Cash from housing developers will be used to tackle Preston’s empty homes epidemic, town hall bosses have said.
The new scheme comes as a report reveals almost 1,000 long-term empty properties dotted around the city are having an impact on the economy.
And as homes stand empty, scores of people are on the waiting list for proper accommodation.
Preston Council was unable to provide an exact figure on the numbers waiting for a home, while Community Gateway housing association refused to reveal the figure.
The council has earmarked an initial £400k to refurbish vacant locations, all coming from contributions made by developers hoping to build new sites.
It is the second measure to tackle the issue in the city with councillors having approved a stricter policy on council tax rates for owners of empty properties.
A report released by the National Housing Federation (NHF) this week has called for more to be done to tackle the region’s empty homes crisis, as the North West has the highest number of empty properties in the country.It reveals there are more than 7,500 long-term empty homes across the county, 990 in Preston and hundreds more in Chorley and South Ribble.
The council will use contributions from section 106 agreements – obligations agreed between developers and the local authority during the planning process – to fund their regeneration targets.
And “delivering an affordable housing programme focusing on the re-use of empty properties” is a priority identified in the local authority’s Achieving Preston’s Priorities policy masterplan, the town hall said.
Coun Peter Moss, cabinet member for planning and regulation, told the Lancashire Post: “The city council is currently seeking a development partner or partners to help it reduce the number of long-term empty homes in the borough and increase the number of affordable homes available to rent.
“The council is initially looking to use around £400,000 of funding received through contributions from developments for the delivery of off-site affordable housing to deliver this objective through the refurbishment of the properties.”
Empty properties can have a “devastating impact on local economies” and contribute to higher housing waiting lists, the NHF has said. However, charity and local authority bosses have emphasised that properties can become vacant on a long-term basis for a variety of reasons, rather than owners waiting for the right time to sell.
These can include owners coming to own properties through inheritance and not having the means to bring them back into use.
The NHF – which is a trade association for social housing providers – says housing associations could play a vital part in solving the issues.
In the North West last year, housing associations completed nearly 3,400 new homes and started work on just under 4,300 more.
Ciaran Tully, NHF manager, said: “It can’t be right to leave property empty when so many are desperate for a place to live.
“Empty properties in some areas are having a profound impact on local markets and those who need housing.
“What we need is a genuine commitment to ensuring good quality affordable housing is available at the right price, in the right places and for the right people.
“Building homes not only creates jobs, but also supports jobs in housing associations once they are built and adds money to the local economy from residents’ spending.“Housing
associations are doing just this but we now need the backing of key local partners to help us build in the right places, free up planning and help us to deliver the types of affordable housing needed most.
“With this support we can not only ramp up supply, but also begin vital regeneration projects, enhance infrastructure and bring empty homes back into use.”
The Community Gateway Association (CGA) is one of the Preston’s largest housing associations.
A spokesman said efforts are ongoing to transform “void” properties.
A spokesman for the CGA told the Lancashire Post: “We are keen to bring homes back into use and see the benefit that reducing the number of void properties has on communities.
“We are aware that long-standing empty properties can attract anti-social behaviour, therefore by letting previously empty homes we help to regenerate and improve our estates.
“A number of our Purchase and Repair properties were previously empty and have now all been let at affordable rent, helping to meet the housing need in Preston.
“The work involved in refurbishing long-standing empty homes, also creates employment opportunities for those that attend Preston Vocational Centre, our subsidiary organisation specialising in vocational construction courses.”