Memorandum by the Department for Transport,
Local Government and the Regions (EMP 26)
1.1. Empty homes are a wasted resource.
The Government wishes to see fewer empty homes for a range of
reasons. Better use of empty properties eases pressure on the
housing stock and for development on greenfield land. Reducing
the proportion of empty homes also has desirable outcomes in terms
of reducing opportunities for crime, vandalism, arson and anti-social
behaviour as well as alleviating the problems associated with
low demand and unpopular housing.
1.2. This memorandum describes the Government's
approach to dealing with empty homes in the private sector. It
then addresses issues of low demand and abandonment, where the
empty homes are part of a wider set of problems, and the role
the planning system plays in bringing empty homes back into use.
2.1. In April 2000, the total number of
vacant dwellings in all tenures reported in England stood at 764,0003.6
per cent of the housing stock. The total has been in steady decline
since its high point of 869,000 (4.4 per cent) in 1993. A full
breakdown is given in annex 1 to this memorandum, which includes
data and analysis of areas where vacancy rates and evidence of
low demand coincide.
2.2. It is important to note that the vacant
dwellings statistics represent a snapshot of the housing market
at a particular point in time and take no account of the reasons
for vacancy. The housing market could not function at all without
some vacancies. It is normal for a proportion of our homes to
be empty for short periods while they are being bought and sold,
or between lettings, or while improvements are being carried out.
These "transactional" vacancies amount to perhaps
2 per cent of the stock at any one time. While it would be desirable
to minimise them, they do not represent the core of the problem
of empty homes.
2.3. It is the longer-term vacancies, particularly
where homes have been empty for more than a year, that are the
real cause for concern. In areas of high housing pressure, they
entail a serious waste of opportunity and resources. Reducing
the numbers, and making more effective use of existing buildings
generally, will help to ease demands for new development. In areas
where demand has declined, some long-term empty homes may be surplus
to requirements. But simply leaving them to decay will provide
further opportunities for crime, vandalism, arson and anti-social
behaviour and impede efforts to regenerate the area.
3. EMPTY HOMES
Understanding the vacancy process
3.1. Understanding the way in which properties
flow into and out of vacancy and the factors which lead to prolonged
vacancy, is important in drawing up effective strategies to deal
with the problem. The vast majority of empty homes (81.5 per cent)
are privately owned. This sector also accounts for over 85 per
cent of all long-term vacancies. These tend to be mostly pre-1919
terraced houses and converted flats and are more likely to be
in poor condition compared with transactional vacants.
Research published in 1996
looked at the vacancy process of privately owned dwellings. It
found that most vacancies underwent a change in ownership before
being brought back into use. Only one fifth of owners responsible
for bringing dwellings back into use were also responsible for
generating the vacancy. The research also found that the main
reason for vacancy generation was the death of the previous occupant
or their movement into hospital or long-term care (27 per cent
and 14 per cent respectively). Other reasons included repossession
or eviction (13 per cent), or the former residents simply moving
out for other reasons.
3.2. The research identified two distinct
periods of vacancy: firstly when the vacancy is generated, and,
secondly, following a change of ownership, there sometimes follows
a prolonged period of vacancy. Reasons for the vacancy being prolonged
after generation were primarily the poor condition of the dwelling,
or difficulties experienced in selling or letting the dwelling,
or complications over ownership. Following acquisition, many dwelling
are not occupied immediately and the research found that this
was overwhelmingly because repairs were necessary. A lack of resources
for improvement was often cited as a major barrier to the speedy
re-use of empty housing. The research suggested that half of the
problematic vacant properties identified would cost more than
£5,000 to bring back into use.
The role of local authorities
3.3. An important conclusion that can be
drawn from the research is the need to develop preventative measures
that tackle properties at an early stage of the vacancy process
and prevent prolonged vacancy and the associated problems this
creates for bringing properties back into use.
