Channel 4 has been running a campaign as well as TV programmes about the number of empty homes in the country, The Great British Property Scandal. Among the shocking revelations was that Liverpool Council has an annual bill of £1.28 million for security on its empty homes. Why not sell them?
There is some good news. There are 400 empty homes along the North Circular Road which were belonged to Transport for London. They were bought in 1970 for a road widening scheme that never happened and were left to fall into disrepair.
They have been handed over to the Notting Hill Housing Trust, and the Homes and Communities Agency is paying for their refurbishment which should be complete in three years time.
The Empty Homes Agency says:
These houses have been a bete noire of the Empty Homes Agency for as long as we have been in existence. It was early last year that we persuaded the then newly selected candidate for London Mayor Boris Johnson to make a manifesto commitment to tackle this long-standing problem. He did, and he and his housing team should also take credit for the best news on this stretch of road for 39 years.
The EHA complain that for all these years those in charge "dithered and prevaricated without managing to make any decisions" on the North Circular Road empty homes. For 13 years, five as GLC leader and eight as Mayor of London, the Ditherer in Chief was Ken Livingstone. For Boris to have sorted it out is good news for Enfield and good news for those looking for home. I have included it as one of his top 200 achievements.
We should also be proud of what the Housing Minister Grant Shapps is doing. The New Homes Bonus applies to long term empty properties brought back into use. That rewards councils for tackling the problem. In the first year it has been paid for 22,000 of them. The Council Tax rules are being changed so that there is no discount for leaving properties empty.
But much more should be done over the empty homes that local government – and indeed central government – themselves own.