Council bids to bring empty homes back on market

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Council chiefs have launched a fresh bid to rid St Helens of swathes of empty homes which are blighting the borough’s property market.

Town hall bosses are urging owners of unoccupied property to bring them back into use.

The call comes ahead of this year’s National Empty Homes Week (November 30 to December 6).

The initiative, organised by the Empty Homes Agency, aims to raise awareness of the potential of empty homes to meet housing needs - and devise and promote sustainable solutions that bring empty homes back into use.

In 2014, statistics showed there are 1,025 properties in St Helens classed as long-term vacant.

St Helens Council already prioritises those homes left empty for over six months – which can attract vandals and fly tippers and quickly become an eyesore or safety hazard.

In every case the council tries to negotiate with owners - offering advice and support where appropriate.

This help can range from information on VAT relief, to putting owners in touch with potential renters or purchasers.

But in some cases - when owners refuse to meet their responsibilities - formal intervention may be required.

This can range from serving statutory notices to deal with immediate issues, such as rubbish and dangerous structures, to the use of compulsory purchase and enforced sale.

The council charges a 50 percent council tax premium on properties that have been empty for two years or more. So bringing a long-term vacant property back into use makes financial sense for the owner - and benefits the neighbourhood too.

Coun Richard McCauley, cabinet member for Transport, Housing and Community Safety, said: “A property may be empty for several reasons, including local market turnover, refurbishment or probate issues.

“However, our focus is on those properties that have been empty for six months or more - or where they are negatively impacting others.”