Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Three Remarkbale Announcements

A few years ago I remember writing that you try in vain for years to get government to change policy on empty homes. And then just like waiting for the bus three announcements come along at once. Well it’s happened again. But this is where the bus analogy falls apart. Only one of the three buses are any use to you, but the three announcements made by the government this week are so important because when considered together they add up to something highly significant. So here they are:

Firstly last month in the Comprehensive spending review the government made £100 million available to bring empty homes into use. It will be part of the HCA’s affordability program. So it’s largely capital for renovating and bringing empty homes into affordable housing. Yes, we won’t actually see it until 2012, and yes I know it’s considerably less than the £2.5billion proposed by the Liberal Democrats in their election manifesto. But it’s a great deal more than the £3mllion spent nationally last year on empty homes. From schools to aircraft carriers I can see no other area of public spending which has received such an increase.

Secondly this week the government has proposed rewards (through the New Homes Bonus scheme) for local authorities to get empty homes into use. The mechanisms are still being worked out, and indeed this week’s announcement is a consultation paper. But take note; that the empty homes element is specifically referred to in the ministerial foreword. It even says that this could provide a way to fund the vital work councils do to get empty property into use. But the true significance comes when you see the third proposal.

The government proposed this week that empty homes returned to use should count towards housing supply targets (or aspirations as we should now call them!) in the same way as new homes. The notion might seem blindingly obvious, but previous governments have resisted it. The effect has been that work to bring homes into use has been regarded as of secondary importance to building new homes by many councils.

These proposals would mean that councils would have to consider empty homes and getting new homes built together. A good idea in itself; what’s the point of building new homes if there are already homes lying empty? You might ask. Certainly we’ve been asking that question for years. Now we have an answer. Not everybody will like this, but if councils get this wrong it will hit them in the wallet. For example under this proposal a council that gets a hundred new homes built, but also sees a hundred homes becoming empty will get no New Homes Bonus reward. A council that gets a hundred empty homes into use will earn lots of New Homes Bonus even if no new homes are built. This is a clever idea, it will mean councils will have to look at their existing housing stock instead of just trying to get more homes built. And when they need work out to get more homes they will find that housing associations are funded not just to build new homes, but they have £100million fund to apply to get empty homes into use too.

So this isn't really three seprate announcements, it adds up to something much more a real policy. Now they really don't come around very often.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A question on housing benefit

Having just been asked for the third time this week whether I think changes in housing benefit (HB) will cause a national glut of empty homes, I'm not sure whether this is the most important question to ask, but I feel should tell you what I think. The question is based on an accumulating body of evidence that the planned cap on HB will price people on low incomes who rent their housing from private landlords out of their homes. This graphic from the Chartered Institute of Housing shows that over time they may be pushed out of London, then the South West and in 30 years time whole country will become too expensive for them. This begs a number of questions. But the one I have been asked to answer is: will it cause homes left in the wake to become empty? To which my answer is no…. well, maybe a bit. Here’s why.

The implication to the CIH’s model is that private landlords will turf out tenants on HB rather than drop the rent to a level that they can afford. It also assumes that rents will rise at a uniform 5% a year. The old adage is that all projections are wrong, and I’m quite sure this one will be. My first thought is that the private rental market is just that, a market. Rents are set by what people will pay, sop it’s never going to price itself out of business. In some areas, central London for example, I have little doubt that landlords will be able to find tenants not receiving HB who will pay the same rent. So few will see the need to drop their rents. In other areas landlords will have little choice. I spoke to one landlords from rural Durham recently who told me he could let houses to people on HB at double the rate he could let them on the open market. In neither case do I see much chance of vacancy increasing. In central London tenants will only be forced out if the landlord thinks he can let it somebody for higher rent; so no vacancy. In Durham the landlord is potentially faced with less rent or no rent. Most I would guess would opt for less. So no new vacancy.

However, I did say there might be a bit of extra vacancy. Here’s why: with lots of landlords forced to make decisions and lots of people having to move, there will be plenty of opportunity for cock-ups. Landlords are just people and on the whole people who have lots going on in their lives other than letting houses. An uncomfortable truth about much of the private rented housing let to people on HB is it’s rubbish. HB doesn’t take account of property condition, and so the incentive for a landlord to maintain it is less than if the tenant isn’t on HB. A landlord who moves out HB tenants to let on the open market may find that they are faced with a big refurbishment bill to get it up to scratch. The property is then empty and if the landlord can’t get it sorted out, it stays empty. In an ideal world a landlord foreseeing this problem may drop the rent and keep the HB tenant. But the world of cock-ups doesn’t include many landlords with foresight. In Durham a more serious problem may emerge. If HB is so much higher the market it suggests there isn’t much market. When this happens it isn’t impossible for landlords just to give up. It hasn’t happened for years. Perhaps because HB has artificially propped the market up, but there’s no reason why it could happen again in some areas.

Of course all of this avoids the really big problem here. HB changes will inevitably cause people on low incomes to move because they can no longer afford to pay their rent. The market will adjust to this, there won’t be swaths of vacant properties, but for some people here will be personal tragedies and hardship. Is this a price worth paying?  Now there's a real question.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Squatting - you may be surpised what you think

The Netherlands used to look a picture of harmony and tolerance but its liberal outlook is wearing a bit thin. The new coalition government is banning the Burqa, one of it’s party leaders is in court for promoting religious hatred. Even the tree in Amsterdam that sheltered Anne Frank has gone rotten and fallen over.  But perhaps most significantly of all the government has outlawed squatting.

Nothing wrong with that you might think. Surely it should be illegal to squat other people’s houses anyway.  Well perhaps, but it is legal in England and Wales and Dutch tolerance of squatting has actually been a very successful policy. The Netherlands has Europe’s lowest level of vacancy (0.3% compared to 3.5% in UK).

The simple idea in the Netherlands was that if an owner left a building empty for more than a year he lost the right to evict squatters. If the owner was intending to redevelop a building, demolish it, or sell it the last thing he needed was to have it full of squatters who had rights to stay. The effect was of course property owners did whatever they could to stop their property becoming empty, and if that failed, they did whatever they could to get their property back into use within a year.

A whole industry grew up to help. It provided a “guardian” service finding people who would live in empty properties to prevent them becoming squatted. Not only did the law minimise the number of empty properties, a by-product was to create a new sector of housing that was cheap and accessible. Figures suggest that nearly 1% of the Dutch population are now property guardians. The industry has spread beyond the Dutch borders and property guardian companies like Camelot and Ad-Hoc successfully operate in Belgium, Germany, France and the UK.

