A leafy street in inner city Bradford will this year become home to seven new households.

The residents will no doubt be thrilled with their self-contained flats in a newly-renovated Victorian villa.

Yet just a few months ago the property was in an appalling state of repair. It was an eyesore, and had been in a neglected state for several years.

The large house, which had been empty since 2002 was one of the district’s long-term empty homes - those which have been vacant for more than six months. It has been bought by Bradford Council through compulsory purchase, renovated and brought back into use.

“We first became involved with this property in 2008 when we received complaints that it was insecure and people were smashing windows and breaking into it,” says David North, Bradford Council’s empty homes and loans manager. “The renovation has been a catalyst for change in the street, leading to other homes being renovated.”

It took from 2012 until 2017 and two public inquiries to secure the property.

The council’s empty homes team works hard to bring properties back into use. Their efforts are being highlighted during national Empty Homes Week which runs until Sunday.

Its methods vary from offering advice and assistance to owners, to taking enforcement action where justified, possible and appropriate.

“We achieve a lot of success by offering advice as many owners simply need to know what steps they need to take to bring their property back into use, whether becoming a landlord, carrying out repairs or overcoming legal issues such as probate,” explains David.

The Council operates a legal assistance scheme offering an hour’s free advice from a solicitor.

“Some property owners are vulnerable - they may, for instance suffer mental health issues and this prevents them from taking action. The team are very supportive and understanding.”

The Council offers an equity-based loan to owners who are eligible and can put them in touch with people who may wish to buy their houses. Says David, “In some circumstances the Council offers to buy properties directly from the owner. They are then sold on the open market or, in some cases, to Council partners.”

At present there are 4,090 long term empty homes across the district, making up 1.88 per cent of the total.

“The number is higher than we would like but does not necessarily mean there are that many houses sitting empty. Each individual flat in a block or house is counted separately which is slightly misleading and paints a worse picture,” says David. “Since 2009 the number of long-term empty homes has reduced by more than 40 per cent.”

Properties lie empty for many reasons. “We find that a considerable number are due to the death of the owner and the family not settling the estate, or family breakdown,” says David. “Often there is a lack of funds or the organisational skills needed to bring a property back into use. In these cases it is hard to get people to acknowledge their situation and take steps to address it.”

Many methods are used to trace owners. “Sadly there are some who are untraceable or who do not respond or seem incapable of taking action,” says David. “In these cases depending on the property and history we will consider using compulsory purchase powers. This, if successful, allows us to take ownership and sell the property, with covenants, to ensure it is brought back into use.”

When faced with this, some owners decide to sell. An ‘enforced sale’ can also be carried out, if debts owed to the Council, such as Council Tax or charges for removal of rubbish, mount up. The debts are paid from the sale, but the Council does not own the property itself. This can, however, encourage the owner to bring it back into use.

If an empty home is impacting on a neighbouring property, such as from a leaking gutter or a hole in the roof, the team has powers to ensure remedial work is carried out.

“If it is in a bad state but not affecting another house we do not have such powers which is frustrating,” says David. “A house in such condition, depending on the severity, would be considered for compulsory purchase.”

In the Manningham street the impact is clear to see. Property firm Castle Residential renovated the villa under lease from the Council, and is selling it on to a private company.

Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw, executive member for regeneration, planning and transport, says: “This case is a real success for the Council in bringing a long term problematic empty property back into use that was a drain on public resources, a wasted house and a blight on the neighbourhood. It’s providing much needed housing for seven people.”

“The team give owners of empty properties every chance to access help to bring their properties back into use but sometimes we have to use the last resort of compulsory purchase to address the very worst properties where there is no prospect of the owner returning them to use.”

The Council works with partners including Bradford Police and West Yorkshire Fire Service, who help to address issues surrounding empty homes. Houses are often sold to other housing providers such as charities or housing associations who bring them back into use as affordable homes.

“The focus of the team is to tackle empty homes as a wasted housing resource,” says David. “However bringing just one empty home back into use on a street can lead to improvements in the whole neighbourhood.

“In reverse, if one property in a street becomes empty and deteriorates the impact can be huge and can spread, resulting in more empty homes.”

Empty homes can become magnets for fly-tipping, which can lead to vermin problems, and also a target for arson. “There is a knock-on economic cost as it can affect house prices in neighbouring properties, and prevent house sales,” says David.

In the Manningham street the impact is clear to see. Property firm Castle Residential renovated the villa under lease from the Council, and is selling it on to a private company.

“The team worked on a similar scheme in Heaton, which was very successful. "We are very pleased with both,” adds David.