3.4. Local authorities should play a key
role in tackling empty homes. The Housing Investment Programme
encourages authorities to draw up strategies for tackling the
problem and they are required to report their performance in doing
so through the Best Value in Housing programme. The Empty Homes
Agency estimates that less than three quarters of authorities
currently have an effective strategy in place and has proposed
a new statutory duty on local authorities to develop empty property
strategies. The Government recognises that authorities which are
committed to effective action on empty properties will normally
choose to set out their plans in the form of a clear strategy
which matches resources to the scale of the local problem. That
does not mean, however, that imposition of a statutory requirement
to produce such a strategy would in itself result in any greater
commitment, or level of useful activity, on the part of other
authorities. However, we have recently given a commitment to include
reference to empty property strategies in the revised Code of
Guidance on Homelessness. We will also continue to reinforce the
message that local authorities should play an active role in addressing
the problem of empty homes and redundant commercial property.
3.5. The Government is aware that many local
authority empty property officers experience difficulties obtaining
adequate information on the scale of vacancy in their area and
ownership details of individual empty homes. Council tax records
provide the most comprehensive source of this information. However,
data protection considerations currently present a significant
obstacle to putting them to use for this purpose. We are discussing
this issue with the Office of the Information Commissioner and
the Empty Homes Agency in the hope of identifying a way forward
3.6. The Empty Homes Agency plays a vital
role in assisting local authorities in drawing up and implementing
effective empty property strategies. The Department enjoys a close
working relationship with the Agency and we are pleased to support
its work through grant provision. However, bearing in mind the
wide range of expertise required of local authority empty property
officers, there is a need for a separate organisation that can
help officers to develop, and secure recognition for, their professional
skills. The Government would like to encourage a national network
of empty property practitioners covering each region. We therefore
welcome the formation of the National Association of Empty Property
Practitioners earlier this year.
Government action to tackle empty properties in
the private sector
3.7. In 1999, the Department established
an Empty Property Advisory Group, consisting of representatives
of advisory organisations including the Empty Homes Agency, British
Property Federation, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors,
local authorities and government departments. The Group's objective
was to inform Government policy on measures aimed at bringing
empty properties back into use. The report and recommendations
of the Group were among those considered by the Government in
formulating its policies for the Urban and Rural White Papers.
3.8. The Urban White Paper
set out a comprehensive set of proposals aimed at delivering an
urban renaissance, and trailed a package of fiscal incentives
which were subsequently announced in the Budget 2001. The package
includes the following measures which are aimed specifically at
tackling empty homes and under-used commercial property:
100 per cent capital allowances for
conversion of redundant space over shops into flats;
reduction to 5 per cent of the rate
of VAT on costs of renovating homes empty for three years or more;
zero rate VAT on refurbishment and
sale of properties empty for at least 10 years.
3.9. These measures were brought into effect
under the Finance Act from 12 May 2001. The Empty Homes Agency
estimate that around 150,000 long-term empty homes could benefit
from the VAT changes. The resulting cost savings will make many
potential schemes to re-use empty homes financially viable and
help to reduce the barrier presented to owners who face significant
repair costs in bringing back to use long-term vacant homes. In
addition, the lower rate of VAT will encourage better standards
of building works by discouraging use of informal labour.
3.10. We estimate that currently about 1,000
flats over shops conversions are undertaken each year in the UK.
In England alone there are some 55,000 empty residential flats
over shops and there is significant potential to create additional
flats by converting vacant storage space above shops. This suggests
that the potential impact of the capital allowances concession,
particularly in primary/secondary shopping parades, could be very
3.11. The Government believes there are
real opportunities for local authorities and their partners to
encourage innovative approaches that fully exploit these fiscal
measures and we will work with organisations such as the Empty
Homes Agency to maximise take-up. To this end, the Department,
Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise will work together to publish
a range of guidance to promote the package of fiscal incentives
introduced in the Budget. We are also planning a feasibility study
to identify an appropriate methodology to monitor and evaluate
the effectiveness of the measures.
3.12. The Urban White Paper commits the
commission a business study designed
to persuade commercial property owners to bring redundant commercial
properties back into housing use;
commission comprehensive best practice
guidance for local authority empty property officers on devising
successful empty property strategies;
fund a series of regional seminars
to raise awareness and spread best practice; and
support a forum for local authority
Empty Property Officers in each region.
