According to the National Housing Federation, there are a staggering 8 million people in England with some kind of housing need. So given the scale of our housing crisis, you could be forgiven for thinking that we don’t have any homes standing empty. Sadly, you’d be wrong. According to Action on Empty Homes, there are at least a quarter of a million ‘empties’ in England and the charity has been campaigning since the 1990s to get these wasted properties back into use.
And it’s not only residential property that is not being used. Vacant plots and derelict buildings across the country are often considered local eyesores and could certainly be put to better use.
Last weekend, there was some good news on this – we hope. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced a 'Right to Regenerate'. This is a new policy that proposes vacant land should be sold by default - unless there is a compelling reason not to – and that in future it will be quicker and easier to transform unused buildings into new homes or community spaces.
The proposals would make it easier to challenge councils and other public organisations to release land for redevelopment – helping communities make better use of public land and give a new lease of life to unloved buildings. Public bodies would need to have clear plans for land in the near future, even if they are only for a temporary use before later development.
Since the existing Right to Contest was established in 2014 in an attempt to get land and property back into use, only 192 requests have been made and only one has been granted. This is because owners are able to claim they have future plans for the land in question. But at the moment this is open-ended. So with some sites left unused for years the government is keen to strengthen the public's rights.
It also wants to extend these rights in order to cover publicly-owned social housing and garages. The latest data shows that last year there were more than 25,000 vacant council-owned homes and 100,000 empty council-owned garages. Bringing them back into use could provide much-needed opportunities to boost the local housing stock.
We think the public should be given the chance to turn unused or under-utilised local land or buildings into homes or something else that would actively benefit their area. If you agree, you can respond to the consultation until 13 March.
Author : Maryanne Bowring
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