There are too many empty homes in Shropshire. Today we are calling for action

I have written about empty homes in Shropshire before, making the case that we have a worse performance than most other councils. This morning, the Lib Dem group on Shropshire Council is calling for the council’s empty homes policy to be beefed up. We are aiming to make positive and constructive proposals to strengthen Shropshire Council’s Empty Homes Strategy 2014-17.

You can read a quick reminder of the facts at the end of this post.

In procedural terms, we have “called in” the strategy, which was approved by Portfolio Holder Mal Price on 10 November. That means it will be debated at a special meeting of the Enterprise and Growth Scrutiny Committee at 10am this morning.

You can read our paper here.

We are saying that returning empty homes to use brings four main benefits:

1) Social rewards in supplying much needed homes for the people that need them.

2) Community rewards by bringing life to empty properties, especially in town centres.

3) Environmental rewards in reusing existing structures rather than new build.

4) Financial rewards from the New Homes Bonus and local expenditure from new residents.

We are proposing ambitious targets for bringing empty homes into use using local housing forums and a revolving “empty homes pot” of funding. We also make a number of technical recommendations.

We see don’t see our proposals as a definitive plan. They are a set of principles and ideas we want explore on a cross-party basis through a Task and Finish Group – that’s a committee that conducts in depth reviews of very specific matters. We need a few months of analysis and debate on the Empty Homes Strategy to get it right.

We need to tackle the growing number of empty homes in the county, including in towns like Ludlow. But we Lib Dems are not intending to launch a political battle on empty homes today. We just want to help get the policy right and ensure we can take stronger strides towards get decent homes for the people that need them.

A quick reminder of the empty housing facts

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 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%. 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. More on this…