Compulsory purchase orders could bring empty homes in Bedford back into use

The number of empty homes in Bedford has decreased in the past year
Borough Hall in BedfordBorough Hall in Bedford
Borough Hall in Bedford

More publicity around compulsory purchases may encourage property owners to bring their empty homes back into use, a meeting heard.

A report on the Empty Homes Programme was presented to the recent Bedford Borough Council’s Housing Committee (Wednesday, November 3).

It showed the number of homes registered as empty for over 12 months for Council Tax purposes between December 2020 and June 2021 had decreased from 807 to 702.

Tracey Barrett, team leader, housing policy, development & viability at the council, said: “This is a very welcome, and significant, decrease, and it’s not entirely unexpected.

“The lifting of Covid restrictions has meant that some empty home owners have been able to get to their properties or employ tradespeople to improve them.

“Also, the housing market has rebounded somewhat following the lockdowns, and, of course, in part due to the stamp duty holiday.”

Ms Barrett added the overall reduction hides the increase in the properties that have been empty between two and five years. However, the report said the pandemic led to properties being vacant for longer than they normally would have been.

She said: “It’s a little reassuring to see that the four to five year [range] actually had a decrease in numbers.

“Most of those we’ve got to know well because we’re monitoring them. The majority we do believe can, and will, come back into use,” she added.

Councillor Fouzia Zamir Atiq (Labour, Cauldwell Ward) asked when the council could take over an empty property.

Ms Barrett replied that applying for a compulsorily purchase isn’t time related, and that a process has to be followed. This includes a dialogue with the owner, as the council would prove an overriding case that the purchase is in the public interest.

“If there was a property in a very high profile location and was in a terrible state, it might it might be a shorter period of time,” Ms Barrett said.

“Especially if the owner doesn’t contact us and let us know what they’re doing to bring it back into use.

“It’s more about us being able to prove that case and to be able to defend any rebuttal by the owner.

“They have a right to object to a compulsory purchase at which point we would have to show what we had done to help them,” she added.

Bedford Borough mayor Dave Hodgson said when the council does compulsory purchase a property it does bring some property owners to the table “rather quickly”.

“Even if we aren’t, if we have a committee meeting where we say we’re looking at various properties, and if we get some press out, some of the other people will think ‘I don’t want that to happen [to me]’,” he said.