COUNCIL AGREES ACTION ON EMPTY HOMES

The shocking number of new homes left empty in Southwark is finally set to be tackled by the Council after pressure from Liberal Democrats.

Figures released by the Council show that at least 536 homes in Southwark have been sitting empty for at least two years.  In 2012/13 the Council also stated that 2,668 private sector properties were vacant and of these 853 had been empty for more than six months.

An increasing number of these empty homes are ‘buy to leave’ properties when buyers, many of them living overseas, purchase new homes but do not move into them or rent them out, using them only as an investment opportunity given London’s ever-rising house prices.

‘Buy to leave’ is an issue across central London with many developments marketed directly to overseas investors.  The rocketing values of these homes also pushes up property prices across Southwark, pricing out many local residents who want to buy a home.

The Council’s own regeneration and planning policies are also contributing to the problem as they often allow any affordable housing associated with new developments to be built in a different area. The height, density and location of new developments allowed by council planning policies also appeal to luxury housing builders.

Last week Liberal Democrats called on the Council to explore how its planning powers could be used to crack down on ‘buy to leave’ properties in Southwark.  The motion to council assembly also asked the borough to tackle empty homes by:

  • increasing the number of existing empty homes whose owners pay council tax
  • backing moves to give local authorities new powers to charge extra council tax on empty homes and reduce the period a home can be empty before council tax is due

The proposals were agreed unanimously by councillors.

Southwark Liberal Democrat Planning Spokesperson, councillor, Adele Morris, said:

“Liberal Democrats are fighting for more affordable homes in Southwark. 

“While Labour councillors boast about building new council homes over the next thirty years, right now all that our residents see is luxury developments that most of them will never be able to afford. Often these new properties are left empty, not even helping to solve the chronic shortage of homes that Southwark residents so desperately need.

“As the local planning authority, there is so much more the Council could be doing. We need to stop relaxing our planning rules which allow more glass towers that simply become ‘ghost communities’ with no residents.  These developments are also pushing up the prices of existing properties beyond the reach of our residents.

“It’s time for the Council to crack down on empty homes in Southwark.”