An inquiry by the National Assembly’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee has examined the impact of empty properties on communities and how local authorities can act to tackle a complex problem which requires dedicated resources and expertise.
In its report, the Committee is calling on the Welsh Government to work closely with local authorities to develop a national action plan for tackling empty properties which sets priorities, objectives and targets for implementation.
Whilst local authorities should continue to support owners to bring properties back in to use, they should also exercise their powers to take enforcement action when informal routes fail. However, during the inquiry, the Committee discovered that local authorities make limited use of the powers they currently have. Taking enforcement action to bring an empty property back into use can be a lengthy, expensive and bureaucratic process, which is financially risky for local authorities, as there is no guarantee of success.
The Committee welcomes the recent establishment of a dedicated team by the Welsh Government to support local authorities, but believes further action needs to be taken.
John Griffiths AM, Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, says; “We are all aware of such properties within our communities and the nuisance and blight they may cause. Not only do they attract anti-social behaviour and contribute to a general decline in their neighbourhoods, but they are also a wasted resource.
“Local authorities have powers to deal with empty properties; but taking enforcement action isn’t straightforward. It is time consuming and there is no certainty of it being successful.
“In our report, we explore some of the barriers and suggest ways to improve the processes. Tackling the problem of empty properties can make a significant contribution to wider community regeneration; it can make an area more attractive and increase available housing stock. It is important though, to take account of individual communities’ needs and to ensure action is tailored appropriately.”
The report lists a total 13 recommendations, including that the Welsh Government should encourage local authorities to explore the impact of appointing a dedicated officer with responsibilities for empty properties.
The level of resources both in terms of staffing and Capital (financial assistance) needs to be commensurate with the size of the problem.
There is no doubt that there is a direct correlation between the performance of the local authority and the level of staffing or resources applied to the problem. Local authorities are generally good at dealing with the issues surrounding empty homes ie waste in the garden, insecure properties or visual impact on the street scene.
However, there is often a lack of a corporate approach within local authorities, silo working rather than working to a common goal is still a common a feature in many local authorities. This is often due to a lack of knowledge or understanding as to strategic and tactical application of their legislation. Having a dedicated officer dealing with empty homes will often go some way to addressing these key issues.
For those of us involved in empty home and regeneration work, the recommendations raise many of the issues that practitioners struggle with. They represent a reasonable and proportionate response to the problem of empty homes.
Perhaps, the UK Government could embrace the proactive approach taken by the Welsh and Scottish Governments to deal with empty homes.
With the likely demise of the New Homes Bonus and the lip service to dealing with empty homes via the empty home’s premium. It seems to me that there is a complete lack of interest in the empty home agenda in England.
The Welsh Government understands the impact empty homes have on local communities and the contribution they can make in helping meet the needs of the Housing Crisis. While Empty Homes are only part of the solution, there is much regeneration value in dealing with long-term empty properties (residential and non-residential) in a systematic and effective manner.
National Assembly for Wales (Empty Property Report)