Fire at 18-year-old Empty Property shows that Bromley Council is too soft on empty property owners

 

Northdene, Beckenham Place Park BR3 5BS

On 2 June 2021 there was a fire at the above property which is located in a road adjacent to the park. The road is in Bromley Borough. See www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/19345917.fire-crews-battling-fire-beckenham-park-place/

A large section of the roof at this large property has been destroyed. The damage is serious. It is uncertain how long the repairs will take.  This is a terrible waste. It appears that the fire brigade was also called at the same property on 27 May. It is remarkable that there have two fires at this empty property within a matter of days. Apparently, the police are making enquiries.

 

This fire should never have taken place as this property is a long-standing empty property. The council notified the owner on 3 March 2014   that the occupation of 5 self-contained flats was lawful.( https://searchapplications.bromley.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=MT061XBT0BP00 ). The council has a facility on its website to search the planning history of all properties in the borough.

 

The officer report to the same planning committee in 2014 contained the views, as shown below, of local residents that the property had already been empty for more than 10 years!

 

Comments from Local Residents

Nearby owners/occupiers were notified of the application and representations were

received which can be summarised as follows:

lived in Beckenham Place Park for 35+ years and have never seen the

house developed into flats.

gates have been chained up for more than 3 years.

North Dene has been derelict and empty for more than 10 years.

 

Subsequent planning applications to the council were turned down. The council should have taken effective enforcement action to ensure that this property was brought back into residential use.

The council appears not to be following its own policy which states on its website:

If owners do not respond, then enforcement action is considered, and we have a rating scheme for this. Where necessary and where everything else fails an Empty Dwelling Management Order (EDMO) or a Compulsory Purchase Order can be sought, and the council can ultimately take control of property left empty for long periods.

Every empty property recorded on the council tax register is visited and checked for condition and occupancy and photographed at least once each year and normally more frequently.

The council should now take steps to compulsory purchase this property which according to local residents has been vacant since prior to 2003. This is a total of over 18 years.

Correspondence with the council over empty properties in Copers Cope ward after empty homes week in April revealed on 27 April 2021 that the council had in fact no staff in post to deal with empty properties and that they had been seconded to other duties.( getcommonholddone.co.uk/empty-property/2021/04/14/392/).

 

 

“Dear Mr Mckibbin,

 

Thank you for your enquiry.

 

I have seen your other email regarding specific properties in the ward, unfortunately we currently do not have an empty property officer and staff who would normally try to assist have been seconded to other roles for much of the last year which has impacted on service provision, the Empty Property officer role is being reviewed before recruiting. Assuming an appointment is made they will have a backlog of work to progress but your emails and the addresses provided will be added to this.

 

I am aware that the Director of Housing was seeking to meet with the with the Head of Planning and  the owner of 44 Southend Road and of  Beck House to see if an agreement to development can be found. I believe this is imminent and the result of this will determine if other options need to be explored. I am not aware of the other property mentioned by you but assume from the photograph and a land registry search that this is 85 Downs Hill Beckenham  BR3. The owner will be approached by the empty property officer, once recruited.

 

You have asked about Committee  and strategy documents and these are all available as a public record and you are able to search for such documents, as such  this is not for me to allocate time to assist you.

 

Regards

 

Steve Habgood

Head of Service

Housing Improvement

Housing, Planning and Regeneration.

Bromley Council, Civic Centre, BR1 3UH. ”

 

 

The council’s website has information about its policy on dealing with empty homes : bromley.gov.uk/info/913/empty_residential_properties/719/empty_properties  

Any empty or derelict property should be reported to the council at empty.properties@bromley.gov.uk .

 

There is now a large backlog of empty property work building up. The Director of Housing is in discussion with the owners of empty properties in Copers Cope Road (Beck House) and Southend Road. It is remarkable that the council did not see fit to let the public know or to alter the information on their website. Nor did the three local Conservative councillors for Copers Cope ward explain what was happening when they were emailed in April 2021.

Bromley Council’s poor record on dealing with empty homes has attracted the attention of the Empty Homes Agency, a national charity. ( www.actiononemptyhomes.org/blog/looking-for-the-empty-homes-in-bromley ).

The council consulted members of the public in 2020 on whether the council should charge the maximum amount of council tax on the owners on empty properties. A majority of those who replied supported the council’s proposal. The council decided to merely note the contents of the report and took no action at all when the matter came to the Executive Committee in January 2021. Owners would not be able to undertake the necessary building due to covid. However, anybody travelling round the borough will see that building work is still being undertaken albeit at a slower rate.

 

It is worth reading the opening paragraph of the consultation document:

Bromley Council is keen to explore ways of bringing more empty homes back into use. This consultation is asking residents for views on whether Council Tax charges should be increased for owners of long-term empty homes.
There are currently around 300 homes in Bromley which are liable for Council Tax and are recorded as having been empty for 2 years or longer. Long-term empty properties are a wasted resource. For their owners, they are not earning any income and may be depreciating in value due to deterioration. For the local community, these properties can be an eyesore and a nuisance as they often attract vandalism and fly-tipping and, if homes are neglected, the value of surrounding properties tends to be reduced as a result of the neighbourhood not being perceived as a good place to live.
In many areas where there is a high demand for housing, empty homes brought back into use could become an important source of homes for households who need them. This could be either affordable homes, such as social rented housing, or market housing, such as homes for private rent or sale.
The Council is seeking residents’ views on changes to the Empty Homes Premium for unoccupied dwellings from April 2021. This is a sum that would be payable in addition to the Council Tax liability should the property be unoccupied.”

It would of course be completely unacceptable for the council to have decided not to increase the council tax rates for the owners of empty properties if they already knew at the time that the council had no staff in post to do this work.

According to the Empty Homes Agency, a campaigning national charity, the number of long-term empty properties in the London Borough of Bromley has gone up from 554 in 2019 to 828 in 2020. This represents an increase of 49%. ( https://www.actiononemptyhomes.org/facts-and-figures)

Bromley Council needs to produce a plan to ensure that these properties are brought back into residential use and to lobby Government for extra powers and resources as required. It would be helpful if the council were more transparent in their dealings with the public on this issue as their co-operation is required.

If Government policy on “levelling up” is have any meaning at all, it is unfair for the council to plan to rehouse homeless families in Kent when with the required political will, there are empty properties in the borough that they could potentially live in. (getcommonholddone.co.uk/general-housing/2021/04/21/conservative-housing-policies-in-bromley/)

The council could show it means business by compulsory purchasing the fire damaged property in Beckenham Place Park.

 

Dermot Mckibbin

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Showing 2 comments
  • Sheldon Goodman
    Reply

    I e-mailed the developer to see if there would be any interest in proposing this as a retirement home for members of the LGBTQ community. It’s in a conservation area, so hopefully it can be repaired and brought back into use.

    • Dermot Mckibbin
      Reply

      Hello Sheldon,

      Thanks for getting in touch. I am keen to see that this property brought back into use. A retirement home for the LBBTQ community is a good idea. As the property has been empty for so long the owner may net be so keen. You may be better off to pursue this idea in Lewisham.

      Regards Dermot

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