Empty homes are wasted resource

As brownfield sites continue to be snapped up by developers and greenfield sites come under increasing pressure thousands of existing houses sit empty.

The problem has prompted the Government Office for the East of England (GO-East), which has 25,000 privately owned empty properties on its records, to look into reasons why a significant chunk of the housing stock is lying empty.

The region’s housing strategy calls for 24,000 new homes to be built by 2010 and new build will put pressures not only on greenbelt land but also water resources and existing infrastructure.

In terms of energy efficiency using existing housing stock also makes eminent sense.

The flamboyant former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Maxwell Hutchinson, put it in simple terms at a conference looking at sustainable building last year (see related story).

“To refurbish one would take the energy of driving a car from here to Moscow and back,” he said.

“Knocking it down and build a new one uses enough energy to drive the same car six times around the world. It’s nonsense.”

A MORI poll commissioned by GO-East found, however, that the biggest single reason given by owners of empty houses for why their properties were still vacant was the need for expensive repairs.

The government office also informed the owners of the property of the services available to them such as grants or low interest loans for repairs and help finding tenants.

“The research gives a valuable overview of the reasons why properties remain empty and the support and assistance owners are looking for to bring them back into use,” said Dennis Roberts from GO-East’s housing team.

“Local authorities in the East of England can use this research to help build strategies at a local and sub-regional level for bringing empty properties back into use and provide valuable homes for the region.

“The research will also be used for the future development of the Regional Housing Strategy.”

David Ireland, local government advisor at the Empty Homes Agency said: “With huge demand for housing in the east of England it has never been more important to tackle the problem of empty homes.

“This survey gives local authorities some fantastic information which should help them unlock the potential of wasted homes and get them back into use for people who need them.”

The full report can be found on the GO-East website by clicking here.

By Sam Bond

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