It is a truth that few dare speak here. But the risk of an empty property being squatted is a powerful motivator for the owner to get it into use. Whether you like the idea of squatting or not, it is probably true that it stops a lot of buildings being left empty. A system like the Dutch are now getting rid of, without doubt, creates an even stronger incentive still.  There are mutterings on the backbenches of Westminster here that squatting should be banned across the UK too. Plenty of people will tell you about the harm squatting causes, much of which will be true. But before you agree to enthusiastically, ask the other question too. What good does it do? You may be surprised what you conclude.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

For Art's Sake

I’d have loved it if Banksy were making a point about the immorality of leaving homes empty. I don’t think it’s him. But somebody is. Whoever they are they have turned an empty house into an artwork contrasting the number of empty homes in the area to the number of homeless. Pots of imitation flowers now adorn the house, and in the front garden a cut out couple appear to be enjoying an alfresco meal. A notice board on the garden fence simply says Homeless 9,500  Empty Homes 7,600.

The house is one of several on Burntwood lane in Wandsworth belonging to the local health authority. All have sat empty for as long as I can remember. I lived near them fifteen years ago and they were empty then. Nothing has changed.
Over the years I have written to the health authority, to the council, and to the MP  asking why these houses could not be used. Only the council bothered to reply and their answer was so wet they might as well have not troubled themselves.  They said they didn’t want to put undue pressure on the health authority because they were considering closing the local hospital. 

Wandsworth is an area with acute housing need, one of the highest affordability problems in the country and yes over 9,000 households on the council waiting list.
One might hope that this artwork might at least pull at some heartstrings in the health authority or the council. But apparently not, a rather sour faced council response said:

Monday, September 13, 2010

Say it With Flowers

There are places in Liverpool that make your heart leap and others that make you want to weep. These two adjacent roads in Granby manage to do both at the same time. Granby is the very essence of a deprived community, on almost any indicator of poverty it does almost unbelievably badly. 94% of children living in poverty 70% of the resident Somali population are unemployed, cancer and heart disease rates are 250% of the national average. Why you might think would anybody want to live here? With over 11% of the houses long term empty, it might appear that they don’t. But nothing in Liverpool is ever simple. Problems have been simmering here for many years. 25 years ago they blew up. This is where the Toxteth riots took place. Last week, walking along these streets I was stopped by a life long resident. “This is their punishment for the riots” she said commenting on the row of bricked up vacant houses on her street “For daring to protest they’ve decided to grind the life out of this area.” She claimed that a deal between council and housing association meant that every house that becomes empty is bricked up rather than re-let. “We’re all getting old here” she said “in a few years we’ll all be gone, then they’ll come in and flatten all the houses.” It was enough to make grown man want to weep. But the resident’s response to the perceived war being waged against them was unexpected and extraordinary. Residents had painted the brieze blocks that replaced the windows on empty homes in Cairns Street and Beaconsfield Street. There were brightly painted curtains where windows had once been, a painted cat peeping out onto the road, butterflies, even a Tuscan castle. The front gardens of abandoned houses were neatly tended, along the length of the street every conceivable receptacle had been used as plant pots; car tyres, a water tank, a couple of old trailers, even a small chest of drawers overflowing with flowers. Most of the houses in these roads were empty, but none were unloved. In the circumstances where most communities would have given up, this one was showing a strength that truly made the heart leap.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Last Days of the Welsh Streets

These are the last days of the Welsh Streets in Liverpool. The area was built in the 1880s by and for Welsh construction workers, with  streets named after towns and villages in Wales they came from. Wynnstay, Voelas, Rhiwlas, Powis, Madryn, and Kinmel. In 2005 a decision was made by the council to demolish an area of 300 houses encompassing most of the Welsh Streets. In the last five years the houses have been systematically emptied out and acquired by Liverpool City Council; leaving what must be the largest area of empty houses in the country. Baring a last minute reprieve, the bulldozers are set to roll on October 14th. Yesterday, a warm late summers day I took what might be a last look.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Sows ears and silk purses

It’s hard to believe it now, but in the 1970s when I grew up the glamour football team to support was Ipswich town. It happened to be my hometown club, but their support spread far and wide. The team was filled with well-mannered, clean-cut role-models like Paul Mariner, George Burley and Mick Mills. But if you were a bit rebellious and liked your footballers cut a bit rough, there was nobody better than Eric Lazenby Gates; a grizzled and aggressive forward who always managed to look a mess but play with astonishing skill. He was the type of man who even if you dressed him in a Saville Row dinner suit would somehow still look like a tramp.

When I was ten my parents paid for me to go on a summer football course, coached by Ipswich Town players. I found myself in a group coached by Gates. His thick Northeast accent proved too impenetrable for most of the boys, but with Geordies in the family I understood it perfectly. So did my parents who asked me to be moved into another group to get away from the torrent of smutty jokes and filthy language that were part of his coaching style.

Eric Gates disappeared back to the North East with a transfer to Sunderland a few years later and for many years I thought nothing more of him. That was until earlier this week when I found myself outside the house he was brought up in, in the ex colliery town of Ferryhill in county Durham.

Ferryhill has the curse that has befallen many so-called regeneration hot spots. Its renaissance has been put-off or petered-out. The plans were ambitious. In 2006 a ten year plan was announced by the council that would have seen 400 hundred ex miners cottages demolished and hundreds of new homes built in their place. The works started with the flattening of a chunk of houses in streets named after the great industrial men of their day Stephenson, Watt and Faraday.  But then nothing, the money ran out and with the 2008 market crash, investment slipped away. Far from regenerating the area, the talk of demolition caused, those that could, to move away. Today Gates’ house stands among many others empty and forlorn overlooking a few acres of wasteland.  There is no plan B for Ferryhill, or indeed the many other similar areas where ambitious renewal plans have stalled or been shelved half way through. As we await the Comprehensive Spending Review, there seems little prospect that help will come from elsewhere, or that budgets will be replenished to enable stalled regeneration plans to start up again. The age of demolition and rebuild is, for now at least, over.    

