How many homes lie empty in Norfolk?

Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The government has pledge to create one million new homes by 2020, but should we be using more existing properties which lie empty?

New houses under construction. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

New houses under construction. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Never before have David Cameron and George Osborne been pictured so much wearing high visibility jackets and hard hats.

That's because the buzz word in politics right now is 'building' with the government's pledge to create up to one million new homes by 2020 including 200,000 starter homes and only last week, the promise to directly commission 13,000 homes on public land.

Many developers will say just how the country's construction workforce can cope with this demand is going to be interesting - never mind the cost of actually building all these homes with the price of materials at an all time high.

What we don't seem to be focusing on is whether we can use existing housing stock currently lying empty and neglected across the country?

Last September the Empty Homes agency, set up to raise awareness of the issue of empty properties nationwide, launched its report Empty Homes in England with its latest analysis of empty homes across the country based on government data.

This showed over 200,000 long-term vacant dwellings (that is homes unoccupied for over six months) in England and over 600,000 total empty homes.

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Its chief executive officer Helen Williams said: 'The longer a property is empty the more our housing assets are being wasted in the face of so many people looking for a decent home at a price they can afford. Also, the longer a property lies empty, the more likely it is to deteriorate; the more it is likely to cost to bring back into use; and the more it is likely to be seen as a blight by the neighbours. Early intervention can help ensure that properties do not remain empty over the years.'

The agency's report gives detailed figures for local authorities across the country - but these as indicated in the quote above, do not necessarily just include council owned properties but all recorded by local authorities in each area. The total figure of empty homes (long term empty being empty for six months or more) for October 2014 was 11,209 in Norfolk and this has decreased from its peak of 13,529 in 2008.

A spokesperson for Norwich City Council confirmed it had recorded just 306 empty homes last October, comparing with 405 in 2014. 'This is where we focus our resources,' the spokesman said. 'As a council, we've been especially proactive in recent years, using a range of initiatives to bring empty homes back into use.

'Higher rates of council tax help to limit the length of time that a property stands empty but the more extreme cases of two years or more require direct engagement with owners, enforcement action and in some cases financial assistance to overcome barriers that are preventing the property from being re-let or sold.

King's Lynn and West Norfolk had the highest number of empty homes - at the end of June 2013 there were 2382 empty homes registered but last October, this had decreased slightly to 2293. Of the 2013 figure, 656 of these were subject to council tax exemptions/discounts, for example, those that were subject to probate and 1,026 were long term empty properties.

This council devised an empty homes strategy, part of which included sending a questionnaire to over 1000 of the borough's long term empty home owners to establish why they were empty and what could be done to bring them back into use. Funding was also secured from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) to

bring 40 properties back into use during 2012 to 2015.