Harrogate council approves new powers to tackle empty properties

Bringing empty homes back into use will become a more streamlined process under a new policy introduced by council.
Bringing empty homes back into use will become a more streamlined process under a new policy introduced by council.

New, beefed-up powers to tackle empty and unused properties around Harrogate have been approved by the council.

The 2019-2024 Empty Homes Strategy presents a step-by-step guideline that council can undertake in regards to empty homes - ranging from encouraging property owners to fill the site, to enforcing compulsory acquisition orders and subsequent sale of properties.

Cabinet member for housing and safer communities, Coun Mike Chambers, said the policy for the first time details all of the options and processes open to the council regarding unused properties.

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"It's another tool in the armoury for council," he said.

He added that the new policy was not intended to be used as a "weapon" by council, but was instead about ensuring that seemingly abandoned homes wouldn't remain a drain on the community.

"We're not using it to threaten anybody, (instead) it's a policy that ensures any property that is left vacant can be brought back into use," he said.

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Coun Chamber said that "large elements" of the policy were already available to the council, but that the policy now presented a streamlined version that could be implemented.

A report on the policy presented to cabinet members states: "Empty homes represent a wasted housing resource; they also pose other problems

for local authorities, owners, neighbours, emergency services and the environment".

"They are often a blemish on an area and can be subject to vandalism and anti-social behaviour," the report states.

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A 2016 report by the council stated that there were about 800 unused properties across the district.

Since 2017, the council has used voluntary and compulsory purchase orders on properties on Hargrove Road, Harrogate and Heathfield Drive, and Knaresborough.

The council's new policy details on a month-by-month basis what action can be taken to tackle an unused property.

Any property left vacant for more than two years can be considered for enforcement action, such as compulsory acquisition, to bring the property back into occupation.

Between six and 24 months, council tax for the property will be hiked up by 100 per cent, before going up to 125 per cent after that.

The council will work to contact owners to inform them of their obligations under the empty property policy for a property vacant up to six months.

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter