Empty Homes Network

Dominic Gordon

Dominic Gordon RIP

It is with deep sadness that I must inform you of the death of Dominic Gordon earlier this month.

Many of you will know Dominic as a great friend and supporter of the EHN over the years. He was the well-presented one from Grafton Ltd. who often ran the award ceremony at our annual conferences. Always interested and always interesting, he had a superb self-deprecating sense of humour and an empathy for the downtrodden empty property practitioner.  

Join us in sending thoughts of courage and peace to his family and friends.

Salford University empty homes research wins award

Tameside Council has recently completed a two year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) in collaboration with the University of Salford. The KTP set out to explore the reasons for empty ownership in the borough. Instead of concentrating exclusively on the physical and geographical nature of the empty homes , our research attempted, where possible, to focus on this social phenomenon from the perspective of the empty home owner. Our hypothesis was that if we could understand in more detail the real world experiences that owners face in owning an empty home and their attempts at bringing their homes back into use,  then perhaps owners themselves can actually become the real agents for change in this vastly overlooked area of housing policy.

In 2014 one of the associated pieces of research, written by Danielle Butler from the University of Salford, was awarded the prestigious Jonathon Sime Award, which recognises a significant contribution in the field of people-environment research in an under graduate dissertation. The abstract for her research, Understanding Inertia: An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis of the Experiences of Owning an Empty Home can be found here http://www.surrey.ac.uk/psychology/about/jsa/2014/index.htm.

Any comments or feedback are most welcome: please contact Jim Davies, Housing Renewal Manager, at Tameside MBC

2015 Conference is biggest yet

Helen Williams at Conference

Despite the cuts, the Empty Homes Conference 2015 was the biggest of any of the events organised by the Empty Homes Network to date, with nearly 120 delegates attending from all parts of the UK, from Scotland to Cornwall to Kent to Wales.

Delegates heard Helen Williams (picture right), Chief Executive of the Empty Homes Agency, deliver the Keynote address, highlighting the work that the Agency is going to do over the coming period to ensure that the empty homes issue continues to receive the attention it deserves. Key themes were securing further capital funding, effective approaches to tackling public-sector empties, addressing the buy-to-leave phenomenon and more.

Throughout the day, the Conference can fairly be said to have lived up to its advertising slogan of "Innovation, Information, Inspiration, " with a further 18 speakers covering a wide range of topics. Nick Pritchard-Gordon (pictured below), Conference Chair and Chair of the Empty Homes Network, highlighted the diversity of approaches and agencies represented in the Conference sessions.

Nick Pritchard-Gordon

The avergage "overall" feedback rating for the Conference was 4.45 out of 5, or nearly 9 out of 10, another exceptional results following last year's record high of 4.65.

The Conference inlcuded the presentations for the Empty Homes Awards 2015 and we will cover these in much more detail over the coming weeks. Below is the award presentation by Jon Fitzmaurice, OBE (pictured left) for Best LA/Community Housing Organisation Partnership, given to Methodist Action NW, Preston City Council, South Ribble Borough Council and Lancaster City Council.  The award was jointly sponsored by Habitat for Humanity Homes, represented by David Clare (second from right) and the Empty Homes Network, represented by Nick Pritchard-Gordon (right).

You can access the full set of pictures from the Conference on dropbox (if your firewall allows!) - just follow the link from our library item here.

With thanks to our main sponsors:

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Gold Conference Supporters

EHN Manifesto-Meter reveals weak policies on empty homes

First page of EHN Manifesto-Meter

An analysis of seven party manifestos reveals little to get excited about when it comes to proposals for tackling empty homes. 

The comparison of the policies in the manifestos, details of which can be found in our "Manifesto-Meter", took the five key points in the Empty Homes Network's Filling the Empties policy position paper as the benchmark against which the various manifestos were evaluated.  Up to five stars were available in each category depending how closely the party proposals matched our own suggested policies, and taking into account the relative importance of the individual proposals overall. 

Given the understandably restricted amount of detail to be found in the manifestos, the evaluation took other sources of policy into account, such as recent policy statements by senior politicians (eg Labour's commitment to abolishing New Homes Bonus), or reasonable inferences from other policies (eg trickle-down effects from significantly increased capital spending on affordable homes), and shows these as lighter-coloured stars.

The analysis mostly focuses on positive. practical proposals, but does also look take into account proposals that might be considered negative: Labour earns itself the only (light) red stars for its proposal (not contained in the manifesto)  to abolish New Homes Bonus without any suggestions as to what might take its place as an accepted incentive for local authorities to tackle empty homes in their areas.

The Manifesto-Meter is expected to attract attention from around the world, heralding a new breakthrough in cosmology (and one which, incidentally, has been achieved much more cheaply than CERN's Large Hadron Collider): the star-chart (see below) provides compelling evidence  that the mysterious dark matter being sought by astro-physicists actually consists of missing policies on empty homes.

EHA presses candidates on empty homes stance

Empty Homes Agency Chief Executive Helen Williams is pushing Parliamentary candidates in England to commit to doing more about empty homes in the runup to the General Election on May 7th.

Candidates from all the main parties have been sent emails which EHA says "has prompted a good deal of interest, pledges and tweets across the political spectrum." 

Email to prospective parliamentary candidates:  

Dear Candidate

Empty Homes Agency campaign to reduce long-term empty homes

At the Empty Homes Agency, we are asking all prospective parliamentary candidates to pledge to support the reduction of long-term empty homes to help meet housing need in England.

According to latest government council taxbase data, there are over 200,000 homes recorded as long-term empty (that is empty for six or more months) in England. These homes can be brought back into use to help meet housing needs. Properties that lie empty can blight neighbourhoods, represent a waste of our housing assets and mean we are underutilising brownfield land that could readily provide much needed homes. 

Recent research from the Halifax and the Empty Homes Agency found that more than three quarters of British adults (78%) believe that central government should place a higher priority on tackling empty homes. Over a third (36%) also said that empty homes are a blight on their local area.

Recent governments have given priority to the issue of empty homes and this has helped local authorities, housing organisations and property owners bring empty homes back into use across England. But there is still much to do and there is a risk that the number of long-term empty homes will climb back up again without concerted action by the next government.

If you agree with our aim to reduce the number of long-term empty homes, please email policy@emptyhomes.com to pledge your support.  We would also appreciate you tweeting/publicising your support for our campaign.  We have drafted a possible tweet for you to use below.

I’m pledging my support to reduce the number of long term empty homes – are you? RT your support. #NoMoreEmptyHomes.

Fuller details of recent EHA campaigning initiatives can be found on the EHA website here.

Regeneration preferred to demolition according to yougov research

Callcredit screenshot

Research commissioned by Callcredit Information Group reveals that there is a strong preference for retaining empty homes and regeneration rather than replacing them with new homes.

The research was conducted online by Yougov on 9th-10th April and involved 1,782 adults, with figures weighted to be representative of all UK adults.  Callcredit sell their data so we have not been able to analyse it any further than the information provided in their press release, which can be found here.

The key point for empty homes practitioners is reported as follows:

Callcredit’s research highlights a need for local authorities to look at their existing housing stock and better understand which long-term empty properties could be brought back into use to help address the needs of the 1.37 million households that are on waiting lists for social housing. This is shown with the stark difference between the 58 per cent preferring regeneration and bringing back into use of dilapidated and empty housing compared to 26 per cent opting for the replacement of dilapidated and empty housing with newly built housing.

The results were also reported on the localgov website here.

Life in the Lakes - April

Life in the Lakes - April 2015

I was thinking about what I could write in this month’s blog, and then I remembered I’d had an unusual one recently which finally came to a successful conclusion, in a very round-a-bout way.  Sort of ‘thinking outside the box’ solution…

It started off with an owner of  two  local empty homes, who was also the occupier of a third local house.  When I wrote to him (quite a few times over the years) about his two  empties, he always replied with a beautifully handwritten letter.  He had been looking after his elderly mum in a different part of the country, and she eventually died.  He also had regular periods of ill health himself.  I always tried with my replies to him to be sympathetic, but to offer support and advice.  I’m sure you’ve all had an experience along these lines … lots of patience needed!

