Colchester/Tendring: Empty homes crisis

The town’s MP Sir Bob Russell said the government needs to put more pressure on local authorities to house residents in empty homes instead of building new developments on greenfield sites.

He also said the number of empty houses in Colchester is equivalent to the number of new dwellings planned for the fields in Mile End, which he said would be “a planning and environmental disaster.”

Figures from the department show that the number of vacant properties in the town, both private and council owned, has increased from 1,888 in 2010 to 2,024 in October 2011. A total of 591 have been vacant for six months or more.

Sir Bob’s comments were made during Questions to the Department of Communities and Local Government at the House of Commons this week. They also coincide with Channel 4’s The Great British Property Scandal campaign which has seen a number of television programmes look at the one million homes which sit empty in the UK while two million families are in need of a decent home.

In Tendring the figure is slightly higher, with 2,419 currently standing empty compared to 2,461 in 2010.

But housing chiefs say the high number of people waiting for state owned accommodation along with ever increasing town populations means there will always be a need for more developments.

They also said it was down to the government to bring in new legislation so that properties could not be left empty for long periods of time.

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Colchester council’s cabinet member for housing Tim Young said: “We bring about 40 houses back into use every year through our own schemes and compulsory purchases.

“But Mr Russell’s government needs to do something about it as well - we don’t have the resources to buy back empty homes. We need a national scheme, a change in the law, to help local authorities tackle this problem.

“We currently have more than 5,000 people on our housing register and Colchester is the fastest growing town in the country.

“We have a housing crisis and there is a need to build new homes even if the empty ones are filled.”

Tendring District Council’s housing boss Carlo Guglielmi said: “We put in an empty home strategy three years ago and the number has gone down each year since then so it is working.

“Some of the houses are empty for very good reasons - they might be holiday homes or because of a family dispute. You cannot force people to live or sell their empty house but we have worked hard to decrease the number.

“We still have to provide new homes for the needs of the district and the way we are doing it is by consulting with residents first to hear what they want beofre making any decisions.”

Mr Guglielmi said there were currently 3,000 people on the council’s housing register.