I spent part of Christmas in my hometown of Ipswich. Being on holiday I was not on empty homes alert, but I could hardly miss this. When these waterfront homes were first planned a decade ago they were supposed to help turn the town from a working port into an executive service based economic hub. It hasn’t worked. The port has disappeared downstream, but the executives never really materialised. Like almost everywhere else in the UK the population of Ipswich is filled with ordinary people who need homes at ordinary prices. Instead what they’ve got is homes built for a hypothetical population at hypothetical prices. The reason they stay empty is because the owners have not yet accepted that the prices need to drop drastically. Only when they do, and only when people start buying them will we be able to say that housing market has bottomed out.
In the meantime the one thing that could knock some sense into this ludicrous situation is the council using its enforcement powers to force the owners to get then occupied. Councillor Harsant’s comments don’t lead me to think this is imminent. But there’s nothing to stop the council doing this and forcing the owners to accept the true market rental value. It may sound draconian, but to do otherwise is simply storing up a bigger financial hit for the owner later, and putting the prospect of housing market recovery ever further away.