There is a rule of thumb in housing. It is much easier to give permission to build new homes, most of them on green fields, than to bring empty homes back into use. Empty homes are a growing problem here in Shropshire where the number of homes empty for at least six months is increasing at the rate of two a month. We have a bigger proportion of our housing stock empty than England as a whole.
There were 4,460 empty homes in Shropshire last year, 1,654 of which had been vacant for more than six months. The waiting list for social housing stood at 5,227 households at the beginning of the year. One effective way of reducing that would be to take urgent action to bring more empty homes into use. But Shropshire Council seems to have given up on empty homes.
A paper presented to a recent People Overview committee shows that Shropshire Council has all but given up on bringing empty homes back in use. There are no statistics that show the growth of empty homes in the county. The only example it cites on council action is a property Market Drayton which dates to 2012. Paragraph 6.1 of the report says: “As of 1st January 2019, there were 1,329 long term empty properties in Shropshire.” This conflicts with government data which shows that the Shropshire had 1,654 long term vacants on 1 April 2019. A figure of 1,654 is more in line with the 1,615 figure given in answer to a council question in June 2016. (Long term vacants are homes that have been empty for six months or longer.)
The government data show that since Shropshire unitary authority was created 2009, the number of long term vacants has fallen by 15%. This would sound impressive if it were not for three uncomfortable facts. Across England over that period the fall has been twice as big – 32%. The number of long term vacants in Shropshire has been increasing. And we have a bigger percentage of our housing vacant than England as a whole.
The number of long term vacants in Shropshire fell to a low of 1,526 in 2015. By 2018, it had increased to 1,654. That’s an 8% increase. An extra 128 homes that people could live in. Again, this is based on government statistics.
The increase in long term vacants between 2017 and 2018 alone was 99 dwellings. That’s almost two extra long term empty properties a week.
We will work to get information about what resources Shropshire Council is putting into getting empty homes back into use. I suspect the answer is almost none. But the problem must be tackled. Sadly, Shropshire Council seems disinterested in the problem.