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Agenda Item No

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Cabinet Meeting - 18th April 2012

 

Report of the Cabinet Member for Housing and Community Safety

 

Empty Homes Strategy 2012 - 2017

 

Purpose of the Report

1.             To adopt the Empty Homes Strategy 2012-2017.

Recommendations

1.             THAT the attached Empty Homes Strategy 2012-2017 be accepted.

2.             THAT the Vale of Glamorgan Council lead the Houses to Homes loan scheme on behalf of the Cardiff and Vale region.

3.             THAT the report is referred to Housing and Public Protection Scrutiny Committee.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1.             To meet a key objective of the Public Protection and Housing Service Plans.

2.             A lead authority for each region has to be nominated for the Houses to Homes loan scheme and the Vale of Glamorgan Council has the necessary expertise to lead.

3.             To ensure that Housing and Public Protection Scrutiny Committee monitors the councils performance against the Action Plan on a 6 monthly basis. 

Background

2.             The process of dealing with empty homes was reviewed prior to the development of the Local Housing Strategy (2007-12) in 2006 (C3376). The Local Housing Strategy (2007-12) concluded that the process was deemed insufficient for the following reasons: the service was reactive not proactive, the service provided was in response to complaints received, and there was no specific budget allocated for dealing with empty homes.

3.             The Local Housing Strategy (2007-12) concluded that a review of the approach to empty homes was needed and that a more effective and strategic approach should be developed, to include; the development of a Empty Homes Strategy, new procedural guidance on dealing with empty homes and guidance on the use and application of Empty Dwelling Management Orders.

4.             The Councils performance in relation to empty homes is monitored via the national performance indicators; PSR/004 Vacant Dwellings Returned to Occupation. The council performance is shown in the table below:

 

 

06/07

07/08

08/09

09/10

10/11

Wales

10/11

 

A. The percentage of private sector dwellings that had been vacant for more than 6 months at 1 April that were returned to occupation during the year through direct action by the local authority

0.43%

0.37%

2.05%

0.38%

0.67%

4.34

B. The number of private sector dwellings that had been vacant for more than 6 months at 1 April which were returned to occupation during the year through direct action by the local authority

3

3

15

3

5

954

C. The total number of private sector dwellings that had been vacant for more than 6 months at 1 April

697

816

732

790

749

21970

 

5.             In addition to the performance indicator, the Council has an agreed ‘outcome agreement’ with the Welsh Government. Under the councils strategic aim of ‘communities are vibrant and safe, with access to good housing and sustainable transport’ there is an objective to improve the quality of the existing housing stock. The specific actions are to: Publish the multi-agency Empty Homes Strategy and bring properties back into residential use with Registered Social Landlords by March 2012.

6.             Within this outcome agreement, targets have been set to bring 1% of empty properties back into use in 11/12 and to bring 2% back into use in 12/13.

7.             Improvement in the Council's performance, in returning empty properties to use, will require a joined-up approach between a number of departments and a clear approach to tackling empty homes and their owners.

Relevant Issues and Options

8.             The proposed strategy (Appendix 1) sets out the councils plans to bring empty homes back into use over the next five years. It outlines a coordinated, proactive approach to tackling empty homes in partnership with relevant council departments and stakeholders.

9.             Empty homes represent a wasted resource and a lost opportunity. The Vale of Glamorgan has a significant need for additional market and affordable housing; the councils Local Housing Market Assessment Update 2010 calculates a need for an additional 915 affordable homes each year over the next five years, and there are 1022 empty homes across the county that could be brought back into use.

10.        Empty homes pose problems for the council, the owner, neighbours, the emergency services and the environment. They are often a blemish on an area and can be subject to vandalism and unsightly graffiti. The council receives service requests and complaints about these properties and has to deal with pests, dilapidation, damage to neighbouring properties and hazards to the public.

11.        The aims of the proposed Empty Homes Strategy are to;

·               monitor empty homes

·               provide advice, assistance, and guidance to landlords and property owners

·               reduce the negative effect of empty homes on our communities

·               reduce the number of empty homes

·               return empty homes to use

·               promote the empty homes initiative.

12.        Through this strategy the council will target problematic empty homes that are: inactive in the housing market, unlikely to return to use without intervention from the council and are the subject of valid complaints from the public, partners and councillors.

13.        The strategy will not cover short term empty properties, such as: transitional vacancies, due to the property being advertised for sale or rent, properties undergoing renovation prior to sale or rent, infrequently used properties such as holiday or second homes or student accommodation.

14.        The strategy proposes a range of services to assist landlords and property owners bring empty properties back into use, including: advice and assistance, the services of a social lettings agent, Landlord Accreditation Wales, property guardian schemes, financial assistance and incentives.

15.        The Council has extensive legislative powers to intervene where they consider a property is unsafe or in an unacceptable condition.  These powers include: enforcement activity such as serving Improvement, Abatement of Nuisance or Prohibition Notices on owners; Demolition Orders, Management Orders, slum clearance, Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) and Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMO) under the Housing Act 2004.

