Homing in on empty houses

EMPTY houses in Huntingdonshire could be taken over to help reduce the number of homeless people and families on housing registers. The district council s cabinet will decide in principle to-morrow (Thursday) whether to take compulsory purchase powers if

EMPTY houses in Huntingdonshire could be taken over to help reduce the number of homeless people and families on housing registers.

The district council's cabinet will decide in principle to-morrow (Thursday) whether to take compulsory purchase powers if property owners do not make homes available for sale or rent.

Council officers are particularly targeting two homes in Huntingdon and two in St Neots, the owners of which have failed to respond to persuasion, but the principle could be extended to any home in the district left unoccupied for a long period.

Powers can be used only as a last resort, where there is no other prospect of a property being brought back into residential use.

If HDC decides to go ahead, it would have arranged in advance to sell the houses to either a private developer or a registered social landlord, such as the Luminus Group.

Officials calculate that it would cost £21,625 plus the purchase price to buy a home valued at £125,000 by the official district valuer. This would include £4,000 for a public inquiry if the owner objected to the compulsory purchase, and more than £9,000 in home loss compensation to the owner. Because the compensation is a proportion of the value of the property, the total costs would rise with the valuation.

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HDC says the four long-term empty properties have defied the best efforts of environmental health and housing officers to get them back into occupation.

"These properties are known to have been empty for many years and have gradually fallen into a state of disrepair," the council says. "The owners have been contacted many times to encourage them to repair the properties for rent or sale.

"They have also been offered grant aid, but apparently prefer to leave their properties as they are, unoccupied and in a state of increasing disrepair, some attracting vandals and blighting the local environment.

"Empty properties represent a wasted and depreciating asset that cannot be justified at a time when there is a shortage of social housing, a lengthening housing waiting list and increasing homelessness.

"Such properties can be put to good use, and the threat of CPO in itself may be enough to encourage recalcitrant owners to manage their empty properties actively or to dispose of them on the open market."

The cost of acquiring two homes a year compulsorily could be met from the council's existing "repairs assistance" budget.

"We don't actually want to use these powers," Councillor Deborah Reynolds, executive member for housing, told The Hunts Post. "We hope the threat of compulsory purchase will concentrate the owners' minds on doing something themselves.

"Anything that can help reduce the homelessness figures in Huntingdonshire must be worth doing."

HDC has halved the number of families in "bed and breakfast" accommodation in recent years. It is also helping to finance an expansion of Coneygear Court, temporary accommodation in Oxmoor run by Granta Housing Society.

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