In June, I wrote about the large number of empty garages owned by councils in London. Freedom of Information requests I put in identified 15,875 of them. But several councils didn’t provide figures, so the true total is bound to be higher. Since then, I have broadened my enquiries to the rest of the country and identified a further 61,325. They are listed below. Birmingham City Council tops the list with 4,149 – the majority of its garages sit empty. That brings the identified tally to 77,200. I suspect the true figure is over 100,000. Swansea and Lanarkshire councils replied to say they didn’t know how many empty garages they owned. Several councils did not reply. Many others said they had handed over their housing stock to a housing association or an arms-length housing management organisation. So the underestimate is sure to be significant.
Property Partner, a property investment company, has also investigated this subject. Looking at square feet, they calculated that if they were redeveloped for housing, a typical row of 10 garages could be knocked down and replaced with seven or eight homes. That was a conservative estimate, as it assumed only bungalows would be possible.
This waste of resources is quite unacceptable given the housing shortage. The Government should change the law so that local authorities have a presumption to offer for sale and redevelopment for housing, any row of garages that are empty. The new cottages should be traditional beautiful buildings and thus enhance the appearance of the estates where they appear – a welcome replacement for the ugly garages.
But the new rules should also go further. Often when garages are let, they are done so at commercial rates to residents not living on the estate. Sheffield City Council, for instance, has 1,532 empty garages. It has a further 1,073 garages let to non estate residents. Only 868 of its garages are let to its tenants or leaseholders. I suppose there is some benefit in easing parking pressure in the city. But most of the space is probably used for storage. Should the state really be competing with the private sector in the storage business? Councils should be told that there must be a presumption that commercial lettings be cancelled where redevelopment of housing is considered viable.
There should also be some gradual efforts to make available more of the garages that are currently used by estate residents. I concede this brings us into more controversial territory. The presumption should be that garages being vacated should not be offered for reletting where housing redevelopment is considered viable. Residents occupying garages where housing redevelopment is considered viable should be asked to vacate and offered the use of another garage on the estate if available. Where garage fees are below the market rate they should be gradually increased, over a five year period, until the fees are aligned.
What about the risk of parking congestion on council estates? Of course, that would need to be assessed. But in most cases that should highlight potential for more sites for new housing rather than of any difficulty. Often councils make no check of how many parking spaces on their estates are actually used. My council, Hammersmith and Fulham, only has the figures for those estates where traffic management orders operate. The total number of parking bays under TMOs is 2,894, while the total number of active estate parking permits on TMO sites is 1,780.
Other London councils which keep some records include:
- Camden has 2,191 void council estate parking spaces out of 5,096.
- Kensington and Chelsea 338 out of 803.
- Islington 907 out of 4,391.
What about the loss of revenue if the garages are knocked down? Obviously, this point doesn’t apply with the empty ones. But even if a garage is let than foregoing the £20 a week (or £10 or £30) would make sense if the land can be sold to provide a new home.
I would propose that proceeds of council receipts must first clear any backlog of capital works in the estate where sales have taken place – including any road repairs. There could also be, say, £25,000 from the sale to be allocated to Big Society Funds for local projects chosen by residents. There could be environmental improvements – such as tree planting, or providing electric car power charging points.
Sometimes a Council might decide to maximise its proceeds by allowing all the housing to be private. At other times it might negotiate a lower price but with a mix of tenures. Any social housing should give priority to existing estate residents. For instance, those suffering from overcrowding or those wishing to take up an opportunity for discounted home ownership or shared ownership.
It’s not only garages and surplus parking spaces that offer potential. Last month I wrote about unused, or underused, “tenants’ halls.” Then we have the rows of small lock-up store sheds (sometimes known as “pram sheds”) on council estates. Tower Hamlets Council owns 3,776 of which 2,320 are empty or in disrepair. Isliongton Council owns 3,779 again a majority – in Islington’s case 1,970 – sit empty. Usually, councils don’t charge separately for them and so don’t have any records. Supposing they wrote to their tenants, offering them £50 a year or £100 a year cut in rent, if they surrendered their (probably unused) pram shed? That would allow more space for attractive new homes. There is a large ball court on the estate at the end of my road which has been closed off for years.
These changes should be popular. Councils would benefit financially from the capital receipts for the new private housing and from the new social housing easing the need for placements in expensive temporary accommodation. Existing estate residents should benefit from their share of the proceeds and the aesthetic improvements. Most of all, those whose ambition for home ownership is currently frustrated, would welcome a chance to get on the housing ladder. So council leaders should get on with it. It would mean they could win votes while easing pressure on Council finances. The Government could make a start by including greater transparency over some of the wasted assets. But that will not be enough. Localism has its role but there must also be a legal mechanism to ensure these opportunities for new housing become a reality.