16.        Enforcement in relation to empty properties falls within the service objectives of the Public Protection Service. Empty homes are primarily dealt with by the Council's Environmental Health (Housing) Enforcement Team in partnership with the housing department.

17.        In April 2012 the Welsh Government is introducing the ‘Houses to Homes’ initiative.  This initiative provides £5 million between the local authorities to bring empty properties back into use. This national loan scheme will be delivered through a local authority and the Welsh Government has invited interest.  At the time of this report, the nominated local authority is not known as the Welsh Government is in negotiation with councils who have expressed an interest.

18.        To qualify for the 'Houses to Homes' funding, local authorities have to work collaboratively utilising the six regions model. Of the £5 million funding available across Wales, Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s have been allocated approximately £750’000. The Vale’s share is £212,000 and this apportionment has been based on the level of stock in each local authority area. The funding is a one-off amount and there will be a yet to be agreed cut off date for it to be spent. After this time any under spend can be allocated to the other authority in the region. This would mean that if the Vale did not spend the £212,000, Cardiff could benefit, but conversely the Vale could gain if Cardiff did not spend all of its allocation. Loans will be available to owners to bring empty properties back into use for sale or rent that are repayable after 2 or 3 years respectively. The Vale of Glamorgan Council is working collaboratively in order to appropriately deliver the loan scheme and work is underway to ensure the scheme is available to empty property owners in the Vale of Glamorgan. A lead authority for each region has to be nominated to assist in the development and monitoring of the initiative at a national level and to disseminate information through each region.  Discussions have been held with Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan Council has the necessary expertise to lead.

19.        The strategy has been developed in partnership by the Council's Public Sector Housing, Public Protection, Legal, Council Tax, Planning and Development Control departments and the Council's partner Registered Social Landlords.

20.        Permission was granted by Cabinet (Cabinet Minute C1439) in September 2011 to consult on the strategy. Consultation lasted six weeks and ended 16th December 2011.

21.        Consultation in relation to the Empty Homes Strategy included;

·               Presentations to the Private Landlord Forum, Strategic Housing Forum and Overarching Housing Forum.

·               The Empty Homes Strategy and consultation questionnaires emailed to various council departments including Council Tax, Building Control, Planning, Environmental Health and Legal, and Registered Social Landlords.

·               Posters advertising the consultation and hard copies of the draft Empty Homes Strategy displayed in the Civic Office, Docks Office, libraries in the Vale of Glamorgan and the Members Room.

·               The draft Empty Homes Strategy and the consultation questionnaires made available on the Councils website and all Councillors received a letter informing them of the consultation.

22.        Five consultation questionnaires were completed and returned. These responses agreed with the aims and objectives of the strategy. No amendments were made in response to the consultation questionnaires received.

23.        Section 6 Resources sets out the actions taken to increase capacity to enable a more proactive service dealing with empty homes.

24.        The Public Protection department has identified efficiency savings from the Grant Agency Service in order to appoint a temporary Empty Property Co-ordinator within Environmental Health for a period of 2 years.  This post will provide support to implement the strategy and act as the public point of contact for empty properties and develop and manage public information on empty properties in our area. 

25.        The council will also seek the support of partner Registered Social Landlords to enable an Environmental Health Officer or equivalent to be employed 3 days a week to take forward enforcement action that will include Compulsory Purchase Orders. The Private Sector Housing Enforcement team will lead the implementation of strategy. 

 

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment and Climate Change, if appropriate)

26.        The Public Protection Department has identified £25,000 efficiency savings from the Grant Agency Service to appoint a temporary Empty Property Co-ordinator for a period of 2 years. 

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

27.        The legal implications have been referred to in the body of the report.

28.        The legal implications for each property addressed through the process identified in the strategy will be assessed on a case by case basis and will depend upon the statutory powers available to the Council which are in fact sought to be used on each occasion.

Crime and Disorder Implications

29.        There are only positive crime and disorder implications arising from the introduction of this strategy.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

30.        There are no equal opportunities implications arising from the proposed strategy

31.        A full Equality Impact Assessment has been completed on the Strategy.

Corporate/Service Objectives

32.        This report is consistent with the following Corporate and Service objectives of the council: Community Well Being - to make the Vale a safe and healthy place in which individuals, children and families can live their lives to the full.

Policy Framework and Budget

33.        This report is consistent with the Policy Framework and Budget and is a matter for executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

34.        The strategy was available for consultation for six weeks up to 16th December 2011. Five responses were received and these have been considered.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

35.        Housing and Public Protection.

Background Papers

Appendix 1 - Empty Homes Strategy 2012 - 17

 

Contact Officer

Jenny Lewington, Housing Strategy Officer

 

Officers Consulted

Elen Probert, Principal Housing & Pollution Officer

Sian Davies, Director, Finance, ICT and Property

Alun Billinghurst, Head of Public Protection, Public Protection

Tony Jaques, Head of Housing, Public Sector Housing

Mike Walsh, Lawyer, Legal Services

 

Responsible Officer:

Jenny Lewington, Housing Strategy Officer

 

 

 

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