Empty Homes (Hyndburn)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:43 pm on 13th December 2011.

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Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government 1:43 pm, 13th December 2011

The hon. Gentleman acknowledges that. In every square mile, some bits are seen to be more desirable than others and accommodation is more popular. That is not a function of the private market alone; it is also true of social housing, where estates are seen to be desirable, undesirable or less desirable. Therefore, we cannot have a one-policy-fits-all solution, and I think that we have common cause on that. I want to assure him that, as a fellow north-western MP, I am well aware of the market’s complexity and the differences even between places that are adjacent to one another.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s starting contention that the way out of the current problems faced by Hyndburn and other similar communities is to get the economy going again and ensure that we have growth and investment in industry and jobs. I am sure that he is aware of the Chancellor’s autumn statement and the huge emphasis that the Government place on securing those outcomes. He will also be aware of the Government’s central task, which is to bring our finances and our economy back into balance, so that growth can be based on secure foundations.

I think that we also agree that, when people need homes, the fact that we have empty homes is a scandal. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that his district has 36,000 homes and only 34,000 households to fill them. That makes his area distinctive, although not unique—certainly not in the north-west.

At the latest count, there were 720,000 empty properties across England, which was down by 17,000 from the past year. Around 279,000 of those are long-term empties, which are properties that have been empty for longer than six months. The number of long-term empties has fallen by a larger number—some 21,000—since 2010. That is the biggest year-on-year decrease since 2004. I am pleased to report those figures to the House.

According to the figures supplied by Hyndburn, it currently has 2,547 empty properties, which is a rise of 101 since 2010. It has 1,160 long-term empty homes, which is a reduction on the previous year—31 homes were brought back into use, for which the borough gets a new homes bonus.

The hon. Gentleman pointed out that empty homes can rapidly fall into disrepair. They can attract antisocial behaviour and certainly do not enhance the general environment of the neighbourhood. We need to make better use of them. That is why our housing strategy sets out a strategy for empty homes.

I have already mentioned the new homes bonus, which has now been running for two years. In the first year, the decrease in the number of long-term empty homes was just over 15,000. That produced a reward for local authorities of almost £19 million.