Friday, September 29, 2006

Public Interest

Inside Housing have done a great job covering the Freedom of Information issue on Empty Homes and were kind enough to publish my article in today’s edition.

Monday, September 25, 2006

More Empty Homes = More Murder

The link between empty homes and crime has often been made. Graffiti, fly tipping and vandalism are all common in empty homes. But this from a publication in Jacksonville reports something more sinister. A study in Chicago claims to show a link between increases in empty homes and increases in violent crimes including murder. The report they refer to is actually a year old and can be found here. For those with a strong interest in statistics it may make interesting reading. For me the one interesting fact I gleaned out of it was that the study found a 1% increase in foreclosures (homes empty because of repossession)was accompanied by a 2.23% increase in violent crime. There are no firm conclusions as to why this link exists but perhaps the answer lies in the zero tolerance theory – abandoned homes in the minds of petty criminals give the green light to vandalism, which itself makes more and more serious crime acceptable in the minds of criminals.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

You can't have the information we want it for ourselves

A few weeks ago we reported an important development in the ongoing saga of whether information on the whereabouts of empty homes should be made public. The information commissioner ruled that Bexley Council should release the information they had denied to a developer. Bexley ’s reasoning was that releasing the information may lead to an increase in crime. At least one council The Royal Borough of Kennsington and Chelsea have changed their policy as a result of the information commissioner’s decision and are now providing lists of empty homes on request. Others it seems have simply found new reasons not to give out the information. The most extraordinary is this one reported in Inside Housing. Camden Council’s standard line is currently this:

“If this information was released into the public domain, we feel that the ability of the Council to negotiate favourable prices with property owners would be affected. The Council would have to compete with property developers whose primary motivation is to make profit.

The public interest arguments for releasing this information are as follows
To assist in work to redevelop vacant and uncared for properties, which would improve the quality of the surrounding area

The public interest arguments for withholding the information are as follows:
It is a key national target to increase the number of affordable homes available; releasing the information will affect the Council’s ability to do this.
The cost to the Council in buying properties would increase, we do not feel that it is in the public interest to spend more public funds than necessary.

On balance we feel the public interest is better served by withholding this information.”

You have to commend them for their honesty, but this is incredible. The local authority is suggesting that it wants to buy the empty properties itself, and is using the Freedom of Information act to try and achieve commercial advantage by excluding the competition. There are currently 3,576 empty homes in Camden, surely enough for everybody.