 Local Authorities are now obliged to monitor the success of their work in relation to empty private sector properties under the Housing Investment Programme and are encouraged to have an Empty Property Strategy. At Gravesham Borough Council we acknowledge the problems that empty properties can bring in terms of vandalism and crime and the wasted resource that they represent in terms of housing and the local economy. We are also very aware that the enabling role of the local authority in relation to empty private properties falls within one of the many service areas where there are limited resources.


Housing Corporation Grant Regime

  High property prices, together with value for money judgements, do not encourage the regeneration of empty properties against new build opportunities. The Housing Corporation investment regime does not make allowance for the additional work involved in long-term empty properties over and above a standard allowance for acquisition and works to street properties. Many RSLs are reluctant to take on empty properties due to the risk of abortive work, projects can be time consuming and there is not sufficient comfort within the investment system to pay for the work. An enhanced grant rate for tackling long term empty properties (as defined by BVPI64) would be most welcome.


  VAT regime also biased towards new build development. Whilst recent changes in 2001 have gone part way to encourage rehabilitation of empty properties, until there is a unified VAT rate, developers will continue to favour development of greenfield sites over rehabilitation work. A 0 per cent VAT rate for the rehabilitation of long term empty properties (as defined by BVPI64) would be most welcome.

Scheme Development Standards

  Housing Corporation Scheme Development Standards are difficult to meet when working with pre-1919 properties in town centre locations. Many of the empty private properties in Gravesham are just such properties. These properties are part of the heritage of our town and whilst old, can still make a positive contribution to meeting housing needs in the 21st century. Whilst we look to see all housing maintained to modern standards, some discretion should be given to local authorities to support Acquisition and Works projects in empty pre-1919 properties where not every criteria under SDS may be me, but still, nonetheless, supports empty property strategies and regeneration initiatives. Greater flexibility in applying Scheme Development Standards to pre-1919 empty properties would therefore be most welcome.

Council Tax legislation

  Rather than encourage the re-use of empty properties, the current legislation actively discourages owners to put their property back into use. Local Authorities should be given discretion to charge 100 per cent Council Tax on empty properties after six months, until the property is occupied again.

Compulsory Purchase Powers

  The current legislation prevents local authorities from using their powers of compulsory purchase except on an occasional basis, due to the time consuming nature of the action and the potential costs that could accrue should the matter be referred to public enquiry. Whilst we would wish to respect the rights of prudent property owners, we also need a mechanism that enables us to act swiftly in the interest of the wider community when property has been left to decay and one which allows us to penalise owners for allowing such decay. Legislation to provide for swifter Compulsory Purchase action; the wider application of directions for minimum compensation to the property owner; and best practice guidance from those local authorities operating successful empty property strategies, would be particularly welcome.

Data Protection

  Current legalisation prevents disclosure of information from one Council department to another unless the department's need for information is related to the reason for original collection. The divulgence of information to external organisations, even where those organisations are working in partnership with the local authority, is even more strictly controlled. Information collected for Council Tax purposes could be invaluable to the work of Housing and Environmental Health Departments in relation to their work on empty properties. If Council Revenue Departments were able to provide more data to their colleagues working on empty properties, this would assist the Council's overall collection of Council Tax revenue when said properties become occupied again, as well as helping corporate aims in relation to regeneration and community safety. An amendment to Data Protection legislation allowing the controlled release of data to Councils' Empty Homes Officers/partner organisations would be most welcome.

What we have been doing in Gravesham

  Empty Properties Working Group—good corporate working across all departments.


  Public consultation—public feel it is an important issue—the most important in private sector renewal activity.

  Partnership working with Gravesend Churches HA—however this work would be assisted by more open working with the Council's Revenue Department on Data Protection issues, ie if they were able to divulge the names and contact addresses of the owners of empty properties it would be easier to form a dialogue with the owners of these properties.

  Dedicated local authority social housing grant programme and discretionary renovation grant activity in relation to empty properties.

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