Council’s new proposed Empty Homes Plan (2015-2019) will build on successes of previous Plan

The timing of Empty Homes Week 2015  (30 November to 6 December), couldn’t be better for East Devon District Council’s Private Housing Sector team, which has been working hard to complete a new Empty Homes Plan.

The plan sets out how the council will help owners of long term neglected empty properties in East Devon bring their houses back into use over the next four years. The council’s Cabinet has already recommended adoption of the new plan and it will now go before the full Council who meet on December 16.

Strategically, the plan will act as a guide for the council’s Private Sector Housing team, who provide a vital service, working constructively with individual owners of long term empty properties, helping them to explore different renovation options for their houses. The plan aims to build on the success of the previous (2009-2014) strategy and will work towards rehabilitating the 467 long term empty properties that currently exist (as of 1 April 2015) in East Devon.

District residents are unlikely to be aware of the excellent results achieved by their council’s Private Sector Housing Service, which is why Empty Homes Week is such an innovative idea. It helps to raise public awareness of the number of empty properties that exist nationwide and the good work that local authorities are doing in delivering homes back to the market for sale or rent. In fact, over the past 12 months, 25 properties have been either sold or occupied as a result of East Devon District Council’s intervention.

Empty homes are a wasted resource and it is vital that the council has an up to date plan that will provide direction for the small but dedicated team at East Devon. They make sure that the owners of empty properties have access to good, practical information and advice about restoring their homes to residential use, which in turn helps relieve the pressure placed on both the private and public housing sectors.

The Private Sector Housing Service is currently actively investigating 35 cases of unoccupied homes, many of which are problem properties, typically in serious disrepair due to abandonment and neglect. Officers pursue the recalcitrant owners of these buildings and encourage them to take remedial action by putting them in touch with the various agencies and developers who are involved in property renovation - so that they can eventually sell or let their property.

The work is time consuming and difficult, as people are often reluctant to discuss their property predicaments, despite the fact that council officers are trying to help them realise the potential of their asset.

Due to the size of East Devon, identifying empty homes is a challenge, hence the council hopes that Empty Homes Week will encourage people to report empty homes to its officers  - as public support has been proven to help speed up the process of bringing empty homes back into use.

Councillor Jill Elson, Portfolio holder for Sustainable Homes and Communities, is a passionate advocate for returning empty homes into use.

She said:

The new Empty Homes Plan is a vital document that will lead the council forward for the next four years. It will guide the service and will enable the Private Sector Housing team to continue to build on the good work they have carried out to date. Collaboration with other council services is also proving effective in tackling these problem properties and we will continue to build on these shared efforts.

Private Sector Housing officers have a tough job, which involves identifying and pursuing irresponsible owners of empty properties. But what people must remember is that every empty home, which is restored to use, makes a difference to both district and national housing stock needs by providing a home for a family.

Bringing empty properties back into use nationally would provide the equivalent of one year’s worth of new builds. Better still, refurbishing empty properties is cheaper, faster and more sustainable than building new homes.