Empty buildings are a wasted asset

Walk along Magdalen Street, Wensum Street, Pottergate and Duke Street in Norwich and you'll find buildings that have been boarded up for years. Parts of Anglia Square and neighbouring properties remain empty too.

Walk along Magdalen Street, Wensum Street, Pottergate and Duke Street in Norwich and you'll find buildings that have been boarded up for years. Parts of Anglia Square and neighbouring properties remain empty too.

Why is it that in a city which has experienced considerable growth over recent years, commercial and residential buildings lie vacant?

Vacant property can be an eyesore, spoiling the look and feel of the neighbourhood. It may attract squatters and can also become dangerous - a magnet for vandalism, arson and anti-social behaviour. It could be argued that empty property devalues its surround-ings and can prevent future development. For owners it is also a wasted asset.

There are, however, significant costs just to keep the property empty and there are also significant costs to bring the property back into use; often it is easier and cheaper to rebuild instead of renovating and converting.


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For residential property there is hope. Norwich City Council has a Private Sector Housing Team whose job is to identify empty homes that could be brought back into effective use. The council is currently taking part in a Government research project to find out why some houses stay empty for so long. It will then look at different ways to encourage owners to make these houses available and will prepare a new empty homes strategy for the city.

The Housing Act 2004 introduces new powers known as Empty House Management Orders. Yet to come into force, they will allow councils to require owners of empty houses to make them available for letting. Currently, the council offers a Housing Association Leasing Scheme, whereby a housing association manages the property and the owner is paid a market rent less management costs. The council also provides a loan of up to £10,000 to enable the house to be brought up to a suitable standard, this is interest-free and payments are deducted monthly from rent.

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Laws and powers are evolving for housing, yet the same encouragement is limited for commercial property, despite the fact that it is this that seems to dominate the city's vacant property scene. Some grants are available for commercial property but these tend to be confined to certain eligible areas and listed buildings.

Just as we need more houses, a city also needs a vibrant, attractive environment. Action to re-awaken former shops and offices from their slumber will benefit everyone in the long-run. Left to lie vacant, they are a wasted resource.

For impartial, expert advice look at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' website www.rics.org or call the RICS contact centre on 0870 3331600. For a free half-hour consultation with a local RICS firm about your business rates, call the RICS business rates helpline on 0870 333 1600.

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