Babergh/Mid Suffolk: There are more than 1,100 empty homes in the districts. What do you think should be done to get them into use?

A typical empty property: peeling paint, dirty, torn curtains.

A typical empty property: peeling paint, dirty, torn curtains.

Work to bring more than 1,000 empty homes in the Mid Suffolk and Babergh districts back into use is set to start.

The announcement comes at a time when first-time buyers can struggle to get onto the housing market as demand outweighs the number of homes available.

Mid Suffolk and Babergh district councils are both given government money, known as the New Homes Bonus, if they increase the number of properties in use.

Heather Worton, the councils’ interim corporate manager for private sector housing, said: “What we are trying to do is write to the owners – it’s an information gathering stage to find out if the properties are empty and to check the reason.

“We can then see what advice and support we can give to the owners to help them to get it back into use.

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“Sometimes an older person is in a nursing home and we ask relatives if they would like to rent the property out – sometimes they do not want to sell or maybe the property needs major renovation and there’s funding available for that.”

A target of bringing 400 homes back into use has been set for the period between June this year and March 2017.

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Currently around 1,100 homes have been empty for more than six months in the districts – a figure Miss Worton said could be lower after new council tax applications are taken into account.

She admitted there can be “complex” issues which delay or prevent the councils from getting the homes to the market. Each case will be assessed on its own basis but the councils have powers to take action if progress is not forthcoming.

“We have enforcement powers which can mean a compulsory purchase order if we feel there was a property that was not likely to get back into use, but it’s a very last resort,” she said.

“We are looking at it now because there’s a huge housing demand in the area so we need to look at these properties and try and get them into use because they could be family homes.”

Around £440,000 would given in New Homes Bonus money if the councils can secure their target of 400 homes. Suffolk County Council would however be eligible for a slice of the funds, Miss Worton added.

Babergh councillors have already agreed to the policy; with Mid Suffolk meeting on Monday to make a decision.

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