Councils to be offered extra training to tackle “blight” of empty properties

(Title Image: National Assembly of Wales)

Another committee report discussed yesterday as the Communities Committee inquiry into empty properties.

27,000 properties in Wales lie empty

Chair of the Committee, John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East), was pleased that nearly all of the committee’s recommendations – a national action plan, improved data collection and collaboration with social landlords – had been accepted or accepted in principle by the government.

The only sour point was a rejection of their recommendation to ring-fence revenue from council tax premiums for measures to address empty properties.

Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales), was critical of the government’s decision to only accept in principle recommendation on reviewing council enforcement powers. He called for Wales to consider the approach taken in England, where councils share empty property officers and also Scotland where communities have some say in how empty properties are renovated.

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) believed councils weren’t doing enough with the enforcement powers at their disposal:

Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) praised Rhondda Cynon Taf’s home loans scheme – which was picked up in the inquiry report – as an example to follow. Empty properties in the authority have fallen by 671 since 2017-18. Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore) later spoke in support of co-operative housing schemes and reviewing how compulsory purchase orders worked.

“We’ve heard the figures: around about 27,000 private sector homes are empty….When we compare it to the Welsh Government’s target for the whole five years of this Assembly to build 20,000 affordable homes, it puts it in perspective, just the scale of the challenge and the number of empty properties that are out there.”
– Shadow Housing Minister, David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central)

Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) noted that while empty properties might blight communities, there may be reasons why they’re left empty – such as difficult and lengthy probate procedures.

Extra training for local authorities

Deputy Minister for Housing & Local Government Hannah Blythyn (Lab, Delyn), believed the issue of empty properties was seen as being a “nice to have” when compared to key services like social care during a time of spending cuts.

The Welsh Government is developing a training programme to improve local empty property action plans – lack of expertise is one of the issues picked up by the Committee. She also believes local intelligence was “an untapped resource” which could be better put to use in the local action plans.

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