Empty housing is a major issue in Nottingham, Kirsty Kew looks at the impact it can have on local communities.
Although invading bats is an extreme example of the problems that can be caused by living next door to a long-term empty house, there are undoubtedly issues that are going to occur when housing is left empty for a long period of time.
Information released by Nottingham City Council shows that there are 4,275 empty houses currently in the city, with 1,945 of those being classed as long-term empty (empty for six months or longer).
Some issues the Council has identified as happening because of these properties are a potential rise in crime and anti-social behaviour in these areas, and a potential fall in house prices in surrounding homes, as well as the problem mentioned above.
Talking about the problem of infestation, Martin Cooke, Principal Environmental Health Officer at Nottingham City Council, says: “There was one property that had an infestation of bats. After several weeks, the property next door reported noises coming from their loft.
“When we went to investigate, we found that the bats had crossed through a weak point in the roof and started nesting in the attic of the occupied house.”
Whilst the above is an exceptional circumstance, the issue of infestation from empty housing is a potential problem.
Rubbish being left outside for long periods of time can attract rodents, which could end up in neighbouring gardens and houses.
Another of the main concerns surrounding the levels of long-term empty housing in the city is the impact this could potentially be having on the local communities that have a high concentration of these types of properties.
Almost a quarter of the properties in question can be found in the NG7 postcode; an area which covers Forest Fields, Hyson Green, Lenton, New Basford and Radford.
Despite this, and although the council owns more empty properties in this postcode than any other, this area also has the lowest rate of council-owned properties being returned to use.
Mr Cooke points out that there are several reasons that this issue has occurred: for example, private owners that the council are working with may not have the money to keep the property in a habitable condition, or they may simply be reluctant to maintain or sell their properties.
The City Council’s official position on the long-term empty housing problem is that the properties are a blight on the community, and thus the Environmental Health and Safer Communities team have devised a plan to help combat the issue.
The Empty Homes Team go around the city trying to assess and evaluate the empty properties, then work with their owners and landlords to help them get the homes back on the housing market.
Should the owners be reluctant to co-operate, there are enforcement actions that can be taken, such as enforced sales, compulsory purchases and Empty Dwelling Management Orders that allow the property to be taken from those who are not using it, and turned around to become habitable again.
A further issue is that the properties themselves become eyesores.
Holly Acford-Palmer, 21, a student who lives in the badly affected area of Radford, says: “It can affect the feel of an area. Lots of houses left unoccupied tend to look run down and dilapidated. It makes an area a less desirable place to live and be.”
Having a lot of long-term empty properties in an area could lead to more people leaving that community, and the entire section of the city becoming run-down and uninhabitable.
However, it can be said that not all long-term empty housing is causing the same issues.
Nottingham City Homes are responsible for looking after many council houses, and some of the houses on their books would be classed as being long-term empty.
Despite this, the above issues associated with long-term empty housing do not apply here.
The empty properties that the organisation owns are quite often old Victorian houses that have been converted into flats.
This type of older housing generally needs to be modified in order to be suitable for people to move into. However, they are not usually suitable for the families that are the organisation’s top priority, and so they can be standing empty for quite some time before modernisation finally gets the go-ahead.
Dan Lucas, Strategy and Research Manager for Nottingham City Homes, says: “We need to wait until all of the flats are vacated before we can modernise the building as a whole.
“Obviously, this means waiting for the tenants of each individual flat to leave, which can take several years.
“We still maintain the empty flats and the exterior of the building, so it would not be immediately obvious to passers-by that the properties are empty, which would of course mean the impact on the local community would be limited.”
Whilst the issue of empty housing, and the potential problems that long-term empty homes can make happen, are cause for concern, it can be said that the impact on the community may not be as severe as first though.
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