Empty Homes Network

South West Empty Homes Forum - Exeter - 5th November 2015

5 Nov 2015 10:00
Event Description: 

Programme

  • Chris Skinner on Compulsory Purchase Orders (TBC) 
  • Nick Pritchard-Gordon on Hoarding and Hoarders: How to Help
  • David Gibbens (Chair) will provide the latest developments with the Empty Homes Network
  • David Stott on Enforced Sale and Formal Housing Assessments the easy way 
  • Award winning research into empty home owner perspective from Danielle Butler and John Hughes.
  • Andrew Lavender will field your questions in his open surgery 
  • Joe Roberts on Cornwall Council’s successful £1 million empty homes loans

10am - 4.30pm, Sandy Park Conference Centre, Exeter, EX2 7NN

Price  £80 + VAT per delegate

Venue and Booking

The forum will be held once again in the conference facilities at Sandy Park (Exeter Chiefs Rugby Club) after continuing positive feedback from previous forums. The venue is about a 10 minute walk from the Digby & Sowton train station and is set just off the M5 at junction 30.

There are parking facilities on site for those coming by car. Parking costs £4 per vehicle, and we can include this in the price of your attendance if you let us know on the booking form. This way, you don't have to worry about paying on the day.

The cost of the forum will be £80 + VAT per person, which includes a 2 course lunch, and refreshments throughout the day.

For further details : http://eepurl.com/bvmsoj

For the full agenda and timings, click here

To book your place, click here

.

Contact details: 

Tel: 01392 265685

email: empty.homes@exeter.gov.uk

East Lancs. empty homes provider goes bust

Lancashire Telegraph story re AAAW

According to a report in the Lancashire Telegraph, and confirmed by a statement on the Rossendale Borough Council website, a key provider in £5.6million empty homes programme has gone into administration.  The company, AAAW Ltd., is reported to have debts of over £275,000.

It is understood that most if not all of the reported £5.6 million was funding from the Homes and Communities Agency under the empty homes programme. In addition, AAAW seems to have been involved in a wide range of leasing and letting services connected with homelessness.

The Lancashire Telegraph news story reports:

An inquiry has been announced by Rossendale Council, which oversaw the deal for Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn and Pendle Councils, after it was confirmed AAAW had been wound up.

Council bosses in Rossendale insist they have taken “decisive action” in the wake of AAAW’s failure – though they are remaining tight-lipped over how many of the 515 homes which should have been overhauled were completed.

Rossendale Borough Council's website reports:

Stuart Sugarman, Chief Executive of Rossendale Council, said: "Since the company's collapse, the Council has taken decisive action to manage the impact and mitigate the risks, which we have done well. We set up an internal project team, secured the properties and identified any vulnerable tenants and protected them."

"We are still analysing what the financial impact will be to the Council and we are undertaking a full investigation into what happened especially around the management of the contract."

Empty Homes Week 2015 - 30th November to 6th December

30 Nov 2015
6 Dec 2015
Event Description: 

This is the classic Empty Homes Agency sponsored week for highlighting the issue of empty homes.

Islington tackles buy-to-leave through planning policy

Islington council website page

As of 17th July 2015, the London Borough of Islington has introduced an innovative new planning policy aimed at tackling the so-called "buy-to-leave" phenomenon.  Islington's approach relies on a Supplementary Planning Document entitled "Preventing Wasted Housing Supply".  This will require developers to sign a "Section 106" agreement [S106][1] aimed at ensuring that homes are occupied after they are completed: effectively the agreement cascades down to individual owners as the S106 obligations run with the land as a land charge. The developer is required to inform the new owners of the obligations as part of the marketing.

Trail-blazing

The new measure is the first of its kind anywhere in the country and was introduced after extensive consultation and a significant amount of research into the incidence of the problem. Perhaps surprisingly the opposition from developers during the consultation was muted, with only two responses to each of the formal consultation exercises.  However the longer one, provided by Savills, suggested that the measure was ultra vires and it may well be that a challenge will be mounted via the courts; and if not via a planning appeal in relation to a new development. The GLA welcomed the intent of the measure.

The government too has been keen to be seen to be tackling the worst excesses of buy-to-leave and it will be interesting to see what the response will be to this initiative.

Summary

The Council's Adoption Statement sums up the measure as follows:

The purpose of the SPD is to prevent future housing supply from being left vacant and, in effect, “wasted”. The mechanism for achieving this is to impose a planning obligation on developers and purchasers of newly built housing through a section 106 planning agreement to ensure that the dwelling is used and occupied for residential purposes. The agreement will also impose a requirement on developers to inform purchasers of
this obligation. The Council will have the right to investigate suspected breaches and to require that owners provide evidence of compliance. The SPD supports the implementation of policy CS12 of Islington Council’s Core Strategy. The SPD will be applied to all developments that result in 20 or more new dwellings.

