Friday, March 17, 2006

Counting the Cost in the Countryside

If you are setting housing priorities in a rural local authority it must be easy to dismiss the issue of empty homes as an urban issue. OK it's true that the largest concentrations of empty homes are in our largest cities. But what do you expect, that's where the largest concentrations of houses are too. The truth is that the problem is far more widespread. There are for example 144,000 empty homes in rural areas. In 2004 just over 20,000 homes were returned to use as a result of local authority intervention in England. But the bulk of the activity was concentrated in urban areas. In 2004 - 1642 homes were returned to use by rural local authorities. 64 authorities had no activity at all despite sitting on a total of 60,000 empty homes. It's true, rural empty homes are fewer in number and lower as a proportion of the housing stock than in urban areas. But the response by rural authorities is not proportional. An empty home is three and a half times more likely to be brought back into use if it’s in an urban local authority area than a rural one. I worked in a rural local authority once and I do understand the pressures. Part of the problem is that small local authorities with small budgets and broad areas of responsibility simply don’t prioritise this area of work. In many cases the scale of the problem within each borough boundary makes this understandable. But it doesn't’ help. Cumulatively the problem of rural empty homes is too big to ignore.

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