We must bring derelict properties back into use if we want to tackle rural homelessness

Last month Penny Henderson won the “top of the policies” vote at Pragmatic Radicalism’s event in Kendal in South Lakeland. The winning proposal tackled the question of reducing rural homelessness

The right to a home is a basic human right. And a home in the community in which you have lived your whole life hardly seems too much to ask. Labour should stand for strong communities, whether these are rural or urban communities.

Rural communities need to know that Labour is with them if we are to be one nation. This does not need to be an empty commitment either. There are simple, practical steps that the party can commit to, which would make a real difference.

One such measure would be that the ownership of land and/or property derelict for a long period of time (e.g. 5 years) should revert to the local authority and be given over to affordable housing and/or council rented properties.

Gaining planning permission for new housing developments is often challenging in national parks but this should be less complicated in the context of these “brown field” developments. There are a surprisingly large number of properties that fall into this category.

Public authorities have the power to compulsorily purchase derelict land and property but it is rarely used and is legally complicated. The Labour party should make this procedure easier for local authorities.

While there is hardly any land available for new building in the Lake District, South Lakeland has “about 1,000 empty dwellings” (councillor J.Brook, housing and development portfolio holder, South Lakeland district council).

What a difference it would make if even some of these houses could be occupied!

There may be good reason, such as serious illness, for some of these homes being unoccupied and we are not saying houses should be taken from owners with no appeal or recompense. But many are becoming derelict at the same time as families want for a home. This is an unjust mismatch and we must cut through the legal thicket that stands between us and a fairer arrangement.

The present government gives loans to owners of empty houses so that the building can be improved. This is a reward for their failure to properly maintain and use their homes and hardly addresses the fundamental problem. Instead of rewarding failure, we should be compulsorily purchasing homes that fall derelict and making them available to people who will value them.

At minimum, this proposal would incentivise action on the part of  recalcitrant owners who have been content to allow their properties to sit idle and unused for years.

The Lake District is a tremendous asset to the whole country. But, like the rest of our countryside, it should be a lived environment. That increasingly requires that we take bolder steps to secure affordable housing for local people.

Penny Henderson is secretary of Westmorland and Lonsdale CLP

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6 Responses to “We must bring derelict properties back into use if we want to tackle rural homelessness”

  1. david says:

    Living in a rural area myself I full agree with the everything you say. However the first commitment must be to ensure high speed broadband (fiber optic) is brought into rural areas. No good waiting for private companies to do it a government agency should be set up and given the task. Once electronic communications are improved then companies which have avoided rural areas will start to re-locate bringing much needed jobs.

  2. Robert says:

    We need social homes not affordable homes, believe it they are still out of reach for the people that need a home right now, the homeless.

    I have never in my 61 years seen so many people living on the streets in my area some of them with children as young as five…

    we are desperate for social homes.

  3. Robert says:

    Penny, I agree with your suggestion but do Labour really need to bother much with rural voters? I notice from an internet search that Labour standing in your constituency is a total waste of time. This is more a criticism of our awful voting system than your proposal.

  4. AnneJGP says:

    Many thanks for an excellent article, Penny.

    I strongly believe that the issue of housing in this country needs to be re-thought from top to bottom. It’s not good enough that so many people are homeless; it’s not good enough that so many are inadequately housed; it’s not good enough that rental and purchase prices are so high; it’s not good enough that Housing Benefit subsidises some at the expense of others who may be equally deserving; and so on and so forth.

    There don’t appear to be any easy answers. Everything that looks like an answer falls foul of some prior constraint that needs to be tackled beforehand. Then each of those prior constraints depend for their solutions on yet further prior issues – and so, ad infinitum.

    But does that excuse us from trying to do something? I think not.

    What we can’t do is to use borrowed ‘public’ money to purchase derelict buildings which can only be brought into use again by borrowed ‘public’ money and then rented out (even at ‘reasonable’ rents) to people who can only afford to live there because they’re subsidised by borrowed ‘public’ money.

    Somewhere along the line that equation has to be balanced out to make it a sustainable policy.

    I think we need to start considering really drastic proposals. Something like a rationing system for housing, so that however much money you’ve got, you simply cannot own or rent more housing than enough for yourself & your family.

  5. Andy says:

    We need council housing – lots more council housing. Everything from one bed flatlets for young people up to 4-5 bed houses for families thrrough to sheltered bungalows for the elderley/disabled vulnerable.

    There is quite simply nothing as cost-effective.

    The situation we have at present – where a fifth of all Housing Benefits claimants are in work in private rented and including pensioners and the unemployed more than half of claimants are in private rented, is a bloody joke. All that is happening is Housing Benefits (ie – you the taxpayer) – is paying for BTL landlords mortgages. That is absolutely ridiculous.

    If I here a Labour politician mention affordable housing once more I will punch their face in. It is not affordable if a family with a combined income of less than 25K can’t afford it.

  6. Lisa says:

    Homelessness is a very serious problem and I think that government should pay more attention to it. Everyone has a right to have a roof over head, it’s a basic human need and it’s important to reduce rural homelessness and create decent labour conditions in villages. Lots of people are struggling because there are not so many rural jobs available and they can’t make money and at least rent property. They even can’t borrow with 1 hour payday loans because they are unable to pay back. It’s necessary to provide more jobs in villages and bring direct properties back into use.

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