3.13. The Department is taking these measures
forward with the help of the Empty Homes Agency, which was recently
awarded funding from the Department's Special Grants Programme
worth up to £235,000 over the next three years. Also, provision
has been made within the Department's 2001-02 research programme
for the best practice studies to be commissioned.
4. LOW DEMAND
4.1. There has been a growing awareness of and
interest in the problem of low demand and abandonment, as neighbourhood
decline has increased dramatically in some parts of the country.
The Social Exclusion Unit commissioned Policy Action Team 7 on
Unpopular Housing to explore the problem, which culminated in
a seminal report into low demand in October 1999.
The report was underpinned by a large-scale research project
into the phenomenon, which provided the first comprehensive national
study into the scale and incidence of the problem, as well as
likely causes and solutions.
4.2. The research found that low demand
is a cross-tenure problem that has increased in recent years.
It is estimated that 470,000 homes in the social rented sector
and 375,000 in the private sector are located in low demand neighbourhoods.
Only a proportion of these properties are actually emptyabandonment
is just one of the extreme consequences of an underlying problem
of low demand. But it is clear that the presence of significant
numbers of boarded up and abandoned homes can accelerate the decline
of an area.
4.3. The problem is focused mainly in the
North West and North East, Yorkshire and the Humberside and the
Midlands. However there are pockets of unpopular housing in other
parts of the country.
4.4. PAT7 found the reasons for low demand
are complex and inter-related. They include local economic and
demographic decline following changes in the local job market.
Very often housing does not meet modern aspirations (such as the
pre-1919 terrace housing common to many low demand neighbourhoods)
and is often in poor condition. A poor local environment and problems
such as crime and anti-social behaviour can have a negative impact
on demand in a particular neighbourhood.
4.5. In the light of their findings, PAT7
put forward a range of recommendations to government which are
being taken forward. It is clear there are no quick fixes. Central
government, local authorities and other key stakeholders are now
working to get a grip on the problem through a series of new measures
and pilot initiatives. The Government is determined to fulfil
its commitment to turn round the incidence of low demand by 2010,
but recognises the challenges to delivery.
4.6. The Housing Policy Statement "The
Way Forward for Housing" 
set out a range of measures for tackling problems across the housing
marketincluding low demand. These are now being taken forward.
4.7. Investment in housing has been significantly
increased, with an extra £1.8 billion being made available
for housing over 2001-02 to 2003-04, to deliver improvements to
the quality of housing stock and services.
4.8. The Government has carried out a review
of the indices used to allocate these resources, to ensure a fair
allocation to different parts of the country which reflects the
scale and nature of local problems. A major element of this review
looked at ways in which the index might better reflect the issues
of regeneration and low demand. A consultation paper setting out
proposals for changes to the indices was issued on 27 July 2001.
4.9. We are also working with the Housing
Corporation to support its New Approach to Investment which will
ensure that social housing is only built where it is most needed
and that the Approved Development Programme supports strategic
area renewal and regeneration.
Private sector renewal
4.10. Nearly £300 million is spent
each year by local authorities through the Housing Investment
Programme on the renewal of private sector housing. Much of this
spending is targeted on turning round low demand areas, through
the declaration of renewal areas and the use of renovation grants,
group repair and other measures to improve the quality of the
4.11. The Government has proposed to reform
the legislation governing housing renewal in the private sector.
A consultation paper
was published earlier this year. We propose to lay a regulatory
reform order before Parliament in the autumn, which would increase
significantly the range of powers available to local housing authorities.
The proposals include new powers to give financial assistance
in connection with voluntary and compulsory purchase, which will
make it easier to clear and redevelop areas facing severe abandonment.
4.12. The Government will issue new guidance
to local housing authorities to accompany its legislative reforms.
The guidance will provide advice on developing a strategic approach
to housing renewal, and on the importance of working with other
agencies to deliver long-lasting and effective solutions.