Over 4,000 empty Council-owned garages:
- Birmingham 4,149 out of 7,656
- South Lanarkshire 3,248 out of 8,102
- Dacorum 2,364 out of 8,000
- Nottingham 2,121 out of undisclosed total
- Hull 2,066 out of 4,681.
- Fife 2,053 out of 6,944
1,500 – 2,000
- Basildon 1,988 out of 5191
- Sheffield 1,532 out of 3,473
1,000 – 1,500
- Corby 1,229 out of 3,375
- Welwyn Hatfield 1,202 out of 5,275
- Bristol 1,174 out of 1,595
- Wolverhampton 1,140 out of 3,838
- Leeds 1,132 out of 5,185
500 – 1,000
- Slough 995 out of 1,663
- Gateshead 953 out of 3,741
- Stevenage 933 out of 6,573
- Dudley 895 out of 2,859
- St Albans 870 out of 2,311
- Central Bedfordshire 858 out of 1,762
- Norwich 813 out of 3,420
- Aberdeen 805 out of 2,029
- Milton Keynes 741 out of 1,874
- Tamworth 736 out of 1454
- Falkirk 729 out of 2,647
- Doncaster 729 out of 1,689
- Thurrock 700 out of 2,500
- Wrexham 687 out of 2,078
- Southend 649 out of 1,119
- Flintshire 629 out of 1,593
- Wigan 620 out of 1,547
- Kirklees 617 out of 1,711
- Sandwell 616 out of 2,690
- Leicester 597 out ot 1,214
- Highland 589 out of 1,784
- Oxford 582 out of 1,928
- Rotherham 577 out of 3,277
- Powys 540 out of 1,840
- Cheshire West and Chester 533 out of 1,427
- East Ayshire 524 out of 1,337
100 – 500
- Stroud 483 out of 681
- Luton 457 out of 1,720
- Cannock Chase – 452 out of 855
- Nuneaton and Bedworth 450 out of 1,429
- Stoke 442 out of 1,124
- Southampton 441 out of 1,483
- Sedgemoor 429 out of 1,243
- Ashford 427 out of 1,589
- Carmarthenshire 427 out of 631
- New Forest 397 out of 1,797
- Bolsover 373 out of 582
- Warwick 371 out of 1,858
- Canterbury 365 out of 848
- East Devon 364 out of 731
- South Tyneside 359 out of 2,524
- Vale of Glamorgan 354 out of 822
- Lewes 354 out of 707
- Cornwall 351 out of 2428
- Angus 345 out of 1,325
- Brentwood 332 out of 1,107
- South Ayrshire 332 out of 755
- Tandridge 321 out of 747
- Aberdeenshire 328 out of 2,259
- Caerphilly 321 out of 884
- Rugby 316 out of 667
- Hertsmere 287 out of 1,655
- Guildford 278 out of 1,850
- South Kesteven 265 out of 869
- Ashfield 264 out of 766
- East Riding 261 out of 1,900
- Dartford 260 out of 1,301
- Mid Devon 256 out of 1,110
- South Cambridgeshire 248 out of 945
- Northumberland 244 out of 1,375
- Charnwood 243 out of 823
- Swindon 239 out of 2,978
- Barnsley 227 out of 723
- North West Leicestershire 226 out of 367
- North Tyneside 225 out of 1,698
- Ashfield 225 out of 887
- Brighton and Hove 224 out of 1,066
- Lincoln 223 out of 1,122
- Mid Lothian 221 out of 858
- Reading 215 out of 1,056
- West Lothian 214 out of 1,779
- Kettering 212 out of 908
- Eastbourne 200 out of 674
- Dover 199 out of 903
- Waverley 193 out of 682
- Renfrewshire 184 out of 1,178
- Dundee 179 out of 580
- Broxtowe 168 out of 844
- Thanet 166 out of 354
- Harrogate 157 out of 379
- Winchester 148 out of 1,702
- Cheltenham 142 out of 682
- Ipswich 142 out of 298
- Denbighshire 141 out of 607
- Medway 141 out of 567
- North Warwickshire 128 out 1,093
- Darlington 126 out of 1,072
- East Renfrewshire 114 out of 149
- Selby 114 out of 372
- Wiltshire 113 out of 999
- Portsmouth 112 out of 2,265
- Three Rivers 109 out of 1,149
- Stirling 109 out of 702
- Bury 108 out of 251
- Derby 107 out of 821
- Adur and Worthing 105 out of 1,077.