'Act on empty properties', council told as recession bites

7 January 2009

Radical proposals to ensure empty homes and properties are not left to rot have been unveiled.

The cross-party Sustainable Development scrutiny committee completed its inquiry this week after hearing from experts, community groups and residents between September 2008 and January 2009.

The report coincides with rising public concern over recession-hit chains leaving gaping holes in the high street and repossessed homes standing idle.

The committee noted a rise in residents' complaints about properties standing empty despite the council's good progress in issuing Empty Dwelling Management Orders, and is pressing Lewisham Council to do more to end the blight.

It added that empty properties can often attract anti-social behaviour, as well as affect the supply of housing and economic well-being.

Committee chair and Green Party councillor Sue Luxton said the council already has powers to deal with the problem but needs to start using them more consistently.

Under the committee's proposals:

  • Council staff would share information more effectively about empty properties, and use their full range of enforcement powers to bring them back into use, including compulsory purchase orders as a last resort
  • Owners of shop premises left empty by bankrupted businesses would be encouraged to make available to voluntary and community groups hungry for space, if commercial tenants are in short supply
  • Binmen could act as the community's eyes and ears by reporting when bins are consistently not left out, alerting empty homes officers earlyResidents would be encouraged to report, and those with empty properties given more support in bringing them back into use
  • Businesses would be made aware of the empty commercial properties database

Cllr Sue Luxton, Green councillor and chair of the committee, said:

"I hope the Mayor will take these suggestions on board. Long-term empty properties can be an eyesore and a real problem for people who live or work nearby. Lewisham has a good record in using Empty Dwelling Management Orders, but we need to up our game and use the full range of enforcement powers to bring empty properties back into use, and to improve communications between different departments within the Council that deal with empty properties.

"The recession is likely to mean a big increase in empty buildings and we need to think creatively and make the most of empty properties in a way that benefits the community."

The Experian credit rating agency this week warned that one in seven shops will stand empty by the end of 2009, as more businesses go under.

Notes to editor

1. The Empty Dwellings Management Order (EDMO) was introduced as part of the 2004 Housing Act, and means that Lewisham Council is now able to compel private owners to bring their property back into occupation or face losing control of it. If the owner refuses to act, the local authority has the power to take over the property and rent it out for social housing.

2. Section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 provides a local planning authority (LPA) with the power, in certain circumstances, to take steps requiring land to be cleaned up when its condition adversely affects the amenity of the area. If it appears that the amenity of part of their area is being adversely affected by the condition of neighbouring land and buildings, they may serve a notice on the owner requiring that the situation be remedied.

3. Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) - This is the strongest power available to local authorities in bringing an empty property back into use, and can only be used as a last resort. The power to issue a CPO rests with the Secretary of State.

4. The full report is available here



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