Region's empty homes shock

MORE than 25,000 properties are sitting empty in the east of England, new figures reveal - almost as many homes as in a town the size of Lowestoft.It comes as the Government's house building plans for the region require 24,000 new homes to be built every year - and amidst a worrying rise in homelessness.

MORE than 25,000 properties are sitting empty in the east of England, new figures reveal - almost as many homes as in a town the size of Lowestoft.

It comes as the Government's house building plans for the region require 24,000 new homes to be built every year - and amidst a worrying rise in homelessness.

Last night, campaigners urged the Government to do more to help bring unused housing stock back on to the market.

According to figures from the Halifax, 25,707 private homes in East Anglia have been unoccupied for more than six months.


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Suffolk has 2,021 empty homes while there are 3,463 in north Essex, with Suffolk Coastal and Tendring topping the lists for each county.

The Government's regional housing strategy for 2005-2010 calls for 24,000 new homes to be provided annually in the east of England.

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Meanwhile, it has also been revealed 500 families are living in temporary accommodation in Suffolk and classified as homeless, while there are 2,040 in Essex.

David Ireland, policy advisor with charity The Empty Homes Agency, said: “When properties are left empty it has a negative impact on people who live around them.

“There can be all sorts of problems with fly-tipping, graffiti, vandalism and arson. In addition if you live next door to an empty house the value of your property falls by 18%.”

Mr Ireland said the empty homes could be used to help the region's housing allocation and could prevent future development on greenfield sites.

“District and borough councils have a role to play in helping to solve the problem but I think the Government need to offer more support.

“For example they currently offer rewards to authorities that grant planning permission to build new properties and it would be nice if they offered similar rewards to encourage empty homes to be brought back into use.”

An empty home is classified as a dwelling which has been vacant for more than six months either because it is between occupants, undergoing modernisation, in disrepair or awaiting demolition.

Mike Eaton, head of housing and benefits at Suffolk Coastal, said the number of empty homes in his district represented just 1.2% of its overall housing stock, with the majority in larger towns such as Felixstowe, Woodbridge and Leiston.

“In terms of trying to address the issue we have been targeting long term vacancies, not just six months but several years, and trying to encourage owners to bring them back into use,” he said. “We offer grants, put owners in touch with the housing association to see if the agency can purchase the properties from them and also have schemes available to find them tenants.

“As a final step, where a property has been open for some time, we can enforce action to make sure it is secure and put into better repair.”

Nigel Brown, Tendring District Council's communications manager, said a large elderly population and a growing number of second homes were some of the reasons why the authority had a high number of empty properties.

He said officials were keen to see the return of long-term empty homes to the housing market as it could help with providing affordable homes to meet local demand.

“In recognition of this fact, the appointment of a single officer to deal with the issue is highlighted in Tendring Council's long term financial strategy,” he said. “However, the Government has not provided extra funding and the council has not yet been able to identify funding and therefore there are no resources available to take this further at the present time.”

Tim Young, chairman of Colchester Borough Homes and former council cabinet member with responsibility for housing, said: “I think it is important we establish the ownership of these homes.

“It is a problem that needs to be addressed as part of tackling the housing shortage and crisis in this region.”

A spokesperson for the Government Office for the East of England, said there were a number of initiatives in place for helping local authorities deal with the problems of empty housing.

Private homes in Suffolk and north Essex that have been empty for more than six months

Suffolk

Local Authority Empty homes

Suffolk Coastal 683

Ipswich 439

Babergh 363

Mid Suffolk 339

St Edmundsbury 102

Forest Heath 55

Waveney 40

Essex

Tendring 928

Braintree 801

Colchester 494

Uttlesford 475

Chelmsford 405

Maldon 360

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