Empty spaces above shops and offices in Flintshire town centres should be used to provide accommodation for the homeless, a politician has suggested.
Flintshire Council’s ruling administration has agreed an action plan to tackle the growing issue of homelessness in the county.
It comes after a previous report showed the number of referrals the local authority receives from families who are either homeless or at risk has skyrocketed to 1,715 during the last year.
Cllr Chris Bithell (Lab), cabinet member for planning and public protection, said he felt more needed to be done to encourage landlords to bring empty properties back into use.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting, where a local action plan was approved as part of the North Wales Regional Homelessness Strategy, he said: “I was reminded last week when we were looking at the draft Local Development Plan that the idea of bringing back into use of empty properties has been a long held ambition of this authority.
“In the town centres particularly, if you look above the shop frontages and offices, there are empty spaces there which are unused.
“It’s quite criminal really when you consider there are people sleeping rough and we can’t offer homeless people a roof over their heads that these places are going to waste.
“I’d like to see a greater emphasis on working with landlords to bring these properties back into use.”
The main priorities of the strategy include bringing an end to youth homelessness by developing specialist support for youngsters.
It also outlines proposals to ensure suitable accommodation and assistance is in place for people who have just been released from prison.
Cllr Derek Butler (Lab) agreed more could be done to address the shortage of accommodation for the homeless.
However, the council’s cabinet member for economic development said tracking down landlords who live out of county could be problematic.
He said: “These properties are ideally placed because they’re on bus routes and in key employment areas, but it’s mainly down to absentee landlords.
“They usually have a postbox in the Isle of Man or somewhere and they don’t seem to engage.
“Certainly national governments should be taking a greater role in this to allow us to carry out compulsory purchases.
“It may not be an easy fix, but it is a fix that can be done with a will.”
The Housing (Wales) Act 2014 places a requirement on every council in Wales to carry out a homelessness review.
The authority is exploring ways to reduce the cost of temporary accommodation after the use of B&Bs increased ‘significantly’ last year.
Cllr Bernie Attridge (Lab), cabinet member for housing, said: “The demand on the homeless service is growing and successful prevention is important to mitigate the risks of increased interim and temporary accommodation costs.
“Successful implementation of the strategy and action plan will rely heavily on Supporting People Programme grant funding.”
By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).