BBC Shared Data Unit provides major new empty homes data resource

The BBCs newly launched Shared Data Unit has already produced a major new data resource for empty homes.[1]

This shows great promise as far as future reporting of the empty homes issue is concerned, given the evident attention to detail shown in the data series and the clear intention to produce more meaningful statistics by intelligently correlating the raw government data on empties with other variables such as population.

Data is reported for seven years by individual local authority and also at higher levels of aggregation such as Scotland/England/Wales and shire counties. Percentage changes across the period covered by the data and rankings are also reported.

If one were to criticise the series produced thus far, it would be that it does not cross-tabulate with numbers of dwellings in the local authority area, whereas the cross-tabulations with surface area that are provided are pretty meaningless given the very wide spread of population and dwelling densities between wholly urban and wholly rural local authorities. The possible confusion created by using this measure is compounded by the decision to quote a meaningless 'maximum rate over the last 5 years' where the 'rate' in question is the rate per square kilometre rather than per 100 people. The latter would have had some relevance, the rate per square kilometre really none.

But this is looking a gift horse in the mouth. The figures in question - which have still to be examined in detail by us - are valuable indeed. This assumes the figures have been correctly arrived at. Certainly the figures for Scotland have been disputed . The Scottish Government has said it does not recognise the figures being quoted. It will be important to get to the bottom of the controversy. Because of different data collection approaches between the different constituent countries of the U.K. it may be that the wrong figures have been used in one place whilst other figures are correct.

The new BBC Unit involves shared expertise between the BBC regions but also with all local news reporting channels, as shown by the Brentwood story highlighted in our around-the-web post.


[1] Full members can easily locate these via our Information Library entry.
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I still haven't had time to really examine the methodology behind these figures, but Shelter in Scotland has provided clarification about why the figures there are being challenged. According to Gavin Leask of Shelter the numbers from the BBC Shared Data unit add together the number of unoccupied exemptions (44, 296) with the number of long-term empties (35,725) to get their figure of roughly 80k. Gavin suggests this also includes short-term empties (perhaps these are still subject to exemption in Scotland, unlike England).

Grounds for being positive remain, because (one would hope) the underlying ethos of journalistic integrity will mean the figures can be refined until they are as accurate and as meaningful as possible.