HL Deb 02 February 1998 vol 585 cc99-101WA
Lord Alton of Liverpool

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many properties in the United Kingdom they currently estimate as vacant; how many of these are in the public sector and how many are in the private sector; and what consideration they have given to utilising these properties to meet housing needs as an alternative to encroaching on Green Belt land. [HL291]

Baroness Hayman

Information on vacant properties is not available. The estimated number of vacant dwellings in England in April 1996 was around 800,000. Most—around 650,000—were in the private sector, representing about 4.2 per cent. of the private sector stock; about 100,000 were owned by local authorities or housing associations, representing about 2.3 per cent. of the social stock.

The Government are keen to ensure that the best use is made of existing housing. However, not all vacant dwellings could be utilised as an alternative to new development. For example, about 45 per cent. of private sector empty dwellings are "frictional" or "transactional" vacancies, with properties lying empty for a short period during the selling and buying process. These vacancies are required for the effective operation of the housing market. Similar vacancies occur in social housing between lettings. Some empty properties are in poor condition and need renovating to make them fit for occupation. Some are in areas where people are not looking for housing. Some may be beyond economic repair, awaiting demolition.

The Government encourage local authorities to act as strategic enablers, producing housing strategies covering all aspects of housing in their areas and making effective use of existing housing in all sectors. The effectiveness of authorities in developing and implementing housing strategies is taken into account in the allocation of Government resources.

Nearly £800 million of additional resources are being distributed in England in 1997–98 and 1998–99 under the Government's capital receipts initiative. It is for local authorities to decide how best to apply these much needed resources to meet local housing priorities. Early estimates suggest that nearly 80 per cent. of capital allocations under the Initiative in 1998–99 will be invested in existing public and private sector housing. This is likely to include works to bring empty or under-utilised properties into use where they are needed. The Housing Corporation's approved development programme also provides funding to registered social landlords to carry out conversion and renovation work to bring empty properties back into use.

The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions have grant-aided the Empty Homes Agency for the last three years to work with local authorities to develop and implement empty property strategies. We have just agreed to provide a further three year grant to the agency to continue this assistance, to work with local authorities to bring more redundant commercial property into residential use, and to make better use of empty properties in rural areas.

The Government are also encouraging people to bring long term properties back into use by creating and sustaining the conditions for a healthy housing market so that people can either sell their empty property or have the confidence to let it out so that it does not lie empty.