The SPD provides considerable evidence as to the extent of the problem.

Key requirements

The SPD requires

  • that properties are not left empty for longer than 3 months at any one time
  • that they must be occupied for at least 14 days in any period of 3 months

Compliance

The SPD states

If the council suspects a breach of the S106 agreement, or if an allegation of a breach is received, it will investigate. The council will seek to establish whether on the balance of probabilities the dwelling is occupied and used as a dwelling house. ...If expedient the council will seek to enforce the terms of the S106 including obtaining an injunction to enforce compliance with the terms of the section 106 agreement.

Penalties for non-compliance are via civil courts, with severe penalties available for failing to comply with any injunction.

Evidence

The SPD identifies the evidence that would be taken into account to establish occupation:

  • Tenancy agreement for more than 3 months together with evidence that the tenants are paying council tax.
  • Evidence that persons use the address for registration for (GP, hospital or similar) education (nursery, primary, secondary or further) social services, church electoral roll or other similar.
  • Persons living at the property registered with that address the electoral roll.
  • Evidence of the consumption of power consistent with the required level of occupation (for example utility bills etc.)
  • Records kept by the freehold owner and/or head leasehold of the building (for example records kept by the concierge deliveries to and collections from the dwelling and any other verifiable records.)
  • Other verifiable evidence.

Alternatives

The SPD mentions Empty Dwelling Management Orders as possible alternatives to the planning legislation. It concludes:

The council investigated how it might use the EDMO regime to bring vacant dwellings back to use. It is considered that EDMOs would not be an effective or practicable way to achieve the objective of this SPD.

Applicability

Islington concluded that the SPD would not have an adverse impact on the delivery of new housing in the borough, nor any significant impact on property values. While not discounting the possibility that some people - whether developers or potential purchasers - would be deterred by the new measure, the Council considered that there was sufficient demand for this to have little impact overall: there would be plenty of others to take the place of those reluctant to comply.

Whilst buy-to-leave has become a problem largely associated with London, before the credit crunch it was also associated with new developments in other cities in Britain. In principle there is no reason why similar measures should not be adopted elsewhere, though it is a fair bet that most councils will wait to see what happens in Islington before investing resources in developing their own SPDs.

Further information

Refer to the record in our Information Library

Notes

1. The Section 106 framework of planning obligations is the normal mechanism for ensuring developer contributions towards individual housing developments, whether in the form of cash for capital projects, cash to offset ongoing revenue requirements, a quantum of affordable housing,  or contributions in kind such as the construction of a play area on the site. See Planning Advisory Service article here for further information.

Enforcement Options - training day with Andrew Lavender, 18th Sept. 2015 - Liverpool

18 Sep 2015
18 Sep 2015
Event Description: 

Andrew Lavender is offering an Enforcement Options course at the Toxeth Annexe Conference Centre, Aigburth Road, Liverpool, L17 7BN on Friday 18th September 2015.

There are only limited place available, so book early.

He is also looking for a Local Authority to host an event in or near London during September / October 2015, in return for upto 2 free delegate places. Anyone interested in hosting a training day, please contact him directly.

Programme

Session 1:

  • Section 215 Town and Country Planning Act 1990
  • Section 79 Building Act 1984

Session 2:  

  • Other Enforcement options including  
  • Building Act 1984 (dangerous Structures)
  • Housing Act 2004 (Improvement Notices / EDMO)
  • Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1984 / Public Health Act 1961
  • Compulsory Purchase Orders

Case Studies Section - which enforcement options would you choose?

Lunch

Lunch and refreshments provided

Session 3:     

  • Enforced Sales Procedure
  • Tracing owners
  • Service of notices

Session 4:

  • Case Studies – finding the most effective approach
  • Difficult cases selected by the Local Authorities attending

The course provides a good grounding in the broad range of legislation that can be applied to long term empty properties. Delegates will have a clear understanding of the advantageous and disadvantages of each approach and how to use the legislation in a tactical way.

Although the course is tailored towards empty properties, a lot of the knowledge is transferrable to other areas of enforcement, particularly in relation to tracing owners and how to ensure that notices are correctly drafted and served.

The course is suitable for Environmental Health Officers, Private Sector Housing Staff, Planners, Building Control, Street Scene Staff and Solicitors

Cost

Full EHN Members: £115 plus VAT

Associate or non-Members: £150 plus VAT

  ..

Contact details: 

If you are interested, please contact Andrew Lavender on 07867 987550 or by email andrew.lavender@htlc.co.uk

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:

Edit Link

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.