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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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Cumbria given £2m to help tackle empty homes problem

More than £2 million has been awarded to Cumbrian communities to help bring empty homes back into use.

Richard Stronach photo
Richard Stronach

The Government cash is part of £91m being invested across the UK to revitalise 6,000 empty and derelict homes.

Government ministers say the problem is “most acute” in the north of England and the money will tackle areas such as squatting and pest infestation, which have driven people out of communities. It will be given to social landlords and voluntary groups to turn around abandoned areas.

Carlisle will be given £128,000, Allerdale £113,000 and Copeland £49,000. The bulk of the money – £1.7 m – is being given to Barrow.

There are just over 1,500 empty homes in Carlisle and Amelia Morphet, private sector housing technical team manager at Carlisle City Council, said they got a lot of complaints about them.

“You get children going into them, and if the gutters fill up neighbours can be affected because their properties get damp,” she said.

“There’s fly-tipping in gardens as well to contend with.”

She said the city council has set out to combat the problem and, since 2007, has had a member of staff dedicated to the issue. The council is currently getting empty homes reoccupied at a rate of 120 a year.

Richard Stronach, managing director of H& H King estate agent in Carlisle, believes the Government has got its priorities wrong.

He said there was a large supply of homes to let in Cumbria, after the Cumberland Building Society and Your Move both joined the letting market. Mr Stronach believes the Government should look at the Canadian system and focus on helping first-time buyers who can’t get a mortgage.

He said: “As soon as the world economy took a bit of a dip, the Canadian government looked at the property market straight away and helped first-time buyers.

“The housing market there hasn’t even had a stumble. That’s why its economy is still strong.

“The Government announce these schemes to refurbish empty properties, or build new ones, but they are barking up the wrong tree.

“None of them change the fact that the banks aren’t lending money.”

Communities minister Don Foster said they were doing “everything possible” to tackle the “urban blight” of empty homes. “This [money] will bring people, shops and jobs back to once-abandoned areas, and provide extra affordable homes we so badly need,” he said.

“We have already made very good progress, but with thousands of people in this country desperate to buy a home and areas still suffering problems of urban blight we must go further still.”

Lack of affordable homes has been highlighted as one of the key economic challenges facing Cumbria.

Property industry experts believe getting empty homes back into use can play a part in tackling that issue.

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