But all should not be lost. These houses could be homes again. Creative thinking like the approaches used in Salford or Anfield can remodel terraced housing and make it appealing and attractive to people looking for homes. Regenerating an area doesn’t have to mean flattening it and starting again.  The great news for places like Ferryhill is this approach is cheaper and therefore more financially viable than the plans that have been abandoned. Places can reinvent themselves, just like people. Eric Gates today earns his living travelling around the Northeast as an after dinner speaker , dressed no-doubt in a Saville row dinner suit.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Last Chance to Save the Welsh Streets

I'm posting this message on behalf of the Welsh Streets Home Group. They are challenging the imminent demolition of the the area of Victorian terraces, the former home of Ringo Star, known as theWelsh Streets in Liverpool. If you want to see these houses saved, this may be your last chance please write to the council by Wednesday. See instructions below: 

You may be aware that Liverpool City Council have issued Liverpool residents Prior Notice that they plan to demolish 400 houses in the Welsh Streets. It featured in the media last week as Ringo Stars birthplace is involved. We want to let you know that the Council have invited responses to the Prior Notice of Demolition . If the council receive enough responses the proposal will be referred to a full planning committee and not decided by an individual officer. Your efforts could make a difference - for residents in Kelvin Grove who are not yet being bulldozed and to others living next to the demolition of a huge site.

Bulldozing is due to start on 13th September in three weeks time. Currently, the council proposal for how the houses will be demolished is vague. It could damage the health and security of residents surrounding the area. Responses to the Councils Proposal have to be received by the Council by 5 pm on Wednesday 25th August. Next week.

Planning law states that where a Prior Notice has been issued for consultation, only two issues will be considered. These are:
1) the proposed method of demolition and
2)details of the proposed restoration of the site.

You can read it yourself at Millennium House or look at the Planning on the council web-site and put ref. number 10pm/1551 into the navigator. We have a copy you can see at no.30 Kelvin Grove where there will be an open letter writing session this Sunday evening at 6pm. Letters will also be written between 3 and 5 at the Nerve Show in old Rapid Paint shop on Leece St if you want to come along and do a letter or help others do one.

Having looked at the proposal at the Planning Office and with a volunteer from Planning Aid, some serious problems have been noticed. These are:

The proposed method of demolition is given as hand/machine. This lacks the detail normally expected, which would state which machines would be used for which tasks, e.g. ball and chain, or a more careful and considered approach.

A method statement covering the health and safety of the workers and the public would also be included in the application and currently there is none.

It is stated that rubble will be dumped on a licensed tip when the authorities said previously it would be recycled for road-building.

There is no information about how gable ends of two blocks of houses left standing will be finished to keep them safe for occupants and the public and attractive for the community.

Demolition would leave a large empty patch of land ( from Kinmel Street to Kelvin Grove) to be covered with soil, fertiliser and grass-seed. No information is given in the proposal regarding the capping of sewers to reduce problems with rats, or other pests.

It appears from details given in the drawings that low metal hoop barriers will enclose each block of ex-houses. These barriers lack the strength to withstand being pushed over by vehicles so fly-tipping in these areas may be a risk.

The application shows palisade fencing will surround the site but no drawings of the fencing are supplied.

Despite the palisade fencing back gardens, sewers and drains of Kelvin Grove will be inadequately protected, creating a public health hazard & security issues for residents remaining in the even numbered side of the street.

Practicalities of living in or near a demolition zone such as dust suppression measures, working hours of heavy machines and noise pollution are not addressed.

We have also been advised that objections to this proposal would influence decisions regarding the future of Kelvin Grove which remains under threat of CPO and demolition.

If you want to help, please put your own version of these comments into a letter.

YOU MUST PLEASE Quote the Planning Application Reference 10PM/1551

Include a request to have the matter decided by full planning committee.

Ask for a receipt or acknowledgement of your letter.


It does not have to be a long letter or include all of these points .
You do not have to live in the area to be concerned about it.
If you miss the deadline send a letter anyway it all adds up.

PLEASE SEND A COPY of YOUR LETTER TO : Nina Jones, Chair Welsh Streets Home Group, 39 Kelvin Grove, L8
or by email

Please note that duplicate letters, letters with multiple signatures or petitions will be ignored by the Council. If you just copy and paste things you have read here, the letter wont count. Try to find a way of writing your letter that makes it different.

if its too late to post deliver by hand to Sherridan Scott, Development Control Division, Millennium House, 60 Victoria Street, Liverpool,L1 6JF.

ask for a dated receipt when you hand it in

by post to Liverpool City Council, Regeneration, Planning Department, Municipal Buildings, Dale Street, Liverpool, L2 2DH, to Liverpool City Councils planning department.

via email to or

please include your postal address on an e-mail letter.

Thank Your for you support now and in the past. We are deeply disappointed Liverpool City Council have failed to consider alternatives to demolition. They seem to be rushing into an irreversible action which pre-empts CPO and redevelopment decisions in a wider area. It is further seen as premature in advance of any redevelopment proposals being brought forward.
P.S. There are currently 13,500 tined up houses in the city all emptied at public expense. Meanwhile 23k people are awaiting homes. If you feel the cheapest, fastest and most eco friendly way of alleviating the housing crisis is to renovate not demolish you might like to add a note to this effect in your letter.

Writing a letter could have a material benefit for streets like Kelvin Grove which remains under threat but are not involved in next months bulldozing because the residents have refused to leave . The Welsh Streets Home Group will continue to campaign for Kelvin Grove and hope for your ongoing support. Sorry for the tight timescale we were on holiday when the council sent their Prior Notice out.

For help writing your letter , to volunteer or donate to the campaign please e-mail us

kind regards

The Welsh Streets Home Group Committee and Supporters

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sir Bob Kerslake Interview on Empty Homes

If you don't work in the housing or regeneration fields I quite expect this won't get your pulse racing. But for those of us who do, having Sir Bob Kerslake the Chief Executive of the Homes and Communities Agency speaking exclusively on why he thinks getting empty homes into use is quite a coup. Great that he's engaged, but frustrating he couldn't see the answer to his last question should have been that empty homes provide homes at lower cost. This interview was carried out by GovToday Editor, Scott Buckler earier this month.

Could you tell me how the HCA are working to maximise the use of empty homes?
The first thing to say is that the empty homes scheme is a crucial part of our housing and regeneration strategy. The HCA have put a significant amount of funding into empty homes, in the region of 19 million pounds to refurbish over 550 empty homes.
We have also funded major estate transformations which allows us to tackle empty council houses on a much bigger scale.
Other examples of where our investment is used proactively in dealing with empty homes can be found in our investment provided for HMR Pathfinders that focuses on dealing with low demand and abandoned stock while Decent Homes funding helps to keep local authority stock well maintained and combats the stock becoming difficult to let.
Alongside the funding we give a lot of support to local authorities to become effective in tackling the issue of empty homes.
We are, through our skills and knowledge team, supporting programmes that share expertise with local authorities across the country.
In summary, tackling the problem of empty homes can be achieved by a combination of investment through our big programmes and sharing best practice and knowledge from local authorities who have managed to tackle the problem head on with success.