Private rented sector
4.13. A problematic private rented sector
can contribute to abandonment of a neighbourhood. Exploitative
landlords, often aided by anti-social tenants, may operate on
a large scale, forcing out responsible tenants and owner occupiers
and contributing to the spiral of decline.
4.14. The Way Forward for Housing
confirmed our intention to consult on proposals to give local
authorities discretionary powers to license the private rented
sector in areas of low demand as a way of tackling this problem.
We plan to do this in the autumn.
4.15. The Government also encourages voluntary
landlord accreditation schemes where landlords agree to submit
their property for assessment against a range of condition and
management criteria. Most schemes are fairly new but there are
schemes actively operated or planned by local authorities and
universities in some 68 areas. As envisaged in The Way Forward
for Housing, good practice guidance
on such schemes was published in May 2001.
Urban and regeneration policies
4.16. The Urban White Paper and the National
Strategy Action Plan for Neighbourhood Renewal provide a long-term
strategy for revitalising towns and cities, improving the quality
of services and improving residents' living environment. Measures
set out in these documents will help tackle many of the problems
linked to low demand such as crime, anti-social behaviour and
poverty and by striving to make urban areas more desirable places
to live and work.
4.17. Poor housing cannot be dealt with
in isolation. The key to delivering lasting change in our poorest
neighbourhoods is reducing crime; improving health; tackling worklessness;
and raising educational achievements. Thus our regeneration programmes
are geared towards holistic activity, including support for bringing
empty dwellings back into use.
4.18. Initiatives emerging from the Action
Plan on neighbourhood renewal can also be used to help tackle
low demand. For example, Neighbourhood Wardens can check on empty
and void properties. They can help to deter vandalism and anti-social
behaviour by reporting it to the police and local authority. By
doing this they should improve the standards of living in an area,
making it a more attractive place to live. This, in turn, will
reduce movement away from an area and also encourage the take
up of empty properties.
4.19. Local Strategic Partnerships offer
a unique opportunity to pull together different agencies and stakeholders
at the local level to develop new initiatives that address the
problems related to neighbourhood deprivation. This comprehensive
and strategic approach will be a useful tool in tackling the complex
and interrelated problems of low demand.
Role of local authorities and other stakeholders
4.20. Local authorities and other local
and regional stakeholders, such as RSLs, have a key role to play
in turning round low demand and abandonment. We have provided
local authorities with a range of guidance and are giving them
new tools for tackling this problem. And we made clear in The
Way Forward for Housing the importance of authorities developing
a stronger, more strategic role across all housing in their areas.
4.21. We now look to local authorities to
develop comprehensive and forward-looking strategies for addressing
demand problems, in consultation with local residents and other
key players. A good understanding of regional and local housing
markets is vital. We have therefore commissioned a research project
to determine the feasibility of collecting data on indicators
of low demand at ward level, to better inform national and local
level strategies for tackling this issue.
4.22. RSLs, supported by the Housing Corporation,
have become increasingly involved in regeneration activities.
Whilst housing provision is their main focus, their activities
can also include regeneration of the housing stock in areas where
the physical condition is poor and the provision of facilities
and services which contribute to the social and community regeneration
of an area. RSLs' "permissible purposes" were extended
in 1999 in order to remove any doubts about their legal powers
to engage in regeneration activities. In addition, the Housing
Corporation is piloting with RSLs Housing Regeneration Companies,
which seek to address housing regeneration across tenures (drawing
the private as well as public sectors).
4.23. Housing Regeneration Companies aim
adjust the supply of different housing
types to better fit local demand;
promote the use of existing methods
and funds to regenerate properties and develop vacant sites;
engage local communities in their
build effective partnerships with
the public, private and voluntary sectors to promote "joined-up"
workingeg link housing renewal with urban regeneration
policies. There are currently five pilots covering Coventry, Liverpool,
London, Rochdale and Hartlepool.
