Memorandum by Amber Valley Borough Council
EVIDENCE TO THE SELECT COMMITTEE ON EMPTY
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
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
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
(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
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.