Homes empty as waiting list grows
THERE are currently 721 empty residential properties in Luton, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.
This is at a time when the town is suffering from an acute housing shortage with around 5,000 families on the housing waiting list and many in temporary accommodation.
A number of controversial planning applications to build on green space have been approved in recent weeks, with councillors citing the desperate need for affordable housing as reason enough to go ahead with the plans.
Rowena Fitzgerald, who lost a campaign against plans to build on green space in Butely Road, said: “If the council really wanted to provide housing for the LBC waiting list they would be endeavouring to make sure that all housing stock was available for use.
“The New Homes 4 Luton partnership has spent so much money on bulldozing through the ‘land grab’ of public open space that they would lose face and money now if they were to admit they were wrong to do this in spite of overwhelming public protest.”
Shaafa Zaidi from Blandford Avenue is currently campaigning against plans to build on the Barnfield College site, which includes plans for affordable homes.
She said: “I didn’t realise there were that many empty homes in Luton, it’s quite a shock. For the council to even consider building on green space rather than filling up these empty homes is ridiculous. I am very surprised. It’s frustrating.”
A council spokesperson said since 2011, 63 empty properties have been brought back into use with the council’s intervention.
The council has an Empty Homes Strategy to deal with private sector empty homes, an empty homes officer, and takes part in national initiatives such as Empty Homes Week to publicise the issue.
Of the 721 properties on the list, around 130 are considered high priority due to problems such as anti-social behaviour and potential for squatting.
The spokesperson said: “Empty properties targeted for action are privately owned and therefore dependent on their owner’s decision whether they wish to sell their properties or rent them out. The council has no control over this. However, where an owner doesn’t take action in relation to their property then we will pursue owners through our enforcement powers using compulsory purchase, enforced sale and Empty Dwelling Management Orders.”
The council’s empty homes strategy for 2009-2014 describes empty homes as “a blight on the community” and says their removal from the general housing stock increases pressure on overstretched housing resources.
Some of the ways in which the council works to bring property back into use include offering owners advice for repairs and offering an empty homes grant of up to £30,000 (match-funded by owners), to carry out repairs on the condition the property is handed over to be used by the temporary accommodation team for five years on a Private Sector Leasing basis.
There are currently four properties going through the grant scheme.
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Weather for Luton
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
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