Usually it is better value for money to bring derelict properties back into use than to build from scratch. It is also of aesthetic benefit.As well as being popular. Those who would be NIMBYs towards some proposal for an ugly new block of flats would be delighted to see long deserted Victorian terraced housing in their district restored to its former glory.

Some progress is being made. According to the Empty Homes Agency there were 324,733 long term empty homes in the private sector in November 2009. By November 2012 it was 259,842.

One explanation is that the New Homes Bonus applies not only for new homes but long term empty properties brought back into use

As the DCLG Minister Baroness Hanham said::

Under the new homes bonus, local authorities also earn a financial reward for bringing a long-term empty home back into use. To date this
has provided an income to local authorities of £59 million for almost 51,000 homes brought back into use. Our reforms on council tax
flexibilities and the new empty homes premium will also allow councils to remove the tax subsidies being given to empty homes and instead use the funding to keep the overall rate of council tax down and support frontline services.

In Kent there has been particularly good progress. The number of long term empty properties in the county has fallen by 988 in the past year. (6,227 in November 2012 down to 5,439 last month.) The county council (concerned with regeneration) works with the district councils (concerned with housing) to bring empty properties back into use. It is called No Use Empty.

Sometimes enforcement is used, where there is a real eyesore but the carrot is preferred to the stick.

Mostly it is just advice – putting the owner in touch with a local auctioneers. Or there might some modest help – paying the auction fees or dealing with the admin. This is often useful for those who live outside the area. The county council also offers interest free loans to restore properties. These are paid back when the property is sold. So far 455 empty properties have been restored and sold due to these loans. Another 3,000 properties have been brought back with just a bit of nudging and some more modest help.

There is some cost to the Council Taxpayers of Kent. A couple of staff are employed to run the scheme. Also if at any given time Kent County Council is borrowing money – perhaps £3 million – and then lending it interest free, that is also a cost. However the New Homes Bonus offsets that. It’s worth six years Council Tax for each new home. In Kent the districts get 80 per cent and Kent County Council 20 per cent. Even so that is a significant sum. Then there is the impact on Business Rates to consider. Dealing with derelict properties is an effective way to regenerate an area. Councils now have an incentive to encourage economic growth.

Tackling the problem of derelict empty homes is about fighting crime and improving the environment as well as providing more jobs and housing. It is something as Conservatives we should proud of. This is something where the Government is making a difference. We should also be proud of Conservative-run Kent County Council working with such Conservative-run district councils as Thanet, Dover and Dartford.

A great success story. There is also a national Empty Homes Loan Fund. The trouble with that is the limit of £15,000. That isn’t enough for the really derelict properties. The KCC scheme would allow loans of up to £175,000 for some large scale work.


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