Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda


Memorandum by Amber Valley Borough Council (EMP 16)

EVIDENCE TO THE SELECT COMMITTEE ON EMPTY HOMES

  1.  The consequences of so many empty homes is well documented and in our Borough certain urban wards particularly in the Erewash Valley have suffered greatly because of this phenomenon. The depressing effect on the housing market for those wishing to sell who cannot, the increase in crime and vandalism add to the run down appearance of already deprived areas are common features to these neighbourhoods.

  2.  Bringing empty homes back into use will create homes for people in housing need, reduce incidences of vandalism, increase confidence in the area so this part of the housing market becomes more efficient.

  3.  Homes that are empty for more than six months or more seriously 12 months, is due to low demand for those particular properties, the area itself or both. Communities which are not sustainable because of loss of job opportunities and poverty and poor services also tend to have a greater number of empty homes. In our particular area some of the wards referred to, have first time buyers who are "leap frogging" the Victorian terraced properties and buying newer properties usually smaller semi detached properties. Private landlords investing in these areas find properties difficult to let because rents are higher than what it would cost to buy these low demand dwellings via a mortgage.

  4.  Government policy over the last 20 years has been fairly ineffective because housing is usually at the bottom of the pile of priorities and seen as an after thought. Only holistic regeneration will reduce the number of empty homes in the wards in Amber Valley where there are relatively high levels of empty homes.

  5 (i)  Local Authorities should have the power to charge full Council Tax on empty homes with even a premium on those homes which are costing the public purse more ie the Police, Fire and Local Authority services reacting to complaints from the local community.

    (ii)  VAT should be equalised between new build and refurbishment and there is an argument to increase VAT on new homes on greenfield sites. This will provide an incentive to invest in refurbishing or new build on brownfield sites.

    (iii)  Compulsory purchase procedures still appear to be too long winded and Local Authorities have not got the staffing resources to divert from already over stretched services. "In and out" deals by Local Authorities should be made easier by allowing Councils more than one year to buy and sell an empty home before they are penalised financially.

    (iv)  Every District Council should have a workable Empty Property Strategy which is backed up by sufficient resources made available from Central Government.

    (v)  Regional planning guidance should always take a realistic view of what role empty homes will play in meeting housing need.

  6.  Government departments/agencies, County Councils and Police Authorities have been fairly lax with reoccupying or selling empty homes/buildings. District Councils with Housing Associations where they may be given a realistic opportunity have been able to get many of these homes reoccupied, however this does not happen often enough or with the urgency that is required.

  7 (i)  Low demand hot spots are very difficult to deal with unless there is a long term holistic approach to regenerating these localities. Demand for homes where there are empty or brownfield sites has to increase by making the areas attractive places to live in. It is difficult to see how you can reduce the demand for homes on Greenfield sites other than by price, which could exclude those in real need.

    (ii)  Planning policy guidance plays a role in urging local authorities to support measures to bring empty homes back into use, but these efforts will have limited impact without substantial increases in financial resources to tackle the issue.

    (iii)  Regeneration initiatives haven't always had empty homes and low demand as central issues mainly because there is a lack of appreciation by other agencies of the negative effects of them on local communities. Reusing empty homes can make the local housing market work more effectively and raise the confidence in an area for potential investors.

    (iv)  Rented homes should be built to meet identified housing need, and need would increase if low demand localities became more attractive places to live in because regeneration initiatives have been successful.

    (v)  Demolition on a selective basis would be appropriate where it is very difficult to make a locality more attractive because of conflicting land uses eg industrial/residential. Demolition could also be appropriate where no long-term demand exists for the homes.

    (vi)  A number of Local Housing Authorities have registers of approved Landlords which normally mean they are linked to a rent deposit scheme and access to renovation grants subject to conditions. These schemes can help with empty homes because landlords have to meet certain standards in terms of renovation work and housing management. This should mean empty homes brought back into use will offer quality accommodation in the areas which require a confidence boost.

    (vii)  Negative equity is not the problem it was in some areas however those at the margin of owner occupation find it difficult to improve their homes. These owners borrow further because they cannot access renovation grants because of the means test. In these circumstances perhaps the means test should be more flexible or scrapped in areas of long-term low demand.

  8.  "Switching" demand from high to low demand areas is a long term process but city centre living in places like Leeds prove it can be done. Wards like Langley Mill in our Borough where there are hot spots of empty homes and low demand, have potential because of the transport infrastructure and employment land opportunities as well as features like the canal basin. Things Central Government could do on VAT, incentives to develop brownfield sites, more efficient compulsory purchase procedures and greater development control/planning policy power for Local Authorities would greatly improve the situation.

  9.  The Local Authorities who have made the most impact on empty homes have employed or been able to secure the services of an empty property officer. Local Authorities may be able to afford to employ such an officer if Central Government gave specific financial incentives on empty homes which made the posts self financing.

September 2001


 
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