Number of empty homes in Falkirk a “blight on the the community”

There are around 900 empty homes across the Falkirk district, with many left in extremely poor condition
There are around 900 empty homes across the Falkirk district, with many left in extremely poor condition
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They have been described as a wasted resource and a blight on local communities.

There are more than 23,000 privately-owned homes currently sitting empty in Scotland, with around 900 in the Falkirk district alone.

While most properties remain unoccupied for a short time, many are effectively abandoned and left to rot.

And as long as they remain in private ownership, such long-term neglected homes can cause multiple headaches for neighbours and local authorities alike.

It remains the owner’s responsibilty to maintain a building - meaning there is little anyone else can do to intervene.

Compulsory purchase orders can only be imposed in extreme cases, such as 8 Bonnyfield Road in Bonnybridge.

The Falkirk Herald reported earlier this month on the once smart three-bedroom home that became a magnet for fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour after it sat empty for more than a decade.

Falkirk Council compulsory purchased the house after completing a lengthy legal process, which involved having to win approval from the Scottish Government.

But there are many other examples across the district of buildings in rapidly deteriorating conditions that could - with investment - be made into family homes.

Residents in Bainsford are dismayed at the condition of the former Big Bar in Davids Loan, which contains several empty apartments, while those travelling though Camelon are left bewildered that a spacious bunglaow in Glasgow Road has been left bricked up.

So why do we need to tackle this issue?

“There is a national shortage of homes and the Forth Valley area is no different,” said a spokesman for Falkirk Council.

In an attempt to work with property owners, the Forth Valley Empty Homes Project, a partnership between Falkirk, Stirling and Clackmannanshire councils, was established.

It actively encourages owners of empty homes to return them to residential use.

“It is an owner’s responsibility to look after their property. However, if a home gets ‘stuck’ as an empty, the project can play a role in helping to fix the problem,” the spokesman added.

“An empty homes officer will work with owners and other internal and external services within each local authority area, to find the best way to bring empty properties back into use.”

It is estimated that owning an empty home can cost the owner between £7000-8000 per year, due to council tax payments, lost potential rental income, insurance, and general maintenance.

Long-term empty homes can cause a number of problems as they attract crime and anti-social behaviour and reduce the value of surrounding properties.

Kristen Hubert, of housing charity Shelter Scotland, is in no doubt that it’s a national issue that needs to be urgently addressed.

“Approaches like the one in Falkirk involving empty homes officers engaging directly with owners to encourage them to bring their property back into use are what we need to see more of in Scotland if we are going to tackle this issue.

“The officers at Falkirk Council have been very successful in engaging owners and helping find solutions that work for both the owners and the neighbours who had been affected by these homes lying empty.”

End this blight, says minister

The Scottish Government announced today (that it is extending a national project aimed at bringing empty homes back into use.

Speaking to The Falkirk Herald, housing minister Margaret Burgess said Holyrood was working hard alongside local authorities and charities to tackle the scandal of empty homes.

“Empty homes are a wasted resource and a blight on local communities,” she said.

“At a time when affordable housing is in high demand bringing empty homes back into use is an innovative and cost-effective way to increase supply of housing to families in need.”

The Scottish Government funds the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, which is run by the housing charity, Shelter Scotland. The partnership helps councils work with home owners to bring their homes back into use for people who need them, and the Government is part subsidising an extension to the funding for the officer working between Falkirk and Stirling councils.

This project hopes to bring 40 properties back into use in its first year.

“The Shelter Scotland-led Scottish Empty Homes Partnership is part of the government’s efforts to deliver at least 30,000 affordable homes in Scotland over the lifetime of this parliament and I am delighted the scheme has been extended for another year,” added Ms Burgess.

“I look forward to working with the Partnership in 2014 to drive forward innovation in bringing a record number of empty homes back into use.”