Do you believe there is a private/public partnership model which could be used to reinvigorate the market for empty homes?
I think there is potential to work with the private sector, but when you look at the problem with empty homes there are two key areas, one being the local authority side, which I must say has brought down the number of empty homes in recent years and the private rented sector.
The major problem here seems to be the owners who currently may own a small number of properties. The task is how you can work with the private owners more efficiently; this may mean selling of the houses to local authorities.

What challenges are Local Authorities facing when trying to tackle issues on empty homes?
Local Authorities are facing some tough challenges when it comes to dealing with empty homes. What you tend to find is that once the houses become empty they stay empty for some time, the challenge Authorities have is dealing with landlords who may not have the skills or financial capability of bringing the houses up to the standard they require.
We’re seeing a high concentration in the North West of empty homes, where supply outweighs demand. It can be labour intensive for authorities to get empty homes back into use, so we tend to target our funding into areas across the UK where we can see best value for investment at a quicker rate of supply.

What role does empty homes play in the HCA’s approach to housing and regeneration?
The role empty homes plays in the Homes and Communities Agency housing and regeneration plans is about supply. It is about making more houses available, though it is also about estate renewal and market renewal whilst tackling low demand or low stock. So we are bringing empty houses into stock, but also regenerating communities by removing abandoned and run down housing.
As part of the local investment planning process, we are working with local authorities and partners to support the development and implementation of comprehensive strategies to maximise the use of empty homes.

What progress is being made on Kickstart and how is the HCA dealing with less funding to support housing, especially affordable housing?
I have to say Kickstart has been positively received; with the first schemes now coming to completion. We have a few remaining schemes left to fund, however the biggest task is to see through the delivery of these schemes, but I am in no doubt Kickstart has stimulated the housing market across the UK.

How do you respond to the recent announcement by the NHF who say that up to 500,000 people will be added to the social housing waiting list if the government go ahead with their 40 per cent cuts into housing?
There is no question about the high level of demand for Housing, especially social housing. The challenge we now face at the HCA following our reduced funding is delivering the maximum amount of housing with a lot less funding. The only way this can be achieved is to find alternative and less costly ways of delivering affordable housing, we need to engage with housing associations, contractors and authorities more to ensure we deliver value for money for both the buyer and the delivery authority.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

BPF on empty homes and the end of tenancies for life

Thank you to British Property Federation's Chief Executive, Liz Peace. Who intervened on the story in the Independent and others about the end of council tenancies for life. She made the excelent point that the underlying problem was not enough housing and said:
"Renovating empty homes is an opportunity for the government to get people of housing waiting lists and into good as new homes.Awarding renovation grants will remove eyesores from the local community and rectify lost incomes for the owner and surrounding landlords. It is a win-win situation for the owner of empty properties and the campaign to recycle existing housing stock."With the upcoming comprehensive spending review we can expect local authority funding to be cut however the need to supply new homes doesn't go away, renovating empty homes is a certain way of providing homes."

Resources or resourcefulness

First of all a big thank you to everybody who has contributed to the empty homes debate on the Homes and Communities Agency website. There are now over 100 comments from people involved or affected, it’s still open for comments until the end of the month.

I’m really inspired by some of the ideas here Jim Overbury’s Private EDMO idea. Using the process, but not the force of the EDMO legislation to get homes into use with the owner’s agreement. Emma Edghill’s idea about working with the YMCA to find homeless people who can work on renovating vacant properties. Gary Kirk’s ideas around local authorities pooling resources. But there are a lot of requests from local authorities here that could be summarised as “give us more money”. One contributor was even as bold as to say he wanted cash cash cash!

Away form this debate I’ve also been approached by a number of people asking that we lobby the government for more money for local authorities. I will certainly campaign for good ideas to be properly financed but I’m afraid I won’t be lobbying for cash cash cash. Here’s why:
The coalition has made it quite clear that its major priority is deficit reduction. There is going to be less not more money. Arguing for the opposite is pointless.
I have seen many many empty homes innitatives and if there is a relationship between effectiveness and resources it is that those with least money do best. Some of the best-resourced initiatives I have seen have been jaw droppingly wasteful.
The factor that is most commonly associated with success is not resources but resourcefulness. I am thinking of Jenny Wood from Harrogate council going round to young building apprentices and kicking them out of bed in the morning to get them on site renovating empty homes. I am thinking of Liz Daykin in South Derbyshire advertising empty properties on her council website as a free estate agency service to help owners sell properties that estate agents didn’t want.

These actions weren’t dependent on large amounts of money, but they took imitative and an understanding of what the problem was that needed fixing. We need more of that, and where there are ideas and where there is success I will be more than happy to argue for them to be properly funded.

Monday, July 05, 2010

This could really make things better

It doesn’t happen that often, but there are moments when it is possible to really change things for the better. In amongst the bleak public spending news, it may surprise you to hear that one such moment is upon us. Before the politicians go home for the summer we are calling on the government to say what it is going to do to fulfil its commitment on empty homes. And we’re asking you to say what you think too.
In May the coalition government said "We will explore a range of measures to bring empty homes into use."
We know that the work is underway. Officials are exploring measures now. What they conclude and what the government decides will either be the most significant moment for years, or a squandered opportunity for helping create homes out of empty property. Of course we want it to be the former. In a dream scenario here’s what could happen:

  • The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) changes grant rules giving housing associations a real incentive to buy and refurbish empty homes. 
  • The government confirms funding, and for the first time in years housing associations en-masse start purchase and repair and rehab schemes creating new affordable homes out of empty property.
  • The HCA gives greater flexibility so that homelessness charities and other community groups can refurbish empty homes too. Hundreds of new not-for- profit schemes start
  • The Government helps local authorities to act by rewarding them for getting long-term empty homes returned to use. Councils start realising the true value of reusing vacant homes and increase the help they offer to property owners.
  • The Government and public sector landlords open up their records on vacant property and agree to transfer their own surplus vacant properties to local communities for them to bring back into use. They give powers to the public to force the sale where the public sector drags its feet.
These actions would make a stunning difference enabling new homes to spring up out of empty buildings. It’s achievable and it’s affordable. But we need the government to act.
Next week you can have your say. The HCA debate “how do we maximise the use of empty homes?” starts on 12th July. Please take part. Watch the videos, and leave your comments and ideas here. It could really help make things better.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Information on empty homes - It's bad for your mental health

The government is, according to Eric Pickles “committed to transparency”. Good! It has not always been so. Back when we I started this blog in 2006 access to information about vacant property was an issue I wrote about frequently because I thought it was being handled so badly. In one bizarre case we dealt with, a local authority denied a man information about empty homes because they thought, to give it to him, would affect his mental health! Judging by his reaction I think denying it to him had a worse effect.

