Memorandum by Empty Homes Agency (AFH
The Empty Homes Agency is an independent campaigning
charity that seeks to raise awareness of the issue of empty homes
in England and to work with others to devise and promote solutions
to bring properties back into use.
2. THE DEFINITION
The Agency supports the definition of Affordable
Housing outlined in DETR Circular 06/98, that Affordable Housing
comprises of low-cost market and subsidised housing regardless
of ownership for people who are unable to access rented or the
purchased sector on the open market. We also support the guidance
outlined in Planning Policy Guidance Note 3, that what is considered
"affordable" should be determined locally and subject
to local circumstances.
3. THE ADEQUACY
We believe that there are three key schemes
that could improve the existing supply of affordable housing.
Around 85 per cent of empty properties are in
the private sector. Despite the excellent work by local authorities
to bring some of these properties back into use by combining grants
with subsequent nomination rights, there are still large numbers
of long-term empty properties in high demand areas where the owner
is not interested in taking action. For example there are approximately
1,000 such properties in Hammersmith and Fulham alone.
The Empty Homes Agency supports giving local
authorities a new discretionary power of compulsory leasing. This
is a move beyond grants and before the established compulsory
purchase order, and would be used where a property has been empty
for a substantial period and the owner cannot give a reason why
the property should remain empty, the property could be taken
over on a fixed term lease. The property would be improved and
nomination rights would be obtained for the length of the lease
for possibly homeless families or key workers. It is a win-win
scenario as the rent stream would pay for the capital works, the
property returns to the owner at the end of the lease in a better
state, and accommodation would have been supplied at an affordable
rent in a high demand area.
At the end of the lease the owner could be given
training on being a landlord or given advice on other lettings
options to ensure the property is still brought back into use.
This is not designed to be punitive but to show "accidental
landlords" the benefits to them of bringing a property back
The recent select committee investigation into
empty homes recommended a pilot of this scheme and the EHA urges
this investigation to consider a similar recommendation as a key
element of providing affordable rental accommodation.
Short-life is temporary guaranteed accommodation
provided by a housing co-operative. They provide excluded contractual
tenancies, which means that there is no judicial discretion and
tenants can be moved on if the co-op has up to six months notice.
This option is ideal for ensuring that empty properties are used
pending a demolition or regeneration scheme.
Short-life also provides more affordable rents.
For example: Brent Community Housing provide 75 per cent of their
short-life accommodation to key workers who would struggle to
find alternative accommodation.
Yet short-life does not have a high profile
in the housing sector but does represent a viable solution in
the short-term. The EHA urges the committee to make a visit to
a short-life provider to see the vital contribution that this
type of affordable housing can make in a high demand area.
One factor that the committee should consider
is the number of affordable homes in areas of low demand especially
in the north of the country. The EHA would like to highlight the
innovative work undertaken by Burnley and Padiham Community Housing
as it has so far offered affordable housing to 65 families formerly
living in London. They offered a holistic package including a
home, school, doctor and links to local employers. This movement
has freed up affordable homes in London for other families and
has created new local demand in a previously low demand area.
Although only a small part of the affordable
homes solution, it deserves some more attention. Can this supply
and demand be matched up together with job opportunities? How
can housing associations fund the initial work to make good the
empty properties? Is there a case for a national scheme to co-ordinate
such movement and where could pump priming funding be sought?
4. THE EXTENT
The EHA would generally encourage local planning
authorities to consider using "cash in lieu" payments
from planning gain agreements for affordable housing to be used
for bringing empty property back into use as affordable housing.
5. WHETHER TARGETS
The Agency believe that while overall targets
at a Regional and County level are useful, the actual provision
figures should be set at a District, Borough or City level where
specific figures can be set for these areas and be based on actual
site provision and knowledge.
In Regional Planning Guidance, the way the housing
provision figures are presented need to be more transparent. National
policy promotes making use of existing property as well as new
build, but the figures in the final guidance do not reflect this.
By not accounting for this means that there is no incentive to
address this issue in terms of numbers. Housing figures should
show what allowances for empty property (residential and non-residential)
have been made, and include targets for reusing empty property
along side the figures for new build provision.
Also where the HIPS
vacancy figure is above around 3 per cent, local authorities should
be able to make a realistic reduction in the new housing provision
figure where there is an empty property reduction, regeneration
or other such scheme in place to address this.
6. WHETHER MORE
We believe that rather than more Greenfield
development; better use of empty buildings is required. Latest
figures (April 2001) show that there is still over 750,000 empty
residential properties, and there are over 310,000 long term empty
property in private ownership. This does not account for those
in the private sector nor the potential from long-term vacant
To make better use of empty property would require
a significant change in the housing "sequential approach"
contained in PPG3
whereby the use of empty buildings and conversions is considered
before considering previously developed land, followed by Greenfield
While we accept that the reuse of existing buildings
is only a partial solution to providing Affordable Housing, this
would not only provide a more sustainable approach to development,
but it would mean that local authorities would have to start addressing
the issue of empty property adequately and use empty property
as a housing resource, rather than something to just make an allowance
for. This would place greater emphasis on making use of existing
empty buildings in both policy and practical terms.
41 Housing Investment Programme. Back
Planning Policy Guidance Note 3 on Housing. Back