Don’t leave it empty

With the exception of ‘Brexit’, the UK’s housing crisis is at the very top of the political agenda.

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At the recent Conservative Party Conference, Theresa May stated her intention to make home ownership attainable for all, and committed an additional £2bn to delivering social housing.

However, the pledges from government exclusively focus on building new homes – with no consideration as to how we make better use of the ones we already have.

Last week was National Empty Homes Week – a nationwide initiative to draw attention to the 300,000 long-term empty homes in the UK.

At Kent County Council, we have proactively been tackling empty homes since 2005, delivering a total of 5,200 new homes at a fraction of the cost of building new ones.

The key to the success of our scheme – No Use Empty – has been our ability to provide capital to owners in order for them to refurbish and bring abandoned properties back to life.

We offer interest-free loans of up to £25,000 per unit (to a maximum of £175,000) on condition homes are then rented privately or sold.  We have issued more than £19m in loans, which has leveraged a further £24m of investment.

But delivering new homes is not about numbers alone; it is critical the homes are high quality, efficient in terms of energy usage, and well-designed.

Over twelve years we have realised that desirable and modern homes, can be created from low quality old ones. Many of our restoration projects include the installation of state-of the art heating and lighting systems, which means that the homes are not only affordable to buy – relative to a new-build – they are cost-efficient to occupy as well.

In addition, many empty homes, which are drawn from older stock, are inefficiently designed to outdated space plans. As a result, many of our projects have seen two, or more, homes, delivered from a single old one.

Indeed, our data indicates than 500 homes in Kent have been created from empty homes that never existed. It shows how far the UK’s 300,000 reported long-term empty homes could go in addressing alleviating the housing shortage in the short term.

In the past, the No Use Empty template has been adopted by local authorities across the UK that are keen to bring empty homes back into use to boost housing stock.

With the pressure greater than ever before to deliver new homes as cost-effectively as possible, collaboration and partnership will continue to be crucial moving forward.

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