09:05AM, Thursday 01 December 2016
As the council begins a consultation into building thousands of new homes in the borough in the next 15 years, new figures have shown more than 1,300 properties are currently lying empty.
Figures by the Department for Communities and Local Government reveal that, in Windsor and Maidenhead, in the year up to October 2015, there were 1,603 vacant properties.
The Royal Borough said this week there are 1,340 homes currently unoccupied.
The figure covers three categories – ‘empty’ houses, ‘long-term’ empty houses unoccupied for more than six months and empty ‘premium’ homes, which no one has lived in for more than two years.
From tomorrow (Friday), residents can comment on the Borough Local Plan, which seeks to meet a Government target of building 712 houses a year until 2032.
Royal Borough leader Cllr Simon Dudley said there was little the council could do to bring the empty homes back into use.
“In reality these houses are in private ownership,” he said.
Cllr Dudley said he had raised the issue with housing minister Gavin Barwell and hoped it would be covered in a new white paper. He said currently if a house is empty it is given one month’s free council tax but this was going to stop from April. And an additional 50 per cent of council tax is charged on ‘premium’ empty homes.
But Cllr Simon Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green) said the council could be doing far more to bring empty homes back into use. He said: “It’s ridiculous building on the greenbelt when there are already empty houses in the borough.
“When Liberal Democrats were in power we employed someone to focus on empty houses.
“No effort has been made by this council; they could be doing far more to help owners bring the properties into use. They can work with the owner and talk them through their options.”
He said improvement notices could be put on dilapidated homes and they could also be compulsorily purchased.
Independent charity Empty Homes campaigns for unoccupied homes to be brought into use for people in need.
Research by the charity found 76 per cent of the public believed their council should place a higher priority on tackling the issue. Charity director Helen Williams told the Advertiser: “The local authority should employ staff to provide advice to property owners for renting and selling their property in the area.
“Empty homes remain a blot on the landscape in too many areas and councils need to make the most of existing properties to meet their local housing needs.”
A spokesman for the Royal Borough confirmed that there used to be a dedicated officer working on bringing empty homes into use but now the role is spread out among the residential services team.
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