I seem to have upset a few people with my item in last months bulletin (also posted here as Access Denied) about freedom of information requests. You may remember that I set out a series of responses that local authorities had given to freedom of information requests. Those who objected thought that I was making light of the issue and was taking an anti-local authority position. I am sorry if I have caused offence but I’m afraid I can’t apologise for the piece, it was straight reporting of what local authorities had said. If you thought some of the reasons used by local authorities appeared comical I’d agree with you. But they were their words not mine.
The Empty Homes Agency strongly values its ties with empty property officers. And we think that local government is a force for good in returning empty properties to use. We spend a lot of our time supporting and encouraging local authorities. When we think they get it right we say so. However as a critical friend we should reserve the right to say when we think they get it wrong. On this issue I think local government has, on the whole, got it wrong.
I have been writing and speaking on this issue for more than a year. On our website www.emptyhomes.com/resources/articles/articles.htm you will see a number of more sober articles, most of which I think are understanding of the multiple pressures that local government officers are under.
In addition to local government we have many other audiences. An increasingly important one is private developers and individuals looking to create homes out of empty property. I have to say that many people from this group are angry and frustrated by the approach that most local authorities have taken on this issue. On many occasions we are able to defuse problems by explaining the issues to this group. On other occasions I share their frustrations.
I know there are risks by giving out information, but my view is that the risks are outweighed by the potential benefits. All the time at the back of mind is the question “what is most likely to bring empty properties back into use?” Sometimes the answer is uncomfortable to local authorities, but that doesn’t mean to say it’s wrong.