“England has more than 200,000 empty homes. How to revive them?”

“Ask most people about England’s epidemic of empty homes and they are likely to think of lavish vacant mansions in London owned by absent foreign billionaires.

In fact, the majority of empty properties are in post-industrial areas, where poverty rates are high and house prices languish well below their pre-crash levels. Such a place is Stockton-on-Tees, near Middlesbrough, where Martyn Jones lives.

Two years ago Jones, 23, was homeless and relying on friends to let him sleep on their couches while he struggled to find work. Today, he is painting a wall in a gutted home on a quiet street, part of a group tasked with refurbishing some of the area’s many vacant, derelict homes.

Last week, Theresa May pledged an extra £2bn for housing associations to fund large-scale developments. But with new house building not providing enough affordable homes for more than 1 million people on waiting lists in England, social enterprises and councils are trying to bring empty homes, which number well over 200,000 and are worth almost £50bn, back into occupancy.

Over 11,000 homes have stood empty for at least 10 years, data shows

One of them is Community Campus 87, which buys such properties in Stockton-on-Tees, refurbishes them and offers them to previously homeless tenants at rents below the going rate for social housing. In the process, it provides jobs and skills training for people such as Jones.

Having left school at 16, Jones struggled with substance use and anxiety, unable to hold down a job. When his mother kicked him out, he worried he was out of options. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Campus,” he says. “They gave me a home, helped me along the way and now I’ve started going to college.”

Amid a dramatic national collapse in apprenticeships, about 15% of Community Campus’ staff are apprentices, according to its director and founder, Simon Virth. The group, which has refurbished about 250 homes so far, also offers help with job interviews, jobcentre appointments and finding free educational programmes at local colleges.”


“Lack of government lawyers [due to Brexit work] delaying preparations for council merger”

“A lack of government lawyers as a result of Brexit is to blame for delays in producing the necessary orders for a merger of two local authorities in the South West of England, it has been claimed.

The County Gazette has reported that three orders from central government are needed to transfer all the necessary legal powers to the authority that will take over from Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset District Council.

An apppendix to a paper presented at a meeting of Taunton Deane’s scrutiny committee last week said: “Still waiting on MHCLG [the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government] finalising – Brexit impacting on MHCLG’s ability to access lawyers in a timely fashion.

“As long as final version is very similar to draft sould not cause too great an issue. The uncertainty is the concern however.”

The appendix said a general order had been due to be published on 24 July this year.

The merger of Taunton Deane and West Somerset was backed in March by the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid.”

Source: Local Government Lawyer

Resuscitating high streets – or are they too far gone already?

Owl is noticing more and more empty shops – even in places that seemed to be weathering the High Street decline so far (eg Sidmouth).

Isn’t it time our council did an audit of our high streets (empty shops, open shops, temporary pop-up shops, local-owned independent, chain stores, charity shops) to get a proper idea of just how bad this problem is in each town and what the mix says about the health of each town centre? And time to come up with a strategy for their future?

“… Charges to withdraw money from cash machines would be scrapped under a Labour government to “save Britain’s high streets”.

Attempts to stop their “slow agonising death” were announced by shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey with a range of measures – including stopping Post Office closures.

Sky News can reveal Labour would draw up a register of landlords of empty shops in every local authority.

And the party would deliver free public wi-fi in town centres, for those having a coffee or working in community spaces.

The plans are due to be announced on Tuesday by Ms Bailey at Labour’s autumn conference in Liverpool.

She is aiming to boost support for the party in British towns, as leader Jeremy Corbyn suggested a general election could be called imminently.

Brexit secretary Dominic Raab insisted on Sunday that “it’s not going to happen”.

Research by Which? published in June found that the free-to-use ATM network was “under threat”.

The idea to ban them was championed by Labour MP Ged Killen, who welcomed the party’s announcement.

“No one should ever have to pay to access their own money,” he told Sky News.

“If any government is serious about economic development in our towns and high streets they need to protect the financial infrastructure people and business rely on.”

The other plans would see post offices owned by the government stopped from further franchising and closing.

Under-25s will also get free bus travel in local authorities where local bus services are either franchised or publicly owned.

Labour has also promised to “work with” councils to extend wi-fi roll-outs by commercial developers in public spaces.

And it will force shop landlords to make their identity and contact details public, creating an empty shop register to “make it easier to bring empty units into use”.

A new annual business rates re-evaluation will also be introduced. …”


Hospital re-nationalised after PFI shambles

“The government is expected to bail out Liverpool’s new £335 million NHS hospital and take it back into public ownership, nine months after the failure of Carillion left the project in crisis.

Carillion, the public sector contracting and construction group, collapsed in the new year with £2.6 billion of pension liabilities and £2 billion of debts.

Matthew Hancock, the health secretary, is understood to have told officials to end the impasse surrounding the hospital, which had been due to open last year. He is ready to say within days that the Royal Liverpool Hospital private finance initiative deal is being cancelled and that the project is returning to full public ownership, according to Sky News.

The trust that runs the hospital is due to hold a board meeting today and a statement from ministers may be timed to coincide with it. Private sector contracts relating to the project are set to expire before the end of the month.”

Source Times (pay wall)