‘Concerted effort’ needed to bring Leeds’s empty houses into use

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A ‘concerted effort’ is needed to bring thousands of empty homes in Yorkshire back into use, campaigners have said.

Government figures showed 77,117 houses in the region stood empty last year - with 27,058 deemed as empty ‘long-term’, unoccupied for more than six months.

More than 10,000 houses in Leeds were empty last year. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

More than 10,000 houses in Leeds were empty last year. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

The figures showed 10,724 homes were empty in Leeds last year, the highest in Yorkshire - with 2,915 empty long-term.

But Leeds Council’s own figures for show almost double are currently vacant long-term - 5,491.

Coun Debra Coupar, executive member for communities, said Leeds Council was working with the third sector to make the most of the city’s empty properties.

In the past five years, the number of empty homes in Leeds has been reduced by 3,000.

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Within the local authority’s housing stock, the number of empty houses has fallen year by year since 2004, and last year stood at 413 - 3.1 per cent. This was also the highest in the region.

Coun Coupar said: “We always need some empty properties in Leeds as this turnover helps to keep the housing market moving. However, our focus will remain those properties that lie empty for more than six months and that cause a blight on communities.

“With continued investment, we can turn around empty properties to provide much needed homes.”

One of the projects working in the city is Leeds Action To Create Homes, which works with homeless people and volunteers to bring disused and derelict properties back into use.

As well as providing homes, over the last 19 years provided skill-building opportunities to hundreds of people using Empty Homes funding.

The charity Empty Homes said having a dedicated team tackling empty homes within the local authority is key to bringing the number of vacant properties down.

Chief executive Helen Williams said: “The number of empty houses remains persistently high, and the percentage of long-term empty houses in Yorkshire and the Humber is higher than the average for England.

“Now the housing market is more buoyant, you might expect it to be easier to sell properties - but many are still priced out of reach of people on social housing waiting lists. We are wasting these homes, and local authorities should have strategies to bring them back into use.

“These figures provide a snap-shot, some may have been brought back into use by now, but a concerted effort is needed to bring more into use.”

Wakefield had 4,318 empty homes last year, 1,402 of which had been empty for more than six months.

The number of empty homes is revealed after David Cameron unveiled a major expansion of the shared-ownership scheme to boost home ownership - including easing restrictions on building on the Green Belt; while George Osborne revealed plans for 400,000 new homes.

But campaigners said more must be done to unlock the gold mine that is our unused properties. Empty Homes said councils should purchase them for social housing or encourage people back into areas where whole streets have been “abandoned” by giving ownership to local groups.

MP Rachel Reeves.

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