Anyway, one day he wrote back saying did I know of anyone who would be interested in his own ‘occupied’ home.  Cue another email around this time from a lady who wanted to buy this home (she had thought it looked empty).  I wrote to the occupier again saying I had a buyer interested in his ‘occupied’ home.  Cue (sadly) more illness and hospital treatment for the empty home owner.

But to cut a (very) long story short (4 years worth, which included complaints from neighbours), the owner finally moved from his occupied house, repaired his empty homes (now living in one and using the other for storage).  This previously occupied home then became a ‘proper’ empty home, the potential buyer and empty home owner were ‘matched’ via myself, sales negotiations took place between both, and hey presto in March the sale finally went through.  I went to have a look at the major renovations now taking place and everyone involved seems to be very happy with the outcome.

And the lessons I have learned from this one is a) always try to think ‘outside the box’ – not every solution is a tried and tested one, but it may be the right one for a particular owner and property,  b) always try to keep in contact with these very long-term owners, offering to help them – they tend to remember your sympathetic approach as opposed to the ‘big stick’ c) persistence can really pay off!

Did you come up with a ‘creative’ solution to any of your long term empties?

Lynne Campbell, Empty Homes Officer, South Lakeland District Council

 

Compulsory Purchase Order Consultation - deadline for responses 9th June

18 Mar 2015
9 Jun 2015
Event Description: 

Deadline for responses to the government's "Technical consultation on improvements to compulsory purchase processes."

 

Contact details: 

Empty homes features second in housing policy popularity

Table of housing policies by popularity

A Yougov poll on behalf of the Homeowners Alliance shows that the second most popular housing policy, amongst those currently put forward by the major parties leading up to the election, is Labour's policy to allow councils to charge more council tax on empty homes.

Survey results

The most popular policy, with 80% for and only 3% against was "Require homes to be marketed in the UK first" (the other 17% of the responses are "don't knows" or "neither agree nor disagree"). This is a Conservative policy that is mainly relevant (practically, not politically) in London. There is a possibility that this might be more appropriately regarded as an "immigration/xenophobia-related" issue rather than truly a housing issue as it is certainly not a widespread problem around the country and even in London tends to affect only the most expensive homes that few in the population could afford even if marketed in the UK first (see an blog post in the Guardian for some discussion of this).  This interpretation is somewhat supported by the fact that the region showing strongest support for this policy was the whiter-than-white South West with 89% "for".  If this is a live issue day-to-day in the South-West it has somehow escaped the notice of the media.

Be that as it may, the second most popular policy is "Higher council tax for homes left empty", a Labour policy, with 70% for and 13% against.

The third most popular policy is additional council tax on homes worth over £2million (NB this is NOT the fabled mansion tax, where the receipts go to the government) (68% for, 11% against).

Labour risks ambush

Labour and empty homes practitioners can take heart from the importance attached by the survey respondents to the empty homes issue.  But Labour risks being ambushed unless it comes out with a clear alternative to the New Homes Bonus as an incentive for local authorities to tackle empty homes.

NHB has been credited by the National Audit Office with successfully incentivising local authorities to do more about empty homes, yet Labour is now committed to abolishing it. That would be all well and good (given the widely-perceived downside of NHB as an incentive for new housebuilding ) if Labour came out with an alternative for empty homes, such as the one floated by us in our policy document (see p.9 Incentives For Councils and Endnote 27).  As it stands, however, it will not be hard for one of the other parties - particularly one of the Coalition partners - to point to their own record, which involves not only council tax changes but targeted funding streams and NHB incentives, and to cast Labour's single proposal as pretty anaemic. More specifically, they can say that there could be more empty homes under a Labour administration because of its determination to abolish a measure (ie. NHB) that is documented as helping bring empties back into use. Labour doesn't currently have an answer to this criticism and its vulnerability is exacerbated by the fact that it is the only party (as far as we know) that is committed to a policy likely to undermine efforts to tackle empty homes: it can therefore be attacked from any political direction. 

The survey

Full details of the survey can be found on the HomeOwners Alliance website here. There were 2184 respondents.

Empty Homes Awards 2015 - deadline for submissions - 29th April

29 Apr 2015
29 Apr 2015
Event Description: 

Please get your submissions to us at events@ehnetwork.org.uk by midnight on Wednesday, 29th April.

For full details of the award categories and how to make submissions see our news story here:

Contact details: