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No use empty

Steve Grimshaw imageThe issue of the UK housing crisis has been headline news of late. The debate rolls on about how to bring more housing stock to market. The Deputy Mayor of London, Edward Lister said that the industry needs to look at new ways of delivering homes in the capital. One of the suggestions is looking at how to utilise longterm empty properties.

Empty homes imageJoint research from the Halifax and the Empty Homes Agency has shown that 78 per cent of the public think that the Government should place a higher priority on tackling empty homes.

WHY ARE THEY EMPTY?

Properties can fall empty for a number of different reasons, such as a lack of funds to fix damaged properties that are uninhabitable, or people not knowing how to deal with inherited properties.

Over the past 10 years, £37m has been invested in No Use Empty.

Longterm empty homes are those that have been left empty for six months or longer. They can be brought to a council’s attention by notification from a member of the public, or through the council tax register and local authorities have a broad range of approaches and legislation that can be used to help bring them back into use.

THE KENT INITIATIVE

No Use Empty, Kent County Council’s housing initiative, has recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. The scheme, which focuses on bringing longterm empties back into use has been a great success, and is an exemplar model that could be replicated around the rest of the UK.

Empty properties are a vast housing resource that is often overlooked. The Empty Homes Agency suggests there are over 610,000 longterm empty houses in England alone.

Kent County Council wanted to address this issue locally, initially teaming up with the four local district councils in East Kent. Under the name No Use Empty they worked to identify and fund the regeneration of local areas by regenerating unused housing stock.

Since its inception in 2005 the scheme has grown to incorporate all 12 district councils and four West of England Councils including Bristol County Council, as well as providing a template for the Welsh Government’s empty homes scheme “Houses into Homes.”

The scheme is funded by a recyclable loan fund. No Use Empty offers interest free loans of up to £175,000 (£25,000 per unit), which are repayable in three years, to bring long term empty homes back into use. The loan is on offer to local developers and individuals, who are advised by a team of empty homes officers.

Over the past ten years there has been a total investment of £37 million into the scheme, with £5 million coming from the Kent County Council Empty Homes Recyclable Loan Fund. It is a cost effective scheme that is transferrable, with £20,063 being the average loan per unit, a small amount in comparison to the cost of new builds.

When No Use Empty began there were 9,000 properties identified as long-term empty, to date No Use Empty has now brought 4,289 homes back into use, and is looking to the future and how the scheme can be expanded further. The initiative has already added the conversion of longterm empty commercial and industrial properties to residential homes, as well as an affordable housing partnership to its repertoire. Furthermore, in the latest expansion of the scheme, Kent County Council and Shepway District Council have formed a closer partnership to introduce the No Use Empty Plus top-up loan fund. Shepway have allocated an extra £400,000 to the fund through the recyclable loan fund in order to top-up loans for larger projects in Shepway that need funding above the standard of £25,000 per unit loan amount.

THE IMPACT

The scheme is continually evolving, working with local district councils to determine the best way to identify and regenerate longterm empty houses, including the full use of enforcement tools to deal with the very worst properties.

There is a socio-economic impact to having long-term empty homes. Homes that have fallen into disrepair attract graffiti and anti-social behaviour. Bringing them back into use has a regenerative effect on communities.

Since 2005, No Use Empty has achieved a 42 per cent reduction in empty properties in the county. It was granted £8.7m from the total New Homes Bonus for Kent, The No Use Empty scheme not only answers a need but also shows that there is demand to bring long-term empty properties back into use.

People who have identified a long-term empty property can contact their Local Authority Empty Property Officer direct or the NUE Team, via https://www.nue.org.uk/advice/howwe-can-help/contacts/ Or call: 03000 41 41 41.

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