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
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
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
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
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.
Head of Housing Strategy
28 September 2001