5.1. Clearance may be an appropriate response
for homes in low demand that are in poor condition or obsolete
because of their type or location. Such decisions are for local
authorities to make, in consultation with local residents and
other stakeholders, and depending on individual circumstances
such as local market conditions and future demand. However, clearance
cannot be seen as a solution on its own and should be implemented
alongside other renewal activities, as part of a long-term strategy
for the area.
5.2. The Government is currently preparing
a Policy Statement setting out its proposals for making the system
of compulsory purchase and compensation more efficient, more effective
and fairer to all parties. This will be published as soon as possible,
and will include an assessment of the need for reforming legislation.
A recent report also pointed out that the operation of the compulsory
purchase system is suffering from a loss of expertise and experience
in acquiring authorities. We have therefore commissioned a Guidance
Manual to help authorities make more effective use of the current
system, which is due to be published in the autumn.
5.3. To assist RSLs' regeneration activities
and to take forward one of the proposals of PAT7, the Housing
Corporation has developed the "new tools initiative".
This initiative covers activities such as two into one conversions;
medium life rehabilitation; home improvement packages; acquisition
for redevelopment and acquisition for demolition.
5.4. For acquisition and demolition schemes
RSLs work in partnership with a local authority, within an agreed
area, to purchase rundown private sector housing for demolition
and work in partnership to secure wider renewal. The Housing Corporation
is currently piloting acquisition and demolition grants in six
areas where demolition of derelict stock is seen as a necessary
component of a regeneration strategyRochdale, Gateshead,
North Tyneside, Bolton, Manchester and County Durham.
5.5. Any further use of acquisition and
demolition grant is likely to remain very targeted rather than
becoming a part of the mainstream Approved Development Programme.
The principal responsibility, and source of funding, for the demolition
of private sector and local authority housing stock for which
there is no longer any demand lies with local authorities. Current
DTLR policy is that this should remain the case and that it would
not be appropriate to contribute significant funding from the
Approved Development Programme for this activity.
5.6. Clearance schemes can become complicated
when private sector properties subject to compulsory purchase
have seen a large drop in value. Where this results in negative
equity for the owner, a CPO scheme can be delayed, preventing
authorities from taking timely action. Although it would not be
advisable for Government to intervene in cases of negative equity
as a rule, as this would risk sending the wrong signals to borrowers
and lenders, we recognise that there is a role for local authorities
in providing additional assistance where it is in the broader
public interest to do so. The measures described in paragraphs
4.10 and 4.11 will make it easier for authorities to provide discretionary
help in connection with clearance strategies.
5.7. The Government is also supporting innovative
local solutions to the problems associated with market collapse.
It has worked closely with the Local Government Association and
Council of Mortgage lenders to find a practical solution to the
problem that negative equity can pose for the CPO process, through
the piloting of the "Homeswaps" scheme in Salford.
6. TACKLING EMPTY
6.1. The Government's policies for planning
for housing are set out in Planning Policy Guidance Note 3:
PPG3 requires a fundamental shift in the way local authorities
plan for housing. To promote more sustainable patterns of development
and make better use of previously-developed land, the focus for
additional housing is expected to be existing towns and cities.
6.2. Land is a finite resource and urban
land and buildings can often be significantly underused. Failure
to make the most effective use of the existing housing stock can
lead to pressures for unnecessary releases of greenfield land.
Local authorities, therefore, are expected to plan for sufficient
housing land to meet the needs of their communities but to give
priority to re-using previously-developed land within urban areas,
bringing empty homes back into use and converting existing buildings,
in preference to the development of greenfield sites.
Establishing urban capacity
6.3. In order to establish how much additional
housing can be accommodated within urban areas and therefore how
much greenfield land may be needed for development, all local
planning authorities are expected to undertake urban housing capacity
studies. These studies are now at the heart of the planning for
housing process and form the basis for both the sequential approach
set out in PPG3 and the managed release of sites.
6.4. In conducting urban housing capacity
studies, local planning authorities are encouraged to follow the
principles laid down in the Department's good practice guidance.
