Plan to tackle empty homes

MAJOR plans to bring dozens of empty properties back into use have won the backing of councillors.

Hartlepool Borough Council is planning to buy up and renovate up to 48 houses in a project worth a total of £2.6m.

The aim is to bring private sector empty homes back into use for those residents in most need.

Officers say no houses have been identified yet and said there is certain criteria, one of which is the house must have been empty for at least six months.

The cabinet committee met to endorse the start of the first phase, which will focus on 24 houses up to a cost of £1.3m and is expected to be finished by March 2013.

The Empty Property Purchasing Scheme proposals will now go before full council on Thursday night for final approval.

Regeneration chiefs plan to fund the overall costs of the scheme mainly through prudential borrowing.

Mayor Stuart Drummond said: “This has the potential to be one of the most powerful strategies that we operate, if we get it right.

“There is no more housing market renewal money available.

“A lot of the properties we have in town are good, strong properties, they just need a bit of work.”

A council report said: “The properties would be refurbished to a high standard and let at an affordable rent to tenants in affordable housing need.

“The properties would then be managed by a registered provider under a management agreement.

“The scheme will generate an ongoing revenue stream to fund the operating costs, as well as capital assets which could be sold for affordable home ownership in the future.”

Once a house has been identified there will be a detailed examination and a break-down of the full costs before the council’s in-house teams do the renovation work.

For each property brought back into use, the council will benefit from the New Homes Bonus.

Dave Stubbs, the council’s director of regeneration and neighbourhoods, said: “A lot of money has to go into this to make it work.

“There is also work to be done about the choice of properties, tenants and the after-care.”

But he added he was confident there would be demand.

Mayor Drummond did raise concerns about the average cost of buying and renovating the houses, which could be around the £55,000 mark.

He said: “The figure seems high and I would hope that is the ceiling.”

Damien Wilson, the council’s assistant director of regeneration and planning, said the properties still need to be identified.

He added: “Until we have identified properties it will be difficult to see what the average cost will be.”

Mr Stubbs said the council aims to incorporate training schemes into the project, which would see people gain on the job experience and a qualification.

Independent councillor Hilary Thompson said: “It ticks a number of boxes as it brings empty properties back into use and provides training opportunities.”

The full council is due to meet on Thursday at 7pm in the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road.