We no longer seem to have ludicrous cases like that, but the problem is not resolved. Here’s why it matters:
We know central and local government have detailed data on all the vacant properties in this country. They know where they are, how long they have been empty,  and who owns them. We also know that there are many resourceful people who can make use of those properties, by buying, renting, or developing them. It is surely obvious that if the resourceful people know where the properties are they are more likely to be able to do something about them. This principle is not novel or new it already happens for big development sites. Just look at the Surplus Land register, and the National Land Use database. These databases encourage big developers to make use of both public and privately owned vacant land by publishing details about it.

It works. So why not apply the same principle to vacant homes? Back in 2007 I spent a day in the Information Tribunal giving evidence on a case that involved this principle. The local government answer given in that case seemed to be people can’t be trusted. The thinking might be summarised as: telling big developers about vacant property is fine, but ordinary people? No way! They might do bad things like smash the house up, set fire to it, or fill it full of rowdy squatters. Best to be cautious and not tell anybody.

Of course there are some risks and some legal issues to disclosing information, but these can be managed, and indeed already are for the vacant land databases.

The trouble is, trustworthy or not, big developers are no longer buying land, and it is becoming obvious that if housing development is going to continue we will need many more small developments on small sites carried out by small developers and resourceful people.
 It’s time to look at this again. Let’s be transparent about empty homes and give resourceful people what they need to turn the vacant properties back into homes.  

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Building Houses on Old Kent Road

When Charles Darrow invented the Monopoly board game. He stuck this area at cheapest end of the board. Not much has changed. The Heygate estate in Elephant and Castle takes up that vast area between Walworth Road and Old Kent Road. It is one of the poorest areas in London. In the early 1990s I was called up to jury service at a trial for a series of people that had been arrested at a crack house on this estate. It wasn’t a comfortable experience. The trial revealed to me a troubled and frightening place that was failing to do anything more than keep the weather off the people who lived there. No doubt over the years many people tried to create a viable community here, but in the late 1990s the council decided it was beyond hope. The estate and the hideous neighbouring pink shopping centre were scheduled for demolition and replacement with new housing and shops. It sounded like a good idea.
 But this is a big place. And Southwark is not a fleet footed council. It took ten years to find a developer prepared to take it on. And several years more to negotiate with partners over the road layout, access to underground stations and the like.  
Four years later nearly all the people have gone. The estate was emptied (or decanted as housing people like to call it) the bulldozers were ready to roll. Plans were readied for replacement homes. Something was going to happen.
But when I visited yesterday it was silent. 1000 empty flats and not a sign of a builder. The Heygate like many other big housing regeneration project ran into trouble with falling house prices in 2008. The projected income from sales of new homes no longer added up. The development ground to a halt. Like many other stalled projects there was hope that it would be bailed out by generous government grants. After all down the road the Aylesbury estate redevelopment was salvaged by a whopping £42 million kick start grant last year. But no such luck  for the Heygate a few weeks ago the unallocated funding in the Kick start programme was cut and doubt thrown over whether similar funding will made available again. The Heygate is just one estate. But there are scores of them around the country stalled, empty and unviable. Some doubt whether bailing out big projects like this is a good idea anyway. But it’s an academic discussion now.

 For years we’ve been told not to worry about the thousands of vacant flats and houses that are in regeneration schemes. “They’re all the process of development,” we were told. But they’re not now. The process and the development have both stopped. Somehow we have to find a way to turn these places back into homes.

In the board game, if you play your cards right it’s easy and cheap to build houses and hotels on Old Kent Road. In reality it’s proving much more difficult.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Five things the government should do about empty homes

Zac Goldsmith was kind enough to name check the Empty Homes Agency on the Today programme this morning. He suggested that instead of “garden grabbing” which the government announced it would be restricting , “there are a lot of empty homes lets find ways of incentivising getting them back into use”

All very encouraging. Zac Goldsmith is of course not a member of the government (yet) but this is just the latest in a number of suggestions by people in and around the government that they will introduce measures to deal with empty homes soon. I met Grant Shapps last week and he said nothing to dispel the belief. But what should they do? Here’s what I think

1. Change grant rules to give housing associations a real incentive to buy and refurbish empty homes, and give greater flexibility so that homelessness charities and other community groups can refurbish empty homes too.

2. Government and public sector landlords should hand over surplus properties to local communities for them to bring back into use. Councils should be encouraged to do the same.

3. Give homeowners incentive to refurbish their own empty homes by reducing VAT rates on refurbishment to 5%. It is particularly important that special provision is made for refurbishment if the overall VAT rate rises.

4. Councils should be encouraged to act by extending the government’s proposed council tax incentive scheme (which rewards councils for getting homes built) to long-term empty homes returned to use.

5. Keep council powers including Empty Dwelling management orders. Without them council’s effectiveness is reduced. We agree that they should be amended but please don’t repeal them.

Friday, May 28, 2010

It's Not Difficult

I think I’d rather be told straight “You’re wrong!” But ours is not the kind of issue that promotes outright opposition. The strongest resistance we normally get goes something like this “Of course I agree that bringing empty homes into use is a good idea, but in practice it’s just too difficult.”
It’s an annoying put down because it would be petulant to get cross in response. But that doesn’t mean I agree.
These words most commonly come from the lips of local authority councillors or people running housing associations. What it generally means is that they know they have to create more homes, but the way they know how to do it is to do a deal with a developer who is building a large new housing development. The skills and knowledge you need to pull off deals like this are not to be sniffed at. Many housing associations are very good at it. And it works – or at least it did.
What it also implies is the skills they used to have to negotiate the purchase of individual houses and the skills to renovate them are no longer needed.

But now housing associations have a problem. Last year just 118,000 homes were built in this country – half the government’s target. That’s half the number of potential deals they need; and unless millions of pounds of taxpayers money is poured in, half the number of new social homes.

Now lets look at a different type of housing supplier; a private landlord. Between them private landlords provide about the same amount of housing as councils and housing associations. Very few try to do deals with developers and hardly any build new homes. Where most acquire property is through buying existing second-hand homes. Visit a property auction house and you will see most that homes are bought by private landlords, what’s more most of those they buy have vacant possession and need to be improved before they can be let. Private landlords it seems still have the skills to buy and renovate empty property.

