Bromley Council, and the wasted resource of empty homes in the borough

Bromley Council and the wasted resource of over 300 empty homes

Bromley Council is currently seeking views from residents starting from now until 4 Jan on whether it should charge the maximum amount of council tax on unoccupied properties that have been empty for two years or more. This is known as the empty homes premium.Details of the consultation are here Bromley is the last local authority in London to use these powers. The minutes of the meeting show that the Conservative Councillor for Saint Mary Cray, Shaun Slator was opposed to the consultation and the principle of the empty homes premium.

Most residents who responded to a similar consultation exercise in 2020 supported the introduction of this extra tax. However, the council decided not to introduce the tax due to perceived problems with covid. For more details see  here.

The previous consultation document referred to problems caused by empty properties such as causing a drop in house prices and attracting anti-social behavior. The council could negotiate with owners to offer them help to bring such properties back into use

Many local authorities are keen to use empty properties as an alternative to expensive temporary accommodation for homeless households. Bromley council spends over £7.5 million pounds on temporary accommodation. It rehouses homeless households as far away as Canterbury or Birmingham.

The council figures for empty residential properties as of 30 September2022 are:

  • 246 empty properties for between 2 to 5 years.
  • Sixty-two empty properties for between 5 to 10 years.
  • Twenty-seven empty properties for over 10 years.

The total figure is 335.

This figure is an understatement. On 18/10/2021 in a reply to a formal question from Councillor Nicholas Bennett, the council told him that eighty-nine commercial premises had been empty for between 5 to 10 years and fifty-nine for over 10 years. Some of these may be suitable for use as domestic premises especially flats above offices. The council figures are disputed by  the Empty Homes Agency who claim that long term empty properties in Bromley have increased  from 971 in 2021 to 1,307 in 2022.

 In the same question the council admitted that one residential property had been empty for over 28 years! A  bottle of Irish Whiskey awaits whoever can provide reliable information on where this property is located.

The property shown below is in Orchard Road BR1 2PR. According to neighbours it has been empty for over 14 years. The council has powers to bring this property back into use via an empty dwelling management order. Such orders allow local councils to take over the management of empty properties in limited circumstances. For a recent example by Portsmouth Council see here.

The property above is  in the Bickley ward of Bromley Council. Councillor Colin Smith is the leader of Bromley council and is one of the Bickley councillors. He has the power to change council policy.

The picture above is another empty property in Plaistow Lane, Bickley. The council has legal powers to bring this property back into use but chooses not to do so.

The wards with the highest number of empty properties are Penge, Copers Cope, Farnborough and Crofton and Bromley Town. See pages 4 and 5 at appendix A right at the bottom of this council agenda

The above property is “Northdene “in the road known as Beckenham Place Park. It has been empty for over 14 years. There were two fires at this property within 3 days in June 2021. The police served the owner with an anti-social behavior order. The council refuses to say what action if any they are taking. However the council did find the time to prosecute a beckenham resident with an untidy garden.

Despite claiming to be a “green authority “, tackling empty homes in Bromley is not a priority for the council. The council has shown little interest in implementing the recommendations of Bromley’s own Homes Strategy which seeks to:

Bring responsibility for tackling empty homes into Housing, Planning & Regeneration and develop a new strategy to robustly pursue opportunities to bring empty homes back into use. “

There are no targets or even a strategy for reducing empty properties. Nor are any operational reports made to Committee. The post of empty property officer has been vacant for over 18 months. No senior councillor is responsible for this issue.

Council staff do not engage with the public who want to see empty homes brought back into use. A previous council commitment to visit all empty homes in the borough annually has now been removed from the council’s website. The council rarely takes enforcement action in this area.

The council leader is believed to be opposed to the use of compulsory purchase orders. If you live near a derelict property and are adversely affected due to council inactivity , the local government ombudsman may be able to help you.

The House of Commons library contains information about the wide powers that the council has at its disposal to deal with derelict and unsightly land and empty properties . Emails from Bromley council’s empty property service make it clear that they only deal with funding issues. It is unclear which council officers if any deal with enforcement issues relating to empty properties.

 In 2009 Bromley Council served the owner of a 13-year empty property in Beckenham with an empty dwelling management order. The newspaper article quoted Councillor Graham Arthur “Enforcement is a last resort, and our approach is always to work with the owner but where necessary we must take action for the benefit of the community when all else fails.”  This would not appear to be current council policy. Indeed the council appears not to have updated its own Empty Homes Strategy 2009 to 2011 as approved by elected councilllors.

The council estimate that the introduction of this premium will produce £228,000 income for the council. There is no mention of savings to the cost of temporary accommodation if only one empty property was used to accommodate homeless households.

This figure does not take account of the amount of money the council could generate from the new homes bonus that central government pays to local councils. This bonus takes account of empty homes work. The latest new homes bonus figures for Bromley council show a negative figure of minus 145 empty properties. The council’s inferior performance here is affecting the amount of money it receives from central government.

The council is out of touch with parliamentary developments. The Levelling up Bill currently going through Parliament will allow local councils to charge the empty premium on properties that have been empty for only 12 months rather than the current period of two years. Councils will have discretion to charge extra council tax on second homes.

Bringing an empty home back into use leaves less of a carbon footprint than a new home. A study for Historic Scotland estimated the carbon footprint of building a new two bed house as eighty tonnes CO2. In contrast the carbon footprint of refurbishing an old house was just eight tonnes CO2e. For more information on empty homes and climate change issues see here .

Progressive opinion in Bromley should respond to the consultation paper on whether to charge the empty homes premium when it is published later this month. It is a sad indictment of 12 years of Conservative Government that local councils are under no duty to publish an empty homes strategy. Local councillors should be sent pictures of empty properties in their wards to ask them to persuade the council to involve the public in drawing up a proper empty homes strategy. Check out this link for details of what a community land trust can do to change empty properties into occupied homes in Liverpool.

Dermot Mckibbin

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