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PICKLES Eric smiling

One of Labour’s campaign message is that many homes – especially in London – are being sold off to foreigners who then leave them empty. The facts do now back up this claim – nor would Labour’s proposed policy response by legal if we retain our membership of the European Union. Rather less is heard about the number of empty properties generally. It has fallen rather sharply. In 2010 there were 737,147 empty homes in England. It’s now down to 635,127.What is particularly striking is the fall in the number of “long term vacants” – these are homes that are empty for over six months. Often they will fall into disrepair blighting the rest of the street. In 2010 there were were 300,000 – by last October the number had fallen to 216,000.

This is not just about statistics but the feel of the communities we live in. When I was elected as a councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham in 2006 the Conservatives took control from Labour. At that time there were 854 homes in the borough that had been empty for over six months. The number is now down to 268. Walking about people can notice the difference. There are fewer eyesores.

I suppose to some extent the restoration of many homes over the last couple of years is a sign of the general economic recovery. However it also reflects the impact of the New Homes Bonus. The rewards councils financially not just for the number of new homes built but for bringing empty homes back into use.

Since April 2011, councils have been allocated over £2.2 billion for delivering new homes, including bringing over 93,000 empty homes back into use.

The Labour Government had a different policy – the Pathfinder programme which sought to demolish homes, instead focusing on refurbishment and getting empty homes into use Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said:

“Empty properties can blight entire neighbourhoods, becoming a magnet for antisocial behaviour when they should be family homes.

So I’m pleased to see that the efforts we’ve made to bring these homes back into use have helped bring the numbers down to a 10-year low, with the number of long-term empty homes down by around a third since 2009.

This is on top of the wider efforts we’re making to get the country building, with 420,000 new homes delivered since 2010 – including 170,000 affordable homes.”

The number is still much too high. It still includes 28,000 empty council homes. While there has been a general reduction in some areas there are more empty homes. Labour councils in London are among the culprits. In Camden there are 595 empty council homes – up from 531 in 2010. Hackney has the largest number of empty council homes in London at 877 – up from 578 in 2010. Greenwich is next – at 735 up from 485. Then comes Ealing – on 640 up from 524. There may be some mitigating circumstances. For instance there could be some beneficial estate redevelopment which requires temporary “decanting” (as the bureaucrats call it) of tenants who will then be able to a better newly built home. But this would be unlikely to be a full explanation. It happens in phases and other boroughs are managing the process without a total increase in “voids.”

Furthermore Hackney Council, for example, has owned a large number of empty homes for years. It is not credible for them to explain it away due to some transient impact.

There really should be forced sales for council owned housing left derelict for years on end.

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