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2,000 homes lay empty amid Stafford housing shortage

By Kerry Ashdown | Stafford | Property | Published:

New plans to bring homes back into use have been revealed after it emerged 2,000 are empty in Stafford.

A Google Street View image of the empty home in Lichfield Road subject to a compulsory purchase order by Stafford Borough Council

The number of empty homes in the borough has gone up by more than 300 in five years.

They rose from 1,680 in 2013 to 1,962 in 2018 according to figures presented to Stafford Borough Council’s cabinet on January 16.

In 2018 670 of these properties – 1.08 per cent of the entire housing in the borough – had been empty for more than six months.

Stafford Borough was also revealed to have a higher than average percentage of empty homes when compared to regional and national levels.

Around 3.16 per cent of the borough’s 60,580 homes were found to be vacant – compared to regional and national empty home averages of 2.67 per cent and 2.53 per cent respectively.

The borough council has vowed to bring hundreds of empty homes back into use in the coming years however.

An empty homes strategy spanning the years between 2019 and 2024 was approved by cabinet members on Thursday.

It includes a target of bringing 50 vacant homes a year into use during the five-year period.

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Councillor Jeremy Pert, cabinet member for community, said: “This went out to consultation last summer and there were no objections to the proposals.

"Long term empty homes can for many cause a bit of a problem, but it is not always the owners’ fault.”

The strategy stated: “There are two types of empty properties – those that are empty for short periods of time and problematic longer term empty properties.

"The majority of short term vacant properties are re-occupied relatively quickly and are necessary for the housing market to function.

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“These properties rarely require intervention to bring them back into use; they are generally reoccupied within six months.

"However, by encouraging early engagement with owners who do not have imminent plans to bring the dwellings into use, we will help to prevent more homes from becoming empty for longer.

“Longer term problematic vacancies are properties that have remained empty for over six months and usually cause complaints from neighbours or are detrimental to the neighbourhoods; they are the focus of this strategy.

"The council is keen to stop short term empty properties from becoming long term, problematic empties.

“Stafford Borough Council has invested in an Empty Homes Officer with the sole focus of bringing empty homes back into use.

“This strategy will focus on three objectives in order to achieve our ambitions in bringing empty homes back into use.

"These are to bring empty homes back into use using a range of advice, assistance and support; to use enforcement action on bringing long term, problematic empty homes back into use (and) to better understand why homes are being left empty in the borough and where possible, prevent homes from becoming empty for long periods of time.”

Cabinet members also gave the green light on Thursday for compulsory purchase orders for two homes in Stafford that have been vacant for a number of years.

Once the council acquires the two properties in Tixall Road and Lichfield Road it aims to sell them on the open market so they can be occupied once more.

Councillor Pert said: “The (Tixall Road) property has been empty for the past 13 years. The owner died in 2013 and we have made attempts to find the next of kin.

“If there is no decision made the property will continue to deteriorate and still be empty. We need to intervene.

“The Lichfield Road property has been empty for the last six years and has attracted numerous complaints from local neighbours. The only available option we can come up with is compulsory purchase of that property.”

Council leader Patrick Farrington said: “This is very much the final option available to us. We don’t undertake compulsory purchase orders lightly – we appear to have run out of options available.”

Kerry Ashdown

By Kerry Ashdown
@KerryAshdownLDR

Local Democracy Reporter covering Staffordshire.

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