As of January this year, there were 761 dwellings in the borough that had been vacant for more than six months – 45 of which had been unoccupied for over five years, and 29 for in excess of a decade.
South Ribble Borough Council’s cabinet has now approved a revised plan to help deal with the issue.
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The authority will continue its existing efforts to reduce the number of empty homes in the area, which initially include offering owners practical advice about repairing properties and securing occupants – and pointing out the financial benefits of doing so.
They are just the first steps in a phased approach, which, after six years of a home being vacant, could ultimately see the council use enforcement powers to compulsorily purchase a property, force the owner to sell it or even order its demolition if it is deemed beyond repair.
However, at an earlier stage, the borough will now also consider providing grants worth £4,500 per bedroom as an incentive to renovate run-down homes. The move could be made to target the most troublesome empty properties – in need of the most substantial repairs – once they have been vacant for at least 12 months.
Conditions would be attached to the cash, meaning that the owner would have to choose from one of three tenants to occupy the property, as nominated by the council. The residences would also have to be let for at least five years after renovation at a rent that would be affordable to those receiving housing benefit.
Only those homes in council tax bands A to D and not currently considered habitable would be eligible for the funding.
Deputy council leader Mick Titherington told a cabinet meeting that the causes of properties becoming empty were “many and varied – and the reasons that they stay empty for long periods can be complicated”. He added that taking legal action against owners was costly for the council both in time and money.
The authority’s chief executive, Gary Hall, said that he expected the grants to be used to deal with the kind of “thorny issues” involving properties causing particular problems, which “come along infrequently”.
“Many assets, while empty, aren’t a blight – [and] it’s really complex persuading people that their home is a blight,” Mr. Hall added.
An initial budget of £39,000 is available for the grants, which papers presented to the council stated could have to be “topped up” depending on demand.
The changes to the council’s policy came in response to the demise of the charity Methodist Action North West, with which the authority had worked to bring 34 properties back into use since 2013.
The revised document states that action taken over empty homes will be “proportional” and based on each individual case.
Last year, the authority imposed council tax premiums on vacant properties and also removed a council tax discount on second homes in the borough.