Report reveals almost 400 empty homes in Richmondshire

Empty houses in the former districts and boroughs of North Yorkshire. Picture: NYCC.

A local authority which is months away from becoming among the country’s first to implement a fresh financial crackdown on empty homes has announced a probe into why the number of vacant properties is continuing to rise.

North Yorkshire Council’s executive member for culture, arts and housing, Councillor Simon Myers, said it was “distressing” that 6,500 people were on waiting lists for social housing in a county where more than 3,000 properties were standing empty.

The investigation comes as the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which is at the report stage in the House of Lords, moves to reduce the minimum period councils can charge a premium for empty premises from two years to one year.

It is almost a year since North Yorkshire Council adopted a policy to implement a 100 per cent council tax premium for empty premises that have been left unoccupied and substantially unfurnished for a year or more, from April next year.

An officer’s report to a meeting of the council’s leading members highlighted how at the end of June there were nearly 900 empty homes in the Harrogate borough area and more than 700 in Scarborough borough, while there were 500-plus empty homes in the Craven and Hambleton areas.

Both Richmondshire and Ryedale had nearly 400 empty homes and there were more than 200 in the Selby area.

The report added demand for affordable housing was set to rise as residents struggle with mortgage payments and rental costs, andfuelled by a forecast downturn in housebuilding completions, changes to planning policy,
rising material costs and wider economic pressures linked to the cost of living.

The report stated: “Maintaining a robust affordable homes programme is essential to meet this future demand.”

After being pressed on how the council intended to bring empty homes back into use, Coun Myers told the meeting empty properties represented some 1.1 per cent of housing stock in North Yorkshire, while the national average is one per cent and the average for Yorkshire and Humber is 1.6 per cent.

He said: “It’s distressing when you have 6,500 people on housing waiting lists in North Yorkshire, to know that there are over 3,000 empty properties.

“In Yorkshire and Humber terms, we’re at the lower end of the scale. However, it is not something we want to read about when we know the pressures on people finding housing.”

Coun Myers said causes behind the rise in empty properties may include the economy, leading to properties not selling quickly, and changes in legislation leading landlords to take properties out of the rental market.

He said the authority was having to develop a county-wide strategy as some boroughs and districts had tackled the issue, going as far as compulsory purchases, some did not have a strategy and only Scarborough and Harrogate had designated empty homes officers.

Pledging to “get to the bottom of it and work out a strategy about what can be done”, Coun Myers added: “You can’t help but look at the waiting lists for affordable housing and consider the question of empty homes and think something has to be done here. So we’ve got our eyes on it.”