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Council plan to seize empty properties

Tories dismiss Compulsory Purchase Orders as a PR stunt, as they call on Town Hall to fill vacant council homes first

28 March, 2019 — By Richard Osley

PROPERTY owners who leave homes empty for years amid London’s housing crisis could face a shock after Camden Council began targeting addresses for possible compulsory purchase orders (CPO).

The idea of seizing flats and houses which are not being used to ease the chronic demand for accommodation has been talked about for at least a decade without any cases progressing.

But this week it emerged the Town Hall has zeroed-in on a flat in Finchley Road and a house in Agar Grove, Camden Town, which its lawyers believe could be bought using the orders and put back into use for those most in need.

The move was immediately branded a “PR stunt” by the Conservative opposition, who say Camden should be concentrating on hundreds of council flats standing empty. Figures released last week showed that 890 of Camden’s homes were not being lived in.

The two bedroom-flat in Finchley Road has been empty for more than 20 years and is considered to be in poor condition, while the house in Agar Grove is a rundown Victorian house which has been vacant for more than 22 years, and has been the source of complaints from neighbours.

Negotiations over getting building works have so far failed.

Housing chief Councillor Meric Apak said: “This is the first time we are trying CPOs, or the first time in many years and I hope it acts as a warning to other landlords who are leaving properties empty.”

He said the figures on the number of empty council homes in Camden were distorted by the fact some of them had just been built – and were about to get their first tenants. Other cases involved complex negotiations with leaseholders or the need to make flats ready for residents with special requirements, such as disabled tenants, he said.

Meric Apak

He said the council would look at all options for the service which repairs voids – “voids” is the term used for homes that become empty. “I would like to look at whether having an in-house team rather than a private contractor would speed up the process,” he said.

“Because we want flats back being used as soon as possible. We are not property speculators. We want properties to be lived in. If these empty flats were in the private sector, they would be left to rot forever while landlords speculate on property values.”

But Conservative group leader Oliver Cooper said the scale of the number of empty homes in Camden’s own portfolio meant the council needed to deal with its own properties before trying to buy up others.

He said: “Under Labour, Camden Council has become a delinquent landlord – overseeing the most empty properties and the second-most sub-standard properties of any council in the country.  Camden should really get its own council house in order and fill those vacant homes before it spends millions of taxpayers’ money adding more dilapidated homes to its under-utilised and poorly-maintained stock.” C

Cllr Cooper added: “Just two-thirds of the empty council homes in Camden could house every single resident currently forced to live in temporary accommodation or on the street.  This would transform hundreds of lives and save Camden over £4million a year, which could be reinvested in housing, not squandered on empty properties.”

Oliver Cooper

“Using a Compulsory Purchase Order means the council has to pay above the market price for the property, making it a phenomenally expensive way to bring homes back into use.  Leaving its own homes empty while paying over the odds for new homes looks like Labour using taxpayers’ money for a PR stunt, when it should be used to solve housing crisis they’ve created.”

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