Now, of course, private landlords operate on a different scale to councils or housing associations. A recent ARLA survey showed the average private landlord owned seven properties. The National Housing Federation’s latest figures show that the average housing association has more than 2,000 properties. But if bringing an empty home into use isn’t too difficult for a landlord who owns a handful of property, there’s no rational reason why it should be too difficult for a landlord who owns thousands. The housing market has changed, and if social housing is going to keep pace it needs to borrow the skills of private landlords. Bringing empty homes really is a good idea, and it’s a highly viable way of creating new housing. It’s only too difficult if you don’t know how to do it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Government Announcement on Empty Homes

My optimism yesterday, was not misplaced. Today the government has published the full coalition agreement. You can see it here. In it is this very encouraging commitment “We will explore a range of measures to bring empty homes into use.”

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What does all this mean for housing?

The housing business is moaning and groaning. The housing press is sounding downbeat too. Why? Apparently our new government hasn’t had much to say on housing. It barely mentioned the subject in the coalition agreement and it has downgraded the housing minister post so the incumbent will no longer attend cabinet. Does this matter? and what do we know about the government’s willingness to do anything about getting empty homes into use? I thought it time to have a look. Firstly lets have a look at the cast:

The Cabinet Minister in charge of local government, communities and housing is Eric Pickles a man who led Bradford Council in the early 1990s and will undoubtedly be an influential member of the government. Tim Williams says that Pickles’ experience is a double-edged sword for a man who will unquestionably wield it to the budget. He knows what he’s doing, but on the other hand may be too familiar with local government, and knows where the bodies are buried. It strikes me that these are both commendations for somebody who is in charge. Either way Pickles doesn’t look like a man to be messed with. When Hazel Blears was given this job a couple of years ago, there was an air of levity amongst commentators with few resisting the temptation to talk about her size. This time nobody has dared mention Mr Pickle’s size!

Grant Shapps has the distinction on being the housing minister who had the longest wait. As he is fond of saying, he shadowed four Labour housing ministers over nearly as many years before finally getting the job himself. So any criticism of inexperience is surely unfounded. He will be tasked with amongst other things replacing the national affordable housing programme, which funds housing associations, and overhauling the planning system.

Finally Liberal Democrat Andrew Stunnell, has been appointed a junior minister, probably with responsibility for housing . This may be a bit of a surprise, although he was Lib Dem housing shadow prior to Sarah Teather. And he is clearly highly regarded enough by his party leader to have formed part of the negotiating team that struck the coalition deal with the Conservatives.

By the way; much as it would have been great for her to be here too, Sarah Teather was appointed an Education Minister.

So will this rather motley crew be willing to do anything about getting empty homes into use. We know what they have said. In opposition Grant Shapps proposed changes to housing association funding to allow them to buy and lease private empty property. He also proposed powers for the public to force public owners of empty properties to get them into use. The Liberal Democrats proposed that empty homes should form a major part of a policy of increasing housing, pledging to get 250,000 empty homes into use.

All very different from the Labour government’s approach, which was to give local authorities powers to force private owners to put their houses in order

What strikes me is that the two coalition parties’ approaches aren’t so very different. They are both about encouraging housing associations to get involved in privately owned empty homes, they are both about incentives rather than coercion, and they both acknowledge that reused empty homes are a cost effective way of creating new housing. The fact that this issue wasn’t in the coalition agreement may in fact be a good sign. It may suggest that it isn’t contentious. If there are differences it is unlikely to be over approach, it’ll be scale. Will there be some minor tweaking to HCA funding, or will the government see this as a significant way of creating more homes?

Perhaps the answer to that lies in the influence of these new ministers. With due respect to Andrew Stunnell, this is likely to be a Conservative rather than Liberal democrat led issue. Although they have made far less play of it Conservative pledges to overhaul the funding system, reduce costs, and create a panning system that encourages rather than forces areas to accept more homes, could create a system that makes it a lot easier to get empty homes into use than build new homes. So perhaps the surprising conclusion is that whilst the housing industry may be moaning If you think that more should be done in getting homes into use there may be a lot to be very optimistic about.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Simon Hughes on empty homes

"If any issue affects communites and makes people feel uncomfortable and neglected, it is seeing places empty when they know their children have nowhere to live." Simon Hughes the Lib Dem Energy spokesman earlier this morning.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Empty Homes and Manifestos

In the midst of manifesto week it might be good to look at what the main parties standing in the general election have said so far about empty homes.

Labour: no specific policy commitments

Conservatives: nothing in the manifesto, but policy on empty homes set out in 2009 housing green paper and 2009 empty property policy paper

Liberal Democrats: Costed manifesto commitment to bring 250,000 empty homes into use through grants and loans

Green Party: manifesto to be published tomorrow, but the party have already said that it will commit to halve the number of empty homes.

UKIP: Policy commitment to give greater compulsory purchase powers to local authorities to tackle empty homes

Plaid Cymru: Stated commitment to reducing empty home numbers and to reduce VAT to 5% on home refurbishment

SNP: no specific policy commitments

It’s good, in a curates egg sort of way, but I would of course, like to have seen more. This time next month at least one, and possibly more, of these parties will form the UK government and will be responsible for our county’s housing policy. Whoever that is will be faced with ensuring that the people of this country have somewhere decent to call home. For many years now, we have comforted ourselves that the house building industry will dutifully churn out new homes to match our demand for housing. All government had to do was fix the rules to make sure that the builders built a proportion that people on low incomes could afford.

But as with so many things the last couple of years have proved that systems that rely on perpetual growth don’t work when the economy turns down. What worked last decade probably won’t work in this one, that’s why we need new ideas and new ways to provide homes. Ideas like making the best use of the housing stock we have got, giving people the metaphorical and literal tools to create homes for themselves, creating new tenures of housing enabling people to rent and own homes in more flexible ways. The ideas are out there and have been adopted by many political parties. The next four weeks will see whether we will get a government with the imagination to introduce them.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

more vacancy, but 3 ways to resolve it

Yesterday the Guardian reported that the housing vacancy rate is an enormous 25% higher than previously thought. That means that across the UK there may be 450,000 long-term empty homes. As they correctly point out this is enough to house a quarter of the families on housing waiting lists in this country. Now I know there are people that will say this is an oversimplification and Shelter will go on about needing to build new houses. Well are both are true but that doesn’t take away the significance of these findings.

Just imagine for a moment what would happen if a government introduced measures that really dealt with the problem. What would that do? Well, allowing for the difference between UK and England data , 450,000 homes would house 1.1 million people. As this graph shows, that’s enough to re-house every overcrowded household in England, everybody in temporary accommodation and every single homeless person. No mean feat!

