To receive any Members' questions.
Councillor P Ruffles asked that “As portfolio holder for Housing in the East Herts District, does Councillor Jan Goodeve have proposals to seek to maximise the use of properties in our town centres for residential purposes, and to support policies to protect the green belt and countryside areas beyond the green belt? Specifically, in my Ward of Bengeo, is she taking measures to secure the reuse of residential accommodation above two retail premises, perhaps by compulsorily purchasing them? I refer to 22 -24 St Andrew Street and 7 Cowbridge. Both premises are in the Hertford Conservation Area, are historic, and in secondary shopping streets in the town centre. Both have been allowed to remain unused and disfigurements of the street scene for many years. Both are ideally suited to provide residential accommodation on their 1st and 2nd floors?”
In reply the Executive Member for Housing thanked Councillor Ruffles for his question and stated that using existing properties and brown field sites were excellent ways to both revitalise towns and reduce the need to extend development into the countryside and that East Herts no longer employed Officers dedicated to bringing back empty homes into use but that the Council used a number of ways to promote better use of properties, including:
· Certifying owners’ work to empty home to reduce their VAT liability from 20% to 5%;
· Accessing sub-regional monies where possible to support the cost of compulsorily purchasing empty residential properties;
· Seeking compulsory purchase orders, CPOs – two had been granted in recent years (one had let to the owner finally selling the property, and the owner of the other one had been given time to bring it back into use before the Council acted on a CPO);
Applying an additional 50% council tax charge on
properties which had remained empty for two or more years,
excluding those legitimately empty eg. when subject to
As a result, the Council had been able to keep the number of properties empty to around 130 despite a national upswing in the number of empty homes in 2018.
The Executive Member explained that the two properties in Hertford referred by Councillor Ruffles were classed as commercial premises and both have been visited numerous times in connection with business rates assessments. Building Control Officers had also been engaged in connection with the condition of one of the property’s structure. Given their commercial classification, the properties had not to date, appeared on any listings of empty homes.
The property 22-24 St Andrew Street was previously been granted planning permission for conversion to a retail unit and three flats, however, development had not started and the permission had now lapsed.
The Executive Member explained that she had asked Officers to explore what options were available to incentivise the return of these properties to use, adding that compulsory purchase remained an option of last resort but this course of action would be complex, would need to overcome significant planning considerations and would be costly.
Councillor P Ruffles sought assurances about the use of the first and second floors being used for residential purposes and whether this could be explored because he believed that the property had been residential even in the recent past.