New plan to tackle empty homes

SCARBOROUGH could face a financial penalty unless more empty homes are brought back into use councillors have been warned.

The issue was raised at a meeting of Scarborough Council’s Projects and Partnerships Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Monday.

Committee members were considering the council’s new Empty Homes Strategy 2001 to 2015.

The report revealed that in 2009 there were 1,869 empty homes – approximately 3.4 per cent of the total housing stock – and 702 of those had been empty for longer than six months.

John Burroughs, the council’s housing strategy and development officer, proposed that specific empty homes should be brought back into use and the outcome could affect the New Homes Bonus.

He said: “The bonus is supposed to act as an incentive to local councils to increase housing supply and included in that is empty homes.

“It’s about the overall number of empty homes and if we are able to reduce that figure we would get a bonus.

“However, if the converse happens, that negates the New Homes Bonus. There’s a clear need to take a proactive approach to this.”

Currently the council is carrying out an empty homes survey by writing to owners of properties and Mr Burroughs said the response was around 70 per cent.

He added that housing associations were interested in working with the council to tackle the problem.

“Two or three of them have already said they’d like to do so. We are also working with owners as managing agents and renting them out,” he said

The issue was highlighted as a concern because empty properties could attract vandalism as well as other anti-social behaviour.

Under the plan to tackle the empty homes problem it is hoped that at least 25 properties per year would be brought back in to use and, in addition, 15 empty homes would be brought back into use to provide temporary accommodation for the homeless – as a replacement for a former homeless hostel.

Cllr Mike Ward highlighted a caretaker scheme elsewhere in the country – where people live at the property at a reduced rent until it is sold – and said it might be worth looking into.

And Cllr Jane Mortimer said some properties in the area had stood empty for a lot longer than six months. She said: “I can name one in my ward that has been an eyesore for 30 years.”