Now, some will say, it’s just a one-off – homeless households just keep forming. Well true enough, but bringing empty homes back into use can carry on too. Once the 450,000 are back into use, there would no doubt be a whole load more homes that had become long –term empty. Getting those back into use would continue to address new housing need. Eventually of course the numbers of empty homes would run right down and as a source of new housing. But that’s a good thing. It would mean that the country was using it’s housing stock at optimum efficiency, which would in itself reduce the numbers of people falling into housing need, and massively reduce expenditure in dealing with the effects of the problem.

So what would a government have to do to really make an impact? We think just three actions would do it:

  1. Offer a financial stimulus to the building industry by redirecting part of the national affordable housing programme towards refurbishment of empty homes. The Liberal Democrats estimate that £3.3bn (out of a £17bn programme) would bring 250,000 homes into use.
  2. Encourage councils and public sector landlords to hand over surplus properties to local communities for them to bring back into use. And encourage them to help owners get their homes into use.
  3. Give home owners incentive to refurbish their own empty homes by reducing VAT rates on refurbishment to 5% - The FMB estimates that this would have a net cost of £102m-£550m

It’s not difficult or unaffordable. Indeed all of the costs would offset other costs elsewhere. And it’s not politically unrealistic either. Between them the three main political parties endorse all of these proposals. We just have to hold them to it and encourage whoever forms the next government to introduce all three.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Forgotten Story

Last year Liverpool campaigner Elizabeth Pascoe lost her fight to stay in her home, and halt the emptying out and demolition of Edge lane. She was forced out last year. But what has happened since? These two photos of her front door taken before and after she left, perhaps offer an answer.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

PROD this!

Three years ago, after a visit to the road I described this as the most dispiriting case the Empty Homes Agency had ever dealt with. Four large and imposing Victorian villas overlooking one of Liverpool’s great parks had been left to rot and deteriorate to the point that they were virtually falling down. What made it so dispiriting, was the owner of the property was the very organisation we expect to look to resolve problems like this: The local council. The houses were purchased by compulsory purchase by the council at the beginning of the decade to improve them. But nothing of the sort happened. Residents were moved out and the decline set in. First fly tippers used the gardens as rubbish dumps, looters broke in and stole the architectural features, vandals set about damaging what was left, and then last year somebody set fire to them. Local residents decided not to stand for it, and after numerous unsuccessful requests to the council to deal with the houses, the Friends of Newsham Park used a little used legal power to request action. A PROD (public request ordering disposal) was served on the secretary of state (at the time Ruth Kelly) requesting that the properties were sold. Ruth Kelly agreed, but gave the council a final year-long chance to sort it out. As is the way with housing ministers, by the time the year was up she was no longer the minister. Another round of campaigning by residents finally got Hazel Blears to make a decision, it turned out to be another final chance for the council of another year. By the time this year had expired she had gone too. Another year of hand wringing by civil servants followed after which further campaigning forced a decision from the present minister John Denham. He acknowledged all the problems caused, apologised and then announced that the case was closed.

Politicians of all colours talk of the importance of communities being empowered. Indeed the ministers I mention call themselves Secretary of State for Communities, and the civil servants I mention are in something called the Community empowerment directorate. But when, as in this case, a community took them up on their offer, the response was embarrassment and obscuration. Councils have (in my view correctly) been granted powers to compulsorily purchase land and buildings to improve conditions for the community. But where that fails communities have the right to demand redress. This community was let down first by its council and then by its government. I said it was dispiriting! But ironically there’s something uplifting here too. Despite all the obstacles the community didn’t give up and indeed still hasn’t. I’m a true believer that persistence pays. The desire to get something done is almost always greater than the desire to stop it. In the end if they are right they will prevail. I believe they are and they will.

Replacing Cities with Farms

Sir Peter Hall has had a remarkable career. For many years he was a government planning adviser, he led regeneration of the Thames gateway and the building of the channel tunnel, was a member of the urban taskforce and the Barker review of housing supply. But if anything proves pre-eminence it is the ability to be proved right. He has achieved this many times, and it looks like he has done it again over his prediction of the fate of the city of Detroit. Back in 1998 in his book , “Cities in Civilization,” he said that Detroit “has become an astonishing case of industrial dereliction; perhaps, before long, the first major industrial city in history to revert to farmland.”

Detroit has a claim to be the world’s vacancy capital. In its motorcity heyday in the 1950s it was the was the fourth most populous city in the United States. Today it has slipped to eleventh. The decline is not simply that others have overtaken it; Detroit’s population has gone backwards. The impact of this is dramatic. A survey last month showed a vacancy rate of a staggering 35% . Meaning more than 100,000 homes are standing empty.
There has been much soul searching about what can be done, but this week it appears Sir Peter Hall correctly predicted what would happen twelve years ago. Yesterday AP reported that new city Mayor Dave Bing is set to announce that 10,000 houses are to be cleared to make way for farmland.

Of course we know something about this idea in the UK with similar announcements having been made about the future of post industrial cities in the north of England at the end of the last century. The programme that ensued (housing market renewal) originally planned to clear 400,000 houses under rather pessimistic sounding terms like “managing decline” As far as I can recall nobody at the time suggested that the land should be used for farming (an industry that appeared to be in terminal decline itself at the time) But in the decade that has followed the language and the aspiration has subtly changed and now housing market renewal talks about rebuilding housing markets and communities. Some even claim that objective now is for the programme to increase population and housing supply. This is a low point for Detroit, and at such times getting rid of the problem might seem to be the best idea. In the UK it turned out the doomsayers were wrong. With national population increasing our post-industrial cities have begun to recover. The concept of clearance merely as a method of reducing housing supply has been mercifully ditched. Sir Peter Hall may have predicted the response correctly, but hopefully in the end he will be proved wrong.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Tories to Scrap EDMOs

Grant Shapps made an entirely reasonable point yesterday that empty privately owned and empty publicly owned buildings are treated unequally. There are indeed powers for councils to bring privately owned homes into use, and the powers that people have to challenge empty publicly owned property are indeed weak. But to suggest, as he did yesterday, that the answer is to level the playing field by abolishing council powers seems to utterly miss the point. The problem isn’t that powers are unequal it is that not enough is done to address wasted publicly owned buildings. In fact the Conservatives have already proposed a much better answer to this problem. Last year in their housing green paper they proposed beefing up “PROD” powers to give the public the right to request the disposal of empty publicly owned buildings – and very welcome it was too. So let’s not have equally rubbish policies for tackling empty homes, Let’s try and have equally effective policies for getting all wasted properties back into use.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Sorry we took your house, do you want it back?

