How many empty homes are on our doorstep in North Herts and South Cambs?

Britain is facing an increasing problem of homes being left vacant for long periods according to the

Britain is facing an increasing problem of homes being left vacant for long periods according to the Liberal Democrat Party - Credit: Archant

With councils being ordered to build thousands of new homes by the Government, the question of whether there are any alternative approaches to getting people housed is an important one.

North Herts lead member for housing, Bernard Lovewell. Picture: NHDC

North Herts lead member for housing, Bernard Lovewell. Picture: NHDC - Credit: Archant

Earlier this month, the Liberal Democrats started a national campaign citing empty homes as a crisis facing society.

In the party’s publicity, they pointed to dramatic figures showing that 60,000 properties have lain empty for two years or more, 23,000 for five years or more and more than 11,000 for 10 years or more.

The Crow has investigated the numbers of empty homes across our area to see if these figures play out locally and if they could be part of the reason why there are not enough houses around for people to buy or rent.

In North Herts, where the population was recorded as 127,100 after the 2011 census, the number of empty homes stood at 860 in October 2017 – when the latest figures were released – and the number of ‘long term vacant’ was 368. Long term vacant refers to those empty for six months or more.

North East Herts MP Sir Oliver Heald.

North East Herts MP Sir Oliver Heald. - Credit: Archant

The number is an improvement on the 1,099 empty dwellings in 2016 and 1,449 in 2012. In total, 343 properties were long term vacant in 2016 which has dropped slightly from 458 in 2012.

Just one of the vacant homes was owned by the council in both these years.

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But North Herts District Council has earmarked some 14,000 homes to be built by 2031 under its Local Plan, so the empty homes figures are a drop in the ocean.

The council does have a housing and homelessness strategy – which sets out the challenges for housing and homelessness in the district and highlights the council’s position on empty homes.

Councillor Bernard Lovewell, NHDC’s executive member for housing, said: “For many properties, there are legitimate reasons why they are empty, for example where an owner has died and probate has not yet been granted.

“However, there are a number of long term empty properties that the council is aware of where there are less compelling reasons for their lack of occupation.

“Our approach is to seek to identify the owners of such properties and to offer support and assistance to help them bring their property back into use. If this approach is not successful the council is prepared to use its enforcement powers.”

And North East Herts MP Sir Oliver Heald told the Crow: “There is a big demand for housing locally and NHDC have done a lot to try to find sites for new homes and to bring more empty homes back into use quicker.

“This is of great importance if local young people are to be able to find a place to live in and near their home town.

“The Government is doing more and more to try to tackle this issue.”

Over the county border in South Cambs, where the population was nearly 150,000 at the last census, the number of empty homes stands at 1,218 – of which 590 have been empty for six months or more.

The total figure is down from 2016’s total of vacants, which was 1,376, and in 2012 it stood at 1,623.

In South Cambs District Council’s Local Plan – which remains in the draft stage nearly four years after it was first put forward – 19,000 homes are proposed to be built by 2031.

Councillor Lynda Harford, the district council’s cabinet member for housing, said: “We recognise that every empty home has its own unique story and some are more difficult to get back into use than others.

“However, our empty homes strategy aims to get as many as possible being lived in again.

“We have already invested in buying 15 homes to help provide temporary accommodation for people in need and increased council tax to 150 per cent for homes that have been empty for two years or more.

“We always review our plan and policies regularly and will continue to do all we can to make sure as many homes as possible are brought back into use for the benefit of our communities.”

So, judging by the reduction in numbers of empty homes, there has been a continued effort made in getting empty properties back into circulation, but if you consider the the number of planning applications being made to both councils, and ever-growing council housing lists, it could be said that rather than fixing the problem, they’re merely scratching the surface.