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Empty properties are a blight on communities, and more should be done to bring them back into use

An inquiry by the a National Assembly’s Equality, Local Government and Communities  Committee has examined the impact of empty properties on communities and how local authorities can act to tackle a complex problem which requires dedicated resources and expertise.

On Thursday 10 October, the Chair of the Committee, John Griffiths AM, will launch the Committee’s Report on Empty Properties at the One Big Housing Conference, in Llandrindod Wells.

In its report, the Committee is calling on the Welsh Government to work closely with local authorities to develop a national action plan for tackling empty properties which sets priorities, objectives and targets for implementation.

Whilst local authorities should continue to support owners to bring properties back in to use, they should also exercise their powers to take enforcement action when informal routes fail.

However, during the inquiry, the Committee discovered that local authorities make limited use of the powers they currently have.

Taking enforcement action to bring an empty property back into use can be a lengthy, expensive and bureaucratic process, which is financially risky for local authorities, as there is no guarantee of success.

The Committee welcomes the recent establishment of a dedicated team by the Welsh Government to support local authorities, but believes further action needs to be taken.

John Griffiths AM, Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, says; “We are all aware of such properties within our communities and the nuisance and blight they may cause. Not only do they attract anti-social behaviour and contribute to a general decline in their neighbourhoods, but they are also a wasted resource.

“Local authorities have powers to deal with empty properties; but taking enforcement action isn’t straightforward. It is time consuming and there is no certainty of it being successful.

“In our report, we explore some of the barriers and suggest ways to improve the processes. Tackling the problem of empty properties can make a significant contribution to wider community regeneration; it can make an area more attractive and increase available housing stock. It is important though, to take account of individual communities’ needs and to ensure action is tailored appropriately.”

The report lists a total 13 recommendations, including that the Welsh Government should encourage local authorities to explore the impact of appointing a dedicated officer with responsibilities for empty properties

Carmarthenshire County Council, who gave evidence to the inquiry, already have a dedicated empty properties co-ordinator who focuses their time on tackling empty properties.

They do this by co-ordinating across the local authority’s departments to ensure a focused strategy for dealing with properties, and also by assisting people to overcome the obstacles which prevent them from bringing their empty properties back in to use.

Leighton Evans, Empty Properties Co-ordinator Carmarthenshire County Council;

“My role has developed quite significantly over the years, where we are actually providing some detailed advice, guidance and support to owners.

We offer and administer financial assistance.

We enforce anything from Housing Act basic or statutory nuisances right the way through to Housing Act notices, to empty dwelling management orders.

We also assist people with finding building contractors and agents to project manage these larger projects.

The responsibility lies across many departments: we’ve got building control responsibilities, planning, council tax; we’ve got public health services, housing.

And part of my role is to take a co-ordinating role and co-ordinate the activity of the local authority across those departments to ensure that we have a unified approach to these empty properties.”

The report will now be considered by the Welsh Government.

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