It’s shocking that the level of empty homes in this county has soared while they have fallen elsewhere. In the last four years, the number of long-term empty properties in Shropshire has gone up by more than 5%. Nationally, the number has dropped by 28%. This woeful performance puts us in the bottom ten percent of local authorities when it comes to dealing with empty homes.
In the last ten years, the number of long-term empty homes (over six months) has gone up by 12% in Shropshire to 1,741. Nationally, the number has fallen by 32%. Once again our county is bucking the national trend by bumping along the bottom. The graphs at the bottom of this post tell the story of a failure of empty homes policy in Shropshire.
The council will of course say it is struggling with budget cuts. That is the same situation every single local authority in the country faces. More than three hundred local authorities perform better than us.
The Lib Dem group has called in Shropshire Council’s empty homes strategy to be examined at the enterprise and growth scrutiny committee. Unfortunately, no sooner had we called the strategy in, than the meeting was cancelled as some members found they had other commitments! We are awaiting a new date for the meeting.
Shropshire Council has adopted a policy of increasing council tax by 50% on empty homes, but only after they have been empty for two years. That’s in line with national rules, though I can’t help feeling these rules lack punch.
In September 2014, 5,286 households were on the housing register for affordable housing in Shropshire. Around 35% of these are unlikely to qualify for social housing. If we brought more empty homes into use, we could house people at affordable rents in the private sector.
We Lib Dems want the extra council tax to be put into a fund to help bring empty homes back into use. I think it would help if some of the £5.8 million New Homes Bonus for 2014/15 was ploughed into the fund too. We also want any homes that have been brought back into use with Shropshire Council funding to be let at affordable rents for at least five years. That way we can begin to do what the rest of the country has been doing successfully – reducing the number of empty homes.
The Council is creating Empty Home Action Zones. The first two have been in Oswestry and Market Drayton. The principle of the zones is great, but they are delivering just 13 homes – less than 1% of the long-term empty homes in the county.
In and around Ludlow, we have 107 long-term empty homes. There are 80 further empty homes where the property is in probate or the owner is in hospital, residential care, etc. This is provisional data but it shows that we have a problem that we need to address. There are also a lot of empty spaces above shops that could be converted.
I had a meeting with Shropshire Council officers last week to discuss what measures we might take locally to reduce the number of long-term empty homes. I’ll follow this initial discussion up in the New Year. We need to work towards an action plan. I don’t yet know what the plan would look like, but I know we need it.