Memorandum by London Borough of Camden
The London Borough of Camden launched its Empty
Property Strategy in 1996. Camden employs a full time officer
based in the Housing Advice Service, whose role includes bringing
empty properties back into use, compulsory purchase and liaison/development
work with private sector landlords.
Despite the high demand for accommodation in
the fact that property values in Camden are extremely high, with
the average price of residential property being £337,911
for the period April-June 2001
and the market buoyant, there were something in the region of
2,724 empty properties as at 1 April 2001, of which 2,143 had
been empty for at least six months.
The evidence and comments in this submission
relate to local experience only.
Crime, including vandalism.
Damage to neighbouring property.
Detrimental effect on neighbouring
Loss of Council Tax revenue.
Contributes to shortage of accommodation.
Contributes to increased use of bed
and breakfast accommodation by Homeless Persons Units.
Increased Council Tax revenue.
Increase in supply of accommodation.
Potential for additional affordable
Potential for Housing Association
Leasing Schemes, which reduce temporary accommodation budgets
and provide more suitable accommodation for homeless applicants.
It is hard to imagine why, in an area such as
Camden with its high demand for property to buy and to rent and
consequential high purchase and rental prices, owners leave properties
standing empty. Examples of reasons given, plus educated guesses
lacks skills/knowledge to manage property.
Complex probate cases, including
difficulties tracing beneficiaries.
Purchased vacant as investmentowner
can make profit without refurbishing and or letting due to escalating
Speculative purchase by owner who
lacks funds to redevelop and or skills/knowledge to manage.
Abandonment, sometimes due to age
Ignorance of options available including
grants and private finance.
In the case of partoccupied
premises, some landlords deliberately fail to replace tenants
and allow the property to fall into a state of disrepair in order
to get rid of regulated tenants paying fair rents.
No financial penalty for keeping
Budget 2001VAT reduced rates
It is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness
of the measures introduced by the 2001 Budget. In Camden there
has been no discernable increase in renovation of empty properties
nor has there been an increased demand for renovation grants.
It will be necessary to monitor the overall figures for empty
properties over a number of years to see if there is a general
The law as it stands does not act as an incentive
for owners of long-term empties to bring them back into residential
use because of the 50% reduction in council tax after six months.
While charging full council tax is unlikely by itself to dissuade
owners from keeping homes emptyparticularly in areas where
council tax charges are lowthe Housing Department would
welcome the option as an incentive to bring empty properties into
use and to increase the supply of housing.
As, however, this matter has not been the subject
of a decision by the Executive Body, it is not possible to comment
Compulsory Purchase can be an extremely effective
tool for empty property practitioners where owners are unwilling
voluntarily to bring properties back in to use. We are of the
opinion that the use of CPO's is an important element of any empty
property strategy. To this end, Camden is currently reviewing
its CPO programme. However, it is appropriate that such powers
should be used only as a last resort and in the public interest.
We note that CPO procedure is currently subject
to review and would make the following observations:
We welcome the introduction of a
comprehensive CPO manual and training for Compulsory Purchase
Officers, as recommended by the Advisory Group reviewing CPO procedures.
We would endorse the Advisory Group's
recommendation of the introduction of a fast-track procedure for
We would welcome the introduction
of measures to speed up and simplify the mechanism for resolving
disputes over the level of compensation. The accrual of interest
from the date of vesting means that local authorities can be faced
with paying very large sums in interest where there is a long
delay in agreeing compensation. A possible solution to this is
to allow the local authority to make an advance payment of up
to 90 per cent of its valuation immediately after taking possession
whether or not the owner makes a claim for such a payment.
Empty Property strategies
The priority given to empty property work and
the approach of a local authority to this area of work varies
enormously across the country, as does the nature and extent of
A requirement to draw up an empty property strategy
would focus attention on the matter, would encourage authorities
to take a corporate approach to dealing with empty properties
and would be a useful tool in assessing the position nationally
and achieving consistency.
We would suggest that there ought to be a duty
to produce an Empty Property Strategy, which could be evaluated
alongside other documents contained in HIP submissions. Boroughs
that achieve average or above average assessments could then benefit
through additional discretionary HIP allocations that would give
them the option of expanding this area of work.
The use of compulsory purchase should be a feature
of any such strategy.
Camden's Unitary Development Plan contains measures
to facilitate and encourage the use of empty property for residential
increasing the amount of land in
residential use and making the fullest use of vacant or underused
buildings considered suitable for residential development;
encouraging change of use to residential
in buildings that are surplus to requirements.
Such measures are subject to other UDP policies.
Camden is on the steering group of LAWNE, an
alliance of London Boroughs that seeks to co-ordinate and promote
regional mobility by allowing housing applicants voluntarily to
move from London, where there is an acute shortage of affordable
housing, to the Midlands and the North, where properties stand
empty due to low demand.
For some time, various London authorities have
been developing links with authorities in the North in order to
offer their applicants the chance to find affordable accommodation
that is either not available to them at all or that entails a
long stay in temporary accommodation first. We do not have figures
on how many applicants have been rehoused in this way, but can
advise that one London authority has rehoused 50 families.
This strategic approach to matching lowdemand
properties to applicants in areas of high demand is a good example
of how joint working can help provide creative solutions to problems
of supply and demand, allow greater choice to housing applicants
and reduce expenditure on temporary accommodation.
Private Sector Development Officer
37 There were 12,891 applicants on Camden's Housing
Needs Register as at January 2001. Back
Source: HM Land Registry. Back