6.5. Capacity studies are expected to identify
as many sources of capacity as possible. The guide highlights
that empty homes capable of being brought back into use can be
a significant source of capacity and should be included in any
capacity study. PPG3 makes it clear that studies should draw on
empty home reduction strategies that local authorities have in
place. The guide provides advice on how best to take assumptions
about reductions in vacancies into account in planning for housing.
6.6. Each local authority will be responsible
for evaluating the capacity of their area but it is anticipated
that regional planning bodies (RPBs) will co-ordinate the programme
of capacity studies undertaken by constituent local authorities
and maintain consistency of approach by agreeing the standards
to be applied.
6.7. RPBs are expected to draw on urban
housing capacity studies in proposing, and reviewing, the brownfield
recycling target for their region and in developing the spatial
strategy set out in regional planning guidance (RPG). For example,
in some regions or sub-regions there may be concentrations of
previously-developed land and buildings within one authority and
a lack of it in neighbouring authorities. In such circumstances,
the spatial strategy should focus new housing development in areas
where brownfield opportunities are available in preference to
developing greenfield sites. In assessing the required rate of
annual housing provision one of the factors that the regional
planning bodies have taken into account is whether there is scope
to reduce the level of empty homes.
6.8. Structure planning authorities are
also expected to draw on urban housing capacity studies to ensure
that housing requirements are apportioned between districts in
a way that maximises the use of previously-developed land and
buildings and minimises the use of greenfield land.
6.9. The regional planning strategy set
out in RPG has a central role to play in delivering urban renaissance,
including improvement in the quality and attractiveness of rundown
housing areas in a region. All RPG issued by the Secretary of
State since the introduction of the new approach to planning for
housing set out in PPG3 provides strategic encouragement to local
planning authorities to reduce the level of empty homes.
6.10. Where necessary the Secretary of State
has made changes to the draft RPG strategy to avoid greenfield
releases further undermining low demand areas. For example, the
Panel that examined draft RPG for the North East proposed a reduction
in the overall level of housing provision and a re-distribution
of that housing to the conurbations. This was in part to avoid
unnecessary development on greenfield sites which would undermine
brownfield development in low demand areas. The Secretary of State
accepted the recommendation and made the changes in the RPG he
published in April 2001.
6.11. PPG3 provides the framework for preventing
the unnecessary development of greenfields for housing and making
better use of land already developed. Local planning authorities
are expected to work jointly with housing departments to assess
the range of needs for different types and sizes of housing across
all tenures in their area and to consider not only the need for
new housing but ways in which the existing stock might be better
utilised to meet the needs of the community. In particular, planning
authorities are expected to adopt positive policies to identify
and bring into housing use empty housing (and vacant commercial
buildings and upper floors above shops) in conjunction with the
local authority's housing programme and empty property strategy.
Where appropriate properties can be acquired under compulsory
Monitoring and managing
6.12. Vacancy rates are one of the contextual
indicators that RPBs are expected to set to help assess the performance
of the strategy and in understanding the evolving context in which
the strategy operates. Similarly, local planning authorities are
encouraged to monitor changes in vacants in order to review whether
best use is being made of the existing stock. Good practice guidance
is set out in the Department's guide Monitoring Provision of
Housing through the Planning System.
7. COUNCIL TAX
7.1. When the council tax was introduced,
it was intended that bills would relate to the valuation band
of the dwelling, but would also take into account occupancy. The
full council tax bill is payable where there are two adult residents
in a dwelling. A 25 per cent discount applies where there is one
resident and a 50 per cent discount where the dwelling is no-one's
sole or main residence. There is also a general six month exemption
for dwellings which are vacant (that is, unoccupied and substantially
unfurnished). Unoccupied dwellings that require major repair works
or are undergoing structural alteration are exempt for a maximum
of 12 months.
7.2. In the Rural White Paper, the Government
stated that it will consult on proposals to remove or reduce the
50 per cent council tax discount for second homes. The Secretary
of State announced on 6 July that the consultation would be extended
to include properties left empty for long periods. This demonstrates
the Government's commitment to provide support to revitalise both
rural and urban communities. Details of the proposals will be
set out in a consultation paper to be published later this year.
