HC Deb 08 July 1981 vol 8 cc390-2
4. Mr. Durant

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he proposes to take any new initiative to reduce the number of council dwellings which are empty.

Mr. Stanley

We have already taken a substantial number of initiatives to help local authorities to reduce the number of empty dwellings. These include the new improvement for sale scheme, the consents issued to authorities which wish to waive the interest payment for a period on mortgages granted for homesteading, the new powers for local authorities to guarantee building society mortgages, the consent given both to district and to county councils to sell vacant dwellings at discounts of up to 30 per cent. to priority groups—such as any first-time buyer— and the extension of subsidy to improvement expenditure on dwellings less than 30 years old.

Mr. Durant

Which councils have more than 2 per cent. of their stock empty? Which councils report regularly on empty housing to their housing committees? When the HIP applications reach my hon. Friend's Department, will he subsequently print the number of empty houses that they bring to light?

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend will be aware that in an answer that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) on a previous occasion, I listed those local authorities which had more than 100 dwellings standing empty for more than 12 months. I do not have the figure for councils that have more than 2 per cent. of their stock empty. However, as my hon. Friend will be aware, according to the last HIP returns that we received, seven authorities reported more than 1,000 dwellings vacant for more than a year. They were Manchester, Islington, Knowsley, Hackney, Southwark, Lambeth and Camden.

Mr. Ralph Howell

Is my hon. Friend aware that nearly 1,000 houses are empty in the county of Norfolk—more than 600 in the city of Norwich alone? What action will he take to ensure that these properties are either let or sold?

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend will be aware that we have given local authorities substantial powers to reduce the number of empty dwellings. I hope that in every local authority area the ratepayers and electors will exert the maximum pressure to make certain that such empty dwellings are either sold or otherwise occupied. If the Opposition took a different attitude on shorthold, Norfolk would be the sort of area where one could create a considerable number of additional dwellings at no public expense.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I called two Conservative Members in succession. I shall now call two Opposition Members.

Mr. Sever

Will the Minister admit that he has lost control of the situation? Why will he not be frank with the House and explain that the policies that the Government are pursuing and the arguments that he has put forward are not filling the void of empty houses in many local authority areas? Is not that due primarily to lack of initiative and support from the Conservative Administration?

Mr. Stanley

The primary difficulty is that certain local authorities would rather keep dwellings empty than sell them.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Has the Minister considered the analysis of HIP returns published in the July issue of the housing magazine "Roof"? While it is true that 2 per cent. of local authority dwellings are standing empty, 4 per cent. of dwellings in the private sector are standing empty. Has the hon. Gentleman also observed that of the 23,000 local authority dwellings that have stood empty for more than a year, 15,000—or 64 per cent.—are awaiting repair? Is not the Government's policy of cutting housing expenditure to local authorities contributing to the existence of empty property?

Mr. Stanley

I cannot accept that a local authority is justified in keeping a dwelling empty simply because it needs to be repaired, given that the Conservative-controlled GLC had enormous success when it sold empty dwellings for homesteading to many of those in housing need in London. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the number of dwellings empty in the private sector. I should be grateful for his wholehearted support in ensuring the rescinding of the irresponsible commitment to repeal shorthold given by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman).