6:00am Wednesday 4th June 2014
By Claire Armstrong
Labour-run Bradford Council has railed against a Government edict to do more to battle the blight of abandoned houses.
Communities Minister Stephen Williams has written to Bradford Council saying it should work harder to tackle the high number of empty homes in the district.
The Liberal Democrat MP says this would boost the housing supply, while also “reducing the negative impact that neglected properties can have on communities”.
But local housing chief Councillor Val Slater has responded angrily, saying her department’s work in tackling the issue has already been recognised as some of the best in the country.
Mr Williams has written to the 50 local authorities with the highest number of long-term empty properties, and which are already using council tax penalties to try to solve the problem.
Councils can charge the owners of long-term empty properties a premium council tax rate of 150 per cent, which Bradford is already doing.
Mr Williams says while this brought in an extra £744,179 to the Council in 2013/14, it would have collected more by solving the problem rather than penalising those responsible.
This is because when empty homes are brought back into use, local authorities are given a Government reward called the New Homes Bonus. Mr Williams says Bradford Council could have received a bonus of up to £1.6 million this year if, instead of charging the council tax premium, it had brought these homes back into use.
He said: “I would strongly encourage your authority to work to bring long-term empty homes in your area back into use.
“This could raise extra funds through the New Homes Bonus to help keep council tax down and support frontline services as well as bringing wider benefits to your communities.”
But Coun Slater, the Council’s executive member for housing, said she had been “surprised and aggrieved” to read the letter.
She said the authority was recently recognised as one of the best in the country for cutting the number of empty properties, which Mr Williams seemed to be unaware of.
Coun Slater said: “It remains one of my top priorities. Despite the fact we are in difficult budgetary times, I fought to keep money available to tackle that key priority.”
The number of long-term empty homes fell from 4,766 in 2012 to 3,981 in 2013, the Empty Homes Agency revealed earlier this month. This placed Bradford fourth, after Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, in the size of its reduction.
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