Frustration over town's empty houses

HOUSING chiefs today claimed flawed government legislation had prevented officials from using powers to seize unoccupied private homes in Ipswich.

HOUSING chiefs today claimed flawed government legislation had prevented officials from using powers to seize unoccupied private homes in Ipswich.

An estimated 2,000 houses currently sit empty in the borough - at the same time, around 3,000 applicants are listed on the council's waiting lists.

The government introduced new powers - Empty Dwelling Management Orders - three years ago, allowing town halls to take over and manage vacant properties.

However, the orders have so far only been used 17 times across the entire country, prompting housing minister Margaret Beckett to call for action.

But today, Ipswich housing portfolio holder Steven Wells said, despite the council's best efforts, the orders were particularly difficult to enforce.

He said: “We expressed an interest in using the legislation when it was first introduced.

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“The concept is good, but there is a flaw. If the landlord or owner says they have plans for the property, if they are planning to sell or if they claim they will develop the premises, the legislation won't allow us to do anything.

“We can go back six months later and they can give us another excuse, but there is still nothing we can do.

“Were it not for that error, we would have used the orders far more.”

Mr Wells said the council was pursuing “a handful” of cases where the orders could be employed.

Authorities have the right to manage the properties they seize, although the ownership does not change hands. They can then install council tenants, or make the homes available to housing authorities to draft in residents.

Mrs Beckett said it was important councils made better use of powers to help ease housing waiting lists, improve estates and reduce the safety concerns of families worried about yobbish behaviour.

She said: “Empty homes blight local neighbourhoods and can potentially attract anti-social behaviour.

“That is why councils must do all they can to bring empty homes in their area back into use.”

Should the council take over the management of vacant houses? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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