Put people waiting for homes in empty houses, Buckinghamshire councillor says

Nearly 7,000 homes have been unused for six months in Bucks
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A councillor has called for thousands of empty properties across Buckinghamshire to be used to house those waiting for a home.

As of March 31, 2022, a total of 6,639 people were on Buckinghamshire Council’s ‘Bucks Home Choice’ affordable housing register, and the figure is understood to have increased since then.

Meanwhile, 5,581 homes stood ‘empty’ (for six months or more), of which 1,986 were ‘long-term empty’ (for two years or more) as of October 2022.

Councillor Isobel Darby, photo from Charlie Smith, Local Democracy ReporterCouncillor Isobel Darby, photo from Charlie Smith, Local Democracy Reporter
Councillor Isobel Darby, photo from Charlie Smith, Local Democracy Reporter

The figures are contained in the council’s ‘Housing Strategy’ for 2024-2029, which is out for consultation and was presented to a meeting of the Growth, Infrastructure & Housing Select Committee on Thursday, November 23.

After the presentation, Cllr Isobel Darby called for the council to “consider all possible routes” to house people, directing her comments to Councillor Mark Winn, the cabinet member for homelessness and regulatory services.

She said: “I’m talking about bringing empty privately owned homes back into use… We have got a massive problem. It is only getting bigger.

“Will you please take all that onboard because otherwise I don’t think we are going to get anywhere near cracking this problem.”

Councillor Winn said that using empty properties to house those waiting for a home “had not been dismissed as a solution”, adding that it could occur in “small-scale situations”.

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Councillor Darby told the committee that the “growing problem” of finding houses for people in Buckinghamshire needed “multiple solutions”.

She asked how many of the 500 new affordable homes the council is aiming to deliver per year would take people off the housing register.

She said: “I am very cynical about the word ‘affordable’, and I like to talk about ‘truly affordable’ because that is what matters and that is what changes people’s lives.

“That is what will sort out adult social care, children’s services burdens, because people will be able to live in a truly affordable home and not live under the pressures that cause all sorts of breakdowns and then demand on council services later on.”

Councillor Winn said he agreed that the council needed to “press down” to ensure that homes were “truly affordable”, as well as building more homes for elderly people and people with disabilities.

During the meeting, Councillor Stuart Wilson also said he had “little or no confidence” in the registered providers of affordable housing in Buckinghamshire.

The providers are: BPHA, Bromford, Fairhive, Hightown, Housing Solutions, Metropolitan Thames Valley, Paradigm, Peabody/Catalyst, Red Kite, Sage, L&Q, and Thrive.

Councillor Wilson suggested the providers were “not on the same wavelength” as councillors in terms of housing provision and he demanded greater accountability from the organisations.

A council officer replied by saying that the council could not force the providers to build more affordable homes, but that it could “hold them to account” on their targets.

Data from the House of Commons Library shows that there are 676,304 recorded empty homes in England. Analysis from the Local Government Association states that the total has risen by nearly 10 per cent in five years.