Andrew Stunell's speech announcing the empty homes premium

Here is the transcript of the section of Andrew Stunell's speech to the Liberal Democrat 2011 Conference that deals with empty homes:

But the search for value for money means we must also get the most out of our existing stock too.

That’s essential with new household formation outstripping the number of new homes built each year and waiting lists rising every day.

Yet we have 700,000 empty homes in this country.

Over 300,000 of them are long-term empties – vacant for more than six months. That’s 2 years’ new housing supply. It’s a scandal, in fact it’s a crime when thousands of families cannot get a decent home

Bringing those empty homes back into use has long been a key demand of Liberal Democrats.

It was one of our big asks on housing policy during the coalition negotiations.

It’s in the Coalition Agreement. It’s there in the Departmental Business Plan. Now it’s down to me to deliver.

The last government’s empty homes policies were disjointed, scatter-brained, and lacked a coherent direction.

We must do better. And we will do better.

Last October, we announced a £100m programme to kick start the reuse of empty properties to create thousands more affordable homes right across the country.

In the coming weeks, I will be bringing forward the details of our empty homes strategy – the first time any government has had one. ["How bizarre is that" he said, but this has been omitted from the transcript].

The strategy will set out what Government is doing, and what more we intend to do to tackle the problem of empty homes.

It will open the door to bids from councils, housing associations and other providers, with work on the ground starting next April.

And it will make the case for one of the most efficient housing investments we can make: giving us more homes per pound, more jobs per home, and plenty of training opportunities too.

And of course I want to see local authorities getting to grips with the empty homes in their areas.

Already, the New Homes Bonus will apply to Empty Homes, so councils will receive six years worth of council tax per home. £9,000 or so.

But we can do more.

That’s why today I can announce that we will shortly be consulting on whether councils should be given the power to charge extra council tax on homes in their area that have been empty for more than two years, through an Empty Homes Premium.

Discretionary, naturally. Localist, certainly. With essential safeguards and exemptions, of course. But a nudge to owners to bring abandoned homes back into use.

An extra weapon in a council’s armoury in the battle to make better use of our housing stock.

The premium will act as a spur for landlords to bring their properties back into use quickly. And where they don’t, it will provide an extra revenue stream for Local Authorities to plough back into bringing more homes back into use.

We will also look to be innovative and find other ways to support local authorities to bring vacant properties back into use, and regenerate their areas.

Homesteading – where empty homes are brought back into use through self-renovation – has proven successful both internationally, for instance in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and also back here in the UK, such as in Benwell in Newcastle

Homesteading provides a triple benefit, it gives families a foot on the housing ladder, brings empty homes back into use, and it helps to regenerate whole communities.

So I can also announce today that we will work with local authorities to identify areas where effective homesteading schemes could be delivered to rejuvenate local communities.

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