UKIP Wales Housing Spokesman, Gareth Bennett AM, today (Wednesday) called on the Welsh Government to do more to tackle the growing problem of empty homes in Wales, which are a wasted resource and affect the quality of life of local residents.
Speaking after a visit to the Salvation Army’s Tŷ Gobaith hostel in Cardiff, as part of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee’s inquiry on homelessness and rough sleeping, Gareth said;
“The latest figures show that there are still over 25,000 empty homes in Wales, six years after the Welsh Government launched its Houses into Homes Scheme. Wales is facing a housing crisis; we haven’t been building enough homes for years, and it’s a disgrace that in the UK it’s estimated that there are 7000 homeless veterans sleeping rough on our streets.
“With the number of households in Wales expected to grow by 10 per cent in the next 20 years, I’m calling on the Welsh Government to do more and use the powers available to them to turn these blights on neighbourhoods into family dwellings.”
In answer to a written question from Janet Finch Saunders on 21 November 2017, the Welsh Government confirmed that there were 25,202 empty homes in the private sector. This was a reduction of 1300 from the 26,528 homes that were empty on 1 April 2015.
In 2015/2016, 2938 empty homes were brought back in to use, a success rate of just over 11 percent. In the subsequent period however, success seems to have slowed down with around 5% of empty homes being brought back into use over the last eighteen months.
It’s sometimes been argued that empty homes are not always situated where people want to live, so simply bringing them back into use wouldn’t help to solve the housing crisis, but a look at the figures shows that this isn’t the case. Many local authorities with the largest amount of empty homes are in our larger urban areas:
Llanelli Online contacted Carmarthenshire County Council to find out how many homes are empty within the county.
The figure for Carmarthenshire is 359 empty social dwellings and 2665 private dwellings, a total of 3024 empty homes. Unfortunately the figures are not broken down more locally but it does illustrate the extent of the problem.
The council are sitting on some potential housing stock at Brynmefys in Llanelli and a local architect has stated that the site is suitable for social housing and could easily be reinstated using local labour. The site has been advertised as prime development land with affordable homes for local people.
Llanelli Town Mayor Cllr Jeff Edmunds has long been calling for the council to take on in house apprentices to repair and build homes creating local work and an economy which can be of benefit to the council and local communities. Rather than looking for innovative solutions to the social housing problem the council appear to be flogging off any and all land to developers and still maintaining that they have to cut council services in the process.
According to government data up to November 2016, there are 610,123 empty properties in England. Of these, nearly a third (205, 821) have not been occupied for six months or more, consistent with the official definition of ‘long-term’ emptiness. In Scotland, there are 31,884 long-term unoccupied properties, while in Wales there are 23, 171.
An article on the website of the London School of Economics concludes that a lot more can be done to find a solution to the shortage of social housing. The conclusion to their article states:
“The various innovations identified involve maximizing the use of available assets in the form of both physical and human resources. Some of these solutions, including the conversion of empty properties, cooperative housing, homes which can be incrementally built, and temporary housing indicate the potential to lower housing costs for individuals on low incomes. Others seek to draw on community resources and commitment in finding local solutions through the use of community self-build programmes and provide social value in enhancing employability, wellbeing and community cohesion as well as accommodating people on low incomes.
“Indeed, solutions may draw on several elements of non-traditional practice, depending on local context and community engagement. A recurrent theme is the value of collective action at a number of levels, including through community-led housing organisations and the mobilisation of public support. Such action would signal the need for greater awareness among the public of the structural factors that contribute to the shortage of affordable housing as well as the need for experts to work together across disciplinary boundaries in stimulating innovation.”