Bid to end north Norfolk empty homes blight and help people find affordable homes near their roots

A two-pronged attack could help more north Norfolk people find affordable homes nearer their roots and jobs, ease the district's housing shortage - and end the blight of long-term empty properties.

A scheme has been drawn up to tweak the point-scoring system, under which homes are allocated on North Norfolk District Council's (NNDC) housing register, so that applicants are given greater priority if homes become available in an area where they have strong local connections.

And NNDC chiefs also want to tackle wholesale the problem of some 887 homes across the district which have been empty for at least six months.

They have drawn up an Empty Homes Policy detailing a step-by-step approach, hoping for owners' goodwill in bringing properties back into use, but including a range of penalties if they do not co-operate.

The new allocation system, and empty homes policy, will both be considered by Monday's NNDC cabinet with a view to recommending them to full council.

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Cabinet member Trevor Ivory said there was a sense of frustration throughout the district about the blight of empty homes which often fell into disrepair and became a health hazard, attracting pigeons and rats.

The council had formulated its policy based on a pilot project last year which focused on three long-term empty properties in Weybourne.

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Urgent structural repairs had been carried out and other improvements made, and one had been brought back into use.

NNDC chief executive Sheila Oxtoby said they had already written to 127 property owners asking what plans they had for their buildings. So far they had received 42 replies.

The council would be happy to advise owners on possible grants to help them repair buildings, but would also be prepared to get tough if necessary. Compulsory purchase would only be used as a last resource as it was complex and costly.

Anyone leaving their home to go into care, or with other good reasons for leaving their property empty, had nothing to fear.

Mr Ivory said at any time there were about 400 people in north Norfolk in urgent need of housing.

'This is not just about improving eyesores, it's about making best use of existing housing stock,' he added.

The proposed housing allocations scheme, which also incorporates changes in national legislation, would mean that once those in urgent housing need had been allocated a home, those with a strong local connection would be next on the list.

Mr Ivory said public consultation by NNDC had shown that people's difficulty in finding homes locally was a widespread concern and parish councils such as Blakeney, where there were a limited number of affordable homes, were especially keen that villagers should be given priority when any became available. If approved, the scheme would start in April.

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