Empty homes in Ipswich fall to 300 in a year – but is the town still facing a housing crisis?

New figures uncovered through Freedom of Information laws found 296 properties in Ipswich have been

New figures uncovered through Freedom of Information laws found 296 properties in Ipswich have been left empty for at least six months. - Credit: PA

The battle to rid Ipswich of long-term empty homes which blight neighbourhoods and cause crime is being won after a Star investigation found the number has now plunged to under 300.

Council chiefs pledged last year to tackle the “unacceptable situation” of there being 500 long-term empty properties – described as being vacant for at least six months – amid “pressures for affordable homes” in the town.

The figure even stood at 750 four years ago but new figures uncovered through Freedom of Information laws showed that, at the start of June, there were 296 properties in Ipswich which have been empty for at least six months.

Long-term unoccupied properties “significantly” blight neighbourhoods, attract anti-social behaviour, vandalism and fly-tipping and render neighbouring houses “difficult or impossible” to let out or sell, Ipswich Borough Council (IBC) has previously said.

It warned in an Empty Homes Policy report last year: “If the council does not tackle empty homes an increasing number of houses will fall into a state of dilapidation and anti-social behaviour will increase.”

But last night, John Mowles, housing portfolio-holder at IBC, claimed a record number of empty homes are being brought back onto the market.

He said: “We are doing all we can to bring empty homes in the town back into use.

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“The council offers advice for owners, including grants, but will step in and compulsorily purchase properties as a last resort.

“In the past year, more than 110 empty homes have been brought back into use, which is a record, and the number is growing.”

Local authorities are responsible for monitoring empty properties and restoring them. In January 2013, the borough council launched a new scheme called ‘Report It Empty’, urging people to report empty properties to them so they could investigate.

Meanwhile, the research by the Star found two long-term empty homes have been vacant since 2004 and 10 have been empty for more than five years. Private landlords account for around a third of all long-term empty homes.

It also found that there are, in total, 1,186 empty properties in the town – a figure which has not significantly changed for two years.

There are around 3,180 active applicants on IBC’s council house register.

Claire Staddon, project lead for Emmaus Ipswich, a homeless charity set to launch in October, said: “There is an awful lot of support for getting people off the streets, but we do have a critical housing problem.

“There is a challenge between private rent and local authority rent and it is a dreadful shame that all houses aren’t occupied.”

IBC has a range of powers to tackle long-term empty homes. They can buy properties in very poor conditions and sell them to housing associations or developers, make a compulsory purchase of severely poorly-maintained properties and work with the private sector to manage empty homes.

Reasons why properties are left empty for six months or more can range from owners unwilling or unable to repair deteriorating houses to the owner entering a care home.

Speculation over investment potential and poor incentives for homeowners to fill empty homes have also been cited.