Most long-term empty homes in Borders located in Hawick and Galashiels
Galashiels Town Centre, Hawick Town Centre, Hawick Trinity and Hawick Wellogate had more than 5% of properties classified as Long-Term Empty (LTE) in each of the past four years (2016-2019), according to new data from the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP).
The organisation, which was set up to help councils bring empty properties back in to use, said having a large number of long-term empty homes can significantly damage an area by attracting anti-social behaviour, reducing interest in an area for potential buyers, and creating a spiral of decline that harms the local economy.
SEHP has been working with Scottish Borders Council to demonstrate the need for an empty homes officer, a position which already exists in 21 local authorities in Scotland, to work with homeowners who want to find ways to renovate a property to bring it back in to use, sell or rent.
Renovating empty homes helps sole traders, independent businesses and local retailers working in building and construction who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Where someone is repairing or renovating an empty home, they are likely to hire local builders and contractors who purchase materials from local suppliers. Scottish Government figures show that every £1 spent on renovating property in Scotland generates £1.60 for the economy.
Reversing empty homes trends in an area and encouraging repopulation also encourages small independent businesses back to the community, creating sustainable regeneration.
Shaheena Din, national project manager for Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, said: “It is rarely through choice that a home is left long-term empty. With the right support, owners are able to renovate properties to bring them back in to use, either for sale or rent.
“A dedicated empty homes service can work proactively with owners of long-term empty properties to bring them back into use and improve areas that have become the focus of antisocial behaviour and neglect.
“We also know there is an economic benefit to bringing empty properties back in to use with money used to renovate property more likely to be spent in the local area, helping small businesses that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Scottish Borders Council said the coronavirus pandemic has halted its progress to tackle empty homes, adding that it was “disappointed” in the timing of the announcement from the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership.
A spokesperson told Scottish Housing News: “Addressing empty properties is recognised as a key strategic priority in the Council’s Local Housing Strategy, with officers regularly engaging with empty home owners to provide them with assistance and advice.
“This includes promoting initiatives such as the matchmaker service for empty home owners and providing advice in relation to potential VAT exemptions. In addition, Council Tax is now levied at 200% on long term empty homes as an additional incentive for owners to bring properties back in to use, and with support from officers discretion can be applied in cases where a package of work to return the property to use is agreed.
“A particular focus on empty homes has also been applied in the Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme areas such as Selkirk, Jedburgh and now Hawick. The targeted activity in these areas has helped address disrepair and supported owners of empty properties in these areas to bring them back into use, which has helped bring 75% of these properties in these areas back in use after 18 months.”
The spokesperson added: “The continuing demand for affordable homes and the range of challenges being faced within our town centres has also led the Council to proactively explore the potential recruitment of a full time dedicated empty homes officer which would be partially funded by the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership.
“However, the council is currently playing a key role in a variety of essential services – particularly for vulnerable as well as young people - during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. As a result, we have been unable to progress the ambition to develop a dedicated empty homes service at this time and it is therefore disappointing that the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, who we have continued to collaborate closely with, has chosen to raise this issue at this time.”
Councillor Mark Rowley, Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for regeneration and finance, which includes responsibility for housing, said: “The council has a clear commitment to support bringing back empty homes into use.
“As a result of the hard work carried out by staff we see a number of empty properties being brought back into use every year and its wonderful to see these properties once again becoming much needed family homes.
“We know there is still more work that needs to be done, and we will be continuing to work closely with landlords and owners to identify properties where we can offer help and support to provide these homes with a new lease of life.”