This change requires primary legislation and the timetable for
implementation therefore depends upon responses to consultation
and Government decisions about Parliamentary priorities.
8.1. The Department compiles annual statistics
on the vacant stock for "Other Public Sector" (essentially
government departments, their agencies, NDPBs and Housing Action
Trusts). In the past, the information provided has not always
been complete, particularly for some agencies and NDPBs, and as
a result the level of vacancies recorded for "Other Public
Sector" is probably an under-statement. However, following
a recommendation of the Empty Property Advisory Group, this information
is now collected as part of the Green Ministers annual report
and we are working with other Departments to improve coverage.
8.2. The Department publishes guidance for
departments on securing better use of their vacant stock.
The current version was published in 1999, although it was last
substantially revised in 1995. As recommended by the Empty Property
Advisory Group, the Department is planning to publish revised
guidance next year.
8.3. The Department for Transport, Local
Government and the Regions is responsible for the activities of
the Highways Agency. In undertaking road schemes, the Agency is
required to purchase statutorily blighted properties (ie those
on the line of the proposed road as well as those within 100 metres
of the proposed route where the value can be shown to have diminished
by 15 per cent or more as a result of the Agency's proposals).
Properties directly affected by the scheme are retained until
they are required for construction and demolished, or, in cases
where the scheme requirement changes, are declared surplus and
sold. Properties not required for a scheme are normally sold as
soon as possible following purchase.
8.4. Following the transfer of some 500
properties to Transport for London last year, the Agency currently
holds some 700 residential properties, of which around 150 are
vacant. Vacancy rates are falling and the Department has set a
vacancy target for 2001-02 of no more than 15 per cent of the
housing stock, with no more than 3 per cent vacant for more than
six months. In setting its future property management and disposals
strategy, the Agency will seek to make firm distinctions between
surplus properties available for disposal and those that will
remain in management. This will enable it to make better informed
decisions and maximise the use of stock which needs to be retained
in the longer term. The Department and the Agency are currently
working together to maximise opportunities for using retained
stock for social/affordable housing purposes.
8.5. The Ministry of Defence is the largest
property owning department. Some 17 per cent of the Ministry's
housing stock at April 2000 was vacant. In 1996, the Department
sold its Married Quarters Estate, comprising of some 57,000 units,
to Annington Homes Ltd. Some 2,400 units were immediately released
to Annington for disposal and the remainder were leased back to
the Ministry on a 200 year lease. Since then a further 7,700 units
have been released, with a further 1,500 due for release this
year. Properties are generally sold privately on the open market,
although some bulk sales have been made to RSLs and developers.
The majority of purchasers are first time buyers. A quarter are
service or ex-service personnel and a quarter are considered by
Annington to be key workers.
8.6. One of the major issues for the Defence
Housing Executive (the Ministry of Defence agency responsible
for providing housing for service personnel) is the effective
management of the retained stock. It is in the process of establishing
a pilot scheme in the Aldershot area to identify housing that
may be vacant for varying periods of time in between service personnel
movements to identify opportunities for leasing to RSLs to house
people on housing registers and key workers.
8.7. The National Health Service Housing
Coordinator is currently carrying out an initiative to improve
the quality and quantity of residential accommodation available
for NHS key workers, particularly in London and the South-east,
where shortages of affordable accommodation are creating recruitment
and retention difficulties. It is hoped that this initiative will
take full account of opportunities to re-use vacant stock owned
by NHS Trusts.
8.8. There are a number of examples of schemes
undertaken by government departments and their agencies where
innovative uses have been found for vacant stock. Two schemes
involving the Highways Agency and the Prison Service were highlighted
in a recent good practice guide.
However, this has not yet been adopted as general practice by
all Departments and agencies, and in parallel with the Government's
efforts to persuade others to make better use of their stock more
needs to be done to reduce the level of vacant properties within
its own stock, which is considerably higher than can be justified
by operational requirements. The Department is therefore determined
to continue to work with other Departments and the Empty Homes
Agency to ensure that all departments and their agencies strive
to reduce the proportion of their stock that remains vacant.
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