6,000 homes lying empty in Suffolk

ALMOST 6,000 homes in Suffolk are standing empty – while the county comes under increased pressure to find space for new properties, the EADT can reveal.

ALMOST 6,000 homes in Suffolk are standing empty - while the county comes under increased pressure to find space for new properties, the EADT can reveal.

The figure has emerged just days after an East of England Regional Assembly panel agreed the county should accommodate 58,600 new homes in the next 17 years.

It sparked calls last night for more to be done to utilise homes that have stood empty long-term - and ease the pressure for building in the countryside.

The highest number of vacant properties is in the Suffolk Coastal district, with 1,420, followed by Waveney with 1,408, and Ipswich with 1,373.

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Richard Ward, director of the Suffolk Preservation Society, said: "If this number of empty homes does exist then it is very concerning.

"Obviously the unused accommodation should be brought into use before we can even think about building any new homes."

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On Friday, the regional assembly's planning panel agreed that 478,000 homes should be built in the East of England by 2021, despite claims they would place huge pressure on the likes of the region's roads, rail, health and education provision.

Mr Ward added: "The priority must be to use the dwellings that are already there so that we do not end up with even more empty buildings.

"If new homes are needed then they should be built on brownfield sites so that we do not lose more of the countryside, which has been slowly encroached on over the last 20 to 30 years."

There have been nationwide calls by campaigning charity, the Empty Homes Agency (EHA), for the Government and local authorities to do more to bring empty property back into use.

Some local authorities offer grants to empty home-owners in areas of high housing need in return for bringing them back into use, while the EHA and Shelter have also lobbied for the compulsory leasing of privately owned long-term empty homes.

Dr Wil Gibson, from community development charity Suffolk Acre, added: "There is an issue about empty housing and I think the Government needs a clear strategy that local authorities can follow.

"I think there is a clear need for an empty houses policy, not just in Suffolk but for the country as a whole. You can't take these things out of the national picture.

"The issue needs to be looked at in detail so we don't get a simplistic response that will cause more problems in the future."

Councillor Dale Jackson, leader of Ipswich Borough Council, which has 1,373 empty homes, agreed that housing was a problem and that the authority would be looking into the matter.

"We have always had trouble with housing in Ipswich over the years and empty housing is one area that we will be looking at in the future," he said.

"We don't have a lot of room in the borough left for more housing as it is so we will definitely be discussing the situation."

Mr Jackson suggested that one answer would be to mix residential and commercial properties together.

"I'm a great believer in having a mix of housing, cafes and retail all together and would like to see it happen in Ipswich," he added.

"At the end of the day we have to do the right thing by the people because it will be their homes that we are affecting."

But Suffolk county councillor Julian Swainson, who is a representative for the county on the Regional Assembly Planning Panel, believed there was little councils could actually do to bring empty properties back into use.

"As far as I am aware there are no longer any means for councils to bring empty houses back into use.

"The only power they have is over public housing that they own. They cannot control what happens to private properties.

"I wish they did because that would be a great way to address housing problems in the area," he added.









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