26 October 2016

“I welcome the intervention of the Heritage Council in relation to vacant houses around the country. They are right to highlight the need to expand the Living City Initiative to include towns.

I called for such an expansion in advance of the budget and for the scheme to be made more user-friendly. However, we need to go further than provide incentives for private owners. The potential for empty properties to provide homes at this time of severe shortage needs to be fully exploited.

The census revealed that nearly 200,000 homes around the country, excluding holiday homes, have noone living in them. The Heritage Council has dug deeper into these figures and found there are 10,684 vacant houses in 17 of our largest towns. This can’t be tolerated while so many are homeless.

Help for private owners is part of the answer but previous experience of the scheme shows that only a small minority of them are likely to take up an incentive scheme, even if it is modified. Local Councils can play a significant role.

My proposal is that a scheme for Local Authorities be set up through which they would be funded to purchase empty houses in towns and cities, refurbish them and allocate them to new tenants. They generally have lists of local builders who already carry out adaptions and extensions under grant schemes.

This would tick three important boxes: Firstly, provide homes, secondly, give work to local builders and tradespeople and thirdly, take away the blight of derelict properties in towns and cities.

I am calling on the Government to take up my proposal and that of the Heritage Council. There is no disputing the need to build a large number of new houses, but in parallel, refurbishing existing empty ones will be quicker and contribute more to revitalising our communities.”

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