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

Memorandum by London Borough of Barking & Dagenham (EMP 63)


  I refer to your invitation to submit evidence. I appreciate that this is slightly beyond last Monday's deadline date, but hope that our submission is of use as part of the Select Committee's work.

  The evidence set out below represents the basis of conditions within this Borough and the experiences the Council has gained in dealing with empty dwellings.


  Empty homes are not a significant feature of the housing stock of this Borough. On an annual basis the Council Tax records show a figure in the order of 350 homes as being empty for more than six months. However there is, an amount, as yet unquantified, of empty accommodation that may be of a type suitable for habitation, particularly above shops and other commercial undertakings.

  It appears that a large proportion of those dwellings shown as empty on the Council Tax records are present for valid reasons. This is usually because they are in the process of being sold. Demand for accommodation in this Borough remains high, and in some areas is likely to remain unfulfilled for some years. A recent Housing Needs Survey confirmed that fact, as do the current Housing Waiting List and the Transfer List.

  The Council is concerned about this situation and is in the process of preparing a strategy designed to reduce the numbers of empty properties on an annual basis. The Council has and will continue to provide resources for this purpose.

  With regard to the specific issues the Committee will be examining:

  It is anticipated that success in returning the empty properties in the town centre to use will have a significant effect on the character of the area. Here as with many other town centres throughout the country there has been a move to the suburbs by residential occupiers. This has had a knock on effect on the types of commercial usage of the area, and has resulted in a town-centre with little life outside of shopping hours. The street landscape is also adversely affected. Because nobody lives in the accommodation the level of maintenance is usually less, resulting in the upper parts of buildings appearing neglected and shabby.

  Evidence confirms that changes do occur when property is brought back into use, be it in the town centre or shopping parade. Repairs/maintenance take place and the buildings appear to be more attractive and prosperous. The fact that people now live in the area means that there is activity there at different times. It is hoped that this will encourage the development of different/additional commercial activity.

  In this borough, other than as previously stated, there does not appear to be a common reason for the presence of empty street properties. Accommodation above shops is vacant for a variety of reasons including:

    —  It being used, or formerly used as associated storage;

    —  It was previously used as residential accommodation by the shop owner who subsequently vacated;

    —  There is now a lack of an entrance, separate from that of the shop;

    —  The accommodation entrance is difficult to access or only accessed from an unpleasant location;

    —  The residential accommodation is incompatible with the nature of the business beneath.

  We have no evidence as yet to suggest that the 2001 Budget has had any effect locally on the number of empty properties. However the introduction of BVPI 64 has had a very positive influence. This monitors the number of long-term vacant properties LA's succeed in returning to use.


  The following are issues, which if addressed could have a positive influence on reducing the numbers of empty properties.

  Bringing empty properties back into use in the face of obstruction and lack of co-operation is a resource intensive process. Where there are properties which are deliberately being kept vacant and over which the owners refuse to co-operate with LA attempts to bring them back into use, then it would appear to be unreasonable to apply appropriate punitive financial measures where possible to the owners of these premises.

  The payment of at least full Council Tax would seem an appropriate measure.

  Almost invariably long-standing vacant properties are in poor repair. Consequently the cost of their rehabilitation is very expensive.

  When a LA has to go to the lengths of a CPO to bring vacant properties back into use, to require them to have to pay compensation to the owner who has allowed the dwelling to fall into neglect does not serve as any deterrent to the owner and adds considerably to the LA's costs. A return to a previous position whereby the compensation was assessed on a "site-value" basis would serve as a more punitive response.

  In this Borough the number of RSLs willing to enter into partnering arrangements with LA's in this area of work is small. It appears that the work is less attractive to them for a variety of reasons than other aspects they are engaged in. Ideally it would be useful if some pressure could be applied centrally to these organisations to bring about a change in this attitude.

  It is felt that there is little doubt that a requirement on LA's to establish an Empty Properties Strategy, which would be measured against, national and/or local PI's would almost certainly assist in the reduction of the numbers of empty properties. However it needs to be recognised that returning empty properties to use is very resource intensive.

  I hope this information is of use to the committee. If you should wish to discuss any of the above further, myself and my colleagues would be happy to assist your deliberations.

Lesley Mallett

Head of Housing Strategy

28 September 2001

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