Royal Borough sets annual new homes target, but more than 1,000 properties are empty
Richard Cutcher • Published 10 Aug 2012 16:30
THE council has set itself a target of permitting up to 350 new homes a year, despite there being around 1,000 empty properties in the Royal Borough.
The need for such targets was described as "wretched" by councillor Leo Walters, chairman of the planning and housing scrutiny panel, and another councillor warned large tower blocks may be built because of the borough's commitment to protect its Green Belt - 80% of the authority's land.
Planning officers drew up the target for the National Policy Planning Framework, but no consideration appears to have been given to the empty homes.
Speaking to The Observer, Cllr Walters said: "Nobody knows just how many empty homes there are in reality. We only know those which are registered for a discount [council tax], but what can we do about empty homes? We have used compulsory purchase powers in the past, but that can become quite messy."
Through the localisation of council tax benefit, which will come into effect in April next year, the Royal Borough is proposing to remove council tax exemption on 639 empty homes, giving a 50% discount instead. The measure is expected to bring in £223,000 a year.
The council will also introduce a 50% premium on the 354 properties which have been empty for more than two years, bringing in £278,000 annually.
Cllr Richard Kellaway, Royal Borough lead member for finance, said the above measures, as well as raising vital revenue to plug a £1m funding gap, could get the housing market moving.
He said: "Making sure these homes aren't empty is something we have been looking at for a while. It just so happens new legislation has given us the power to give people financial incentive to fill them."
Cllr David Burbage, leader of the Royal Borough, pledged Green Belt land would be off limits to developers, but Cllr Malcolm Beer, representing Old Windsor, believes that will leave planning officers no flexibility.
Cllr Beer said: "The message from the Government is build, build, build. If you are not going to use the Green Belt then you will have to start looking at tower blocks which would be more damaging."
The cabinet will receive a report outlining proposed "strategic site allocations" for new developments on Thursday, September 27.
This article appeared in Local Berkshire 10 Aug 12