Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

current issue

April – May 2024 : Compassion READ ONLINE


Empty homes, but not empty promises

April 02 2010
The scrabble to win the hearts of housing campaigners ahead of the election has begun

The scrabble to win the hearts of housing campaigners ahead of the election has begun.

There have been no fewer than 18 major announcements on housing policy from the main political parties in the last year. This compares with none at all in the two years previously, meaning that housing is firmly on the agenda. "The current housing policy is bust," said David Ireland, chief executive of Empty Homes Agency, a charity working to bring empty properties back into use. "It's obvious that it no longer works and the target of three million new homes is pie in the sky,"

With the current system of grant allocation, it is cheaper to build new houses than it is to renovate empty ones, a situation which is increasingly problematic, since the recession has caused a rapid increase in repossessions

"Approaches to housing have been based upon a thriving market and making a section of new-build affordable. Although the market has crashed, the system is still in place," explained Mr Ireland.

The rush to announce solutions began with the Conservatives Empty Homes Rescue Scheme last February, which would see a relaxation of the grant system so that housing associations might more readily favour renovation over newbuild. This year, the Liberal Democrats committed to invest £1.4bn to bring 250,000 empty homes back into use should they win power.

"Whoever gets in, they're facing the same problems," Mr Ireland added. "For quite a long while, politicians have not seen housing as something they needed to comment on, but I get the sense now they feel it's something they will have to deliver on."

Spurred into late action, Labour last month responded to opposition pledges with the promise of £1m to help councils in 17 local authority areas bring empty homes back into use. This is coupled with a training program to equip 10,000 front-line workers with skills to tackle the anti-social behaviour that often is associated with empty properties.

Although not quite the sums promised by other parties, Labour's aim is different, and along action lines the Empty Homes Agency have been advocating.

"It takes quite specialist skill to bring housing back into use," Mr Ireland explained. "You can have all the resources in the world to do it, but if people don't really understand the process, then they can't really tackle the problem."

He is clear that whichever party approaches this task, they will have little choice but to shift the focus to bring empty properties back into family life.

Of the three main parties, Mr Ireland judges the Liberal Democrat approach as the most far-reaching, arguing that it is more tempered, and the party may have a real stab at some parliamentary power in the case of a hung parliament.

A combination of all three political approaches would see the best results, but given the determination of each to blame the other for the current mess, collaboration seems unlikely.

"We may end up with nothing," Mr Ireland concluded.