Those who followed the extraordinary 40 year saga of the 80 empty homes on the North Circular Road in London may have a sense of de ja vous. This time the story is Armitage Gardens in Luton. The Highways Agency tasked with widening the M1 started buying up properties that seemed to be in the way. Over a period of fifteen years between 1993 and 2008 seventy-three houses were bought and boarded up for future demolition. Then, with motorway costs spiralling out of control, the government decided on a different approach. Instead of widening the road they’d let people drive on the hard shoulder instead. Neat idea! But then what happens to the 73 houses. Why not offer them back to the original owners? Under an old ruling called the Crichel Down Rules that is indeed exactly what has to happen.

But who or what is Crichel Down? Well it turns out that it’s an area of farmland in Dorset. It was requisitioned by the government for bombing practice at the beginning of World War 2 . Winston Churchil gave an undertaking at the time, that all requisitioned land would be given back after the war. It wasn’t, and indeed parts of Salisbury plain including the whole village of Imber remain in government ownership for military use today. Crichel down had another fate, after the war ownership was handed over to the ministry of agriculture who the leased it out at vast profit. The original owners were understandably cheesed off with this arrangement, and began campaigning for the return of their land. After many years they were successful, an enquiry was launched which ultimately ended in the resignation of a cabinet minister and the establishment of rules (the Crichel Down Rules) that are still in use today.

The pity is that the Luton homes were boarded up and not temporarily let. Had they been rented out they would be in habitable condition today and would have provided homes for seventy three households who currently have no home. The Luton case is not a happy one, taking property off people never is. But at least the prospect of a happy ending is possible, and in rather shorter timescale than it took on the North Circular Road.

Monday, February 08, 2010

18 Empty Homes Announcements in a Year

Last week saw a significant announcement by the government that will see it invest £1million to develop schemes to bring empty homes into use in 17 areas of the country. It also sets up a national training programme to help councils across the country develop skills in bringing empty homes into use. It took six months of encouragement, lobbying and campaigning by us with help from the Chartered Institute of Housing, the HCA academy and officials at the CLG, and it’s great news.

But, I suspect, unless you’re directly affected, announcements like this probably just come and go. If they do, consider this, this is the eighteenth major announcement on the issue in the last twelve months. Look at them together and I think that cumulatively it’s beginning to add up to something much larger. There is an emerging consensus that the job of ensuring that everybody gets a decent home is not just about building new homes. We can’t afford to build them all, and it’s better for communities if we keep people living in them.

If the last 18 announcements just came and went for you, here they all are:

1. Greater Flexibility on HCA funding to allow housing associations to buy empty homes – Party leader David Cameron launches Conservatives Empty Property Rescue Plan with Empty Homes Agency February 2009

2. More funding to assist housing associations renovate empty homes – New Conservative policy launched in Empty Property Rescue Plan February 2009

3. Allow non-priority need homeless people to self renovate empty homes with the possibility of equity stake reward. – New Conservative policy launched in Empty Property Rescue Plan February 2009

4. Equalise VAT rates on new build homes and costs of renovating empty homes –New Liberal Democrat policy launched in speech by shadow chancellor Vince Cable with Empty Homes Agency February 19 2009

5. Amend commercial property rate relief rules to allow owners of empty commercial property used temporarily as housing to continue to claim rate relief- New Liberal Democrat policy launched in speech by shadow chancellor Vince Cable February 2009

6. Introduce a Repair and Renewal loan scheme for owners of empty properties if they agree to lease them for at least five years to housing associations as social housing. New Liberal Democrat policy launched in speech by shadow chancellor Vince Cable February 2009

7. Allow housing associations and local authorities to use funding from the Homes and Communities Agency to refurbish newly purchased private empty homes; Liberal Democrats- New Liberal Democrat policy launched in speech by shadow chancellor Vince Cable February 2009

8. Make £40m available in HCA grant for short-life (‘property guardian’) housing. Liberal Democrats- New Liberal Democrat policy launched in speech by Vince Cable February 2009

9. Announcement of greater support for local authorities to help get empty homes into use – CLG press release quoting then housing minister Margaret Beckett – March 2009

10. Announcement that funding would be made available from National Affordable Housing Programme would be made available for schemes to bring empty homes into use Speech by Trevor Beattie Director of Policy and Strategy Homes and Communities Agency at Empty Homes Agency Conference – March 2009

11. Equal funding available for housing associations to renovate empty homes as for new build schemes. Policy announcement by Sir Bob Kerslake Chief Executive of Homes and Communities Agency appearing on BBC Breakfast TV with The Empty Homes Agency. – March 2009

12. Requirement for all government bodies and agencies to publish details of empty properties they own. – New Conservative policy launched in Conservatives housing green paper June 2009

13. An extension of the PROD powers allowing the public to request the disposal of empty property owned by councils government departments and quangos New Conservative policy launched in Conservatives housing green paper June 2009

14. Sequential approach for creating homes giving priority for reusing empty homes – new Green party policy in speech by party leader Caroline Lucas July 2009

15. Self Start Housing allowing low income families to self renovate empty homes where regeneration schemes have stalled - New Liberal Democrat policy launched by shadow housing minister Sarah Teather in conference speech September 2009

16. North Circular Road investment scheme announced by Mayor of London Boris Johnson. £57 million pledged for 80 empty homes to be bought and renovated for social housing – September 2009

17. Commitment to invest £1.4billion to bring 250,000 empty homes back into use New Liberal Democrat policy launched by party leader Nick Clegg with Empty Homes Agency January 2010

18. Government Pledges £1million investment in seventeen councils to help bring empty homes back into use. Announcement by housing minister John Healey. February 2010

Friday, February 05, 2010

New £1million empty homes fund

If you can buy a house for a pound, what could you do with a million? It’s question worth asking if you live in Torbay, St Helens, Ipswich, Mansfield ,Bolsover, Luton, Bolton, Liverpool, Doncaster, Corby, East Northamptonshire, South Northamptonshire, Milton Keynes, Durham, Cornwall, or Warwick. Because housing minister John Healey announced that those councils are today being granted a £1 million between them to tackle the particular empty homes problems that affect those places. In Doncaster and Stoke it is tackling a problem of declining demand, In St Helen’s and Ipswich it is newly built flats that remain empty, in Nottinghamshire it is tackling the legacy of empty homes left by the closure of the coal board’s housing. It’s taken a lot of persueding for the government to agree to this package but that makes it no less welcome.