Central Beds councillor claims authority is 'best in the country' at bringing empty properties back into use

But a Biggleswade councillor asked the council to 'practice what it preaches'

By Euan Duncan, Local Democracy Reporter
Wednesday, 19th January 2022, 5:26 pm
Updated Wednesday, 19th January 2022, 5:28 pm

An average of 80 empty properties a year have been brought back into use by Central Bedfordshire Council during the last decade.

The local authority said in a statement its empty homes team rejuvenated 816 long-term vacant houses between 2011/12 and 2020/21.

One house which had been empty for 30 years was bought by the council as part of its commitment to prevent properties from falling into disrepair.

Central Beds Council

Independent Biggleswade South councillor Hayley Whitaker raised the issue with Conservative Dunstable Watling councillor Eugene Ghent, during open questions at a full council meeting.

"I'm sure you'll agree the CBC empty homes department do a fantastic job in bringing private properties which remain unoccupied for many years back into use," she explained.

"So can you explain why this council doesn't practise what it preaches? Why don't we bring our own empty homes, such as Top Field Farmhouse on Dunton Lane in Biggleswade, back into use, rather than letting that particular house sit empty for many years?" she asked him.

Councillor Ghent, who's the executive member for housing and assets, replied: "Top Field Farmhouse ... is that on some farmland? I'm not aware of that. I'll have to investigate and come back to you.

"You're quite right to raise it. We've a good record of bringing empty properties back into use. We're the best in the country to be honest.

"We bring more empty homes back than any other local authority in the immediate area and we're very proactive on it."

A CBC spokesman said after the meeting: “Councillor Ghent was sharing his opinion that he feels that this local authority is ‘one of the best’ based on our strong track record of bringing empty homes back into use.

"Between 2011/12 and 2020/21, the empty homes team brought 816 long term empty homes back into use, or about 80 properties a year.”

This refers to premises that are unoccupied for more than six months, its social care, health and housing overview and scrutiny committee heard.

The council's head of housing service Nick Costin told CBC's social care, health and housing overview and scrutiny committee last May: "The number of empty homes is increasing. The reasons can be:

> data quality;

> financial uncertainty;

> housebuilding targets;

> government policy and funding;

> being viewed as an asset rather than a home;

> and deaths and probate delays.

"Locally there was a 23 per cent decrease in housing which had been empty for two years or more.

"In 2019/20, 217 were brought back into use and 145 recovered in 2020/21, despite officers being committed to housing rough sleepers during the pandemic.

"That's whether by enforcement, the threat of taking such action, or help and advice for owners not knowing where to go."

Central Bedfordshire Council's lead on empty homes Janice Edmond said at that time: "Most long-term vacant properties are a real blight on the neighbourhood, while some cause damage to neighbouring homes.

"In one case, the council had to carry our repairs to protect a neighbouring house and then make an empty home management order.

The vast majority of cases are resolved through encouragement, help and negotiation.