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Empty Homes

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 5th September 2011.

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Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard Conservative, Blackpool North and Cleveleys 2:30 pm, 5th September 2011

What steps his Department is taking to reduce the number of empty homes.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government

We have put in place powerful tools and incentives to support local communities in tackling empty homes. Particularly through the new homes bonus, communities will receive a direct financial reward for bringing an empty home back into use, and, of course, we are investing £100 million in tackling empty homes directly.

Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard Conservative, Blackpool North and Cleveleys

With more than 2,000 empty homes across the Blackpool and Wyre boroughs covering my constituency, does the Minister agree that tackling the relatively simple issue of filling empty homes in urban areas would reduce pressure on existing greenfield and green belt sites?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is a scandal that we have in this country 300,000 homes that have been empty for longer than six months. In Blackpool and Wyre, the number of empty homes actually fell last year, and I want to give credit to the work of Blackpool council’s working group, which is working with other agencies to reduce that number. However, the investment that we will announce later this month will make a big difference to the figures nationally, and, I hope, in his area.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I draw the House’s attention to my previous declarations of an indirect interest, which are a matter of record.

Although I welcome all attempts to bring empty homes back into use—I saw some excellent examples during the recess of self-help schemes that do just that, including in Leeds and Hull—homelessness and rent have increased, as the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, admitted over the weekend. It was therefore surprising that his colleague, the Housing and Local Government Minister, wrote to me during the recess to seek my guidance and ideas from Labour’s policy thinking. That was from a man who pointed out that the shadow Minister was going to—

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I just thought that that would be an interesting point, Mr Speaker.

Even with the net addition of empty homes being brought back into use, can the Minister tell us when he expects house building under his Government to exceed the 207,000 net additions achieved under Labour in the year before the recession hit?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government

What I will say is that our investment in social housing, which we announced in the comprehensive spending review with the aim of delivering 150,000 homes, will in fact deliver 170,000 homes. That is a massive success which will increase the stock of social housing above and beyond Labour’s targets.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

Will my hon. Friend put pressure on his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence to see how they can bring back the many hundreds—if not thousands—of married quarters that stand empty around the country?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government

I certainly hear with great sympathy what my hon. Friend says. We could perhaps have a discussion separately on how we can co-operate to deliver that result.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Leader of the Green Party

Could the Minister tell us exactly how many empty homes management orders have been used? As the number is not likely to be very high, does that not suggest that we ought to reform how they are used?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government

In the five years that empty homes management orders have been in force—they were introduced in 2006—only 46 have been made by local authorities across the country. That contrasts with the 300,000 empty homes, but they are the back-stop. I am happy to say that a lot of good work is done by many local authorities and other agencies to bring homes back into use. I intend to accelerate that process dramatically.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

I would like to encourage the Minister to pursue with vigour and enthusiasm the points made by Paul Maynard. There are too many empty houses, and if we can get them occupied, there would be a lot less pressure on the open countryside.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government

That is absolutely true. There has been a substantial failure of the market in bringing many of these homes back into use. That is exactly what our proposals, which are being announced later this month, are intended to address.