Details arrive at the Voice of a launch of our General Election housing policy:

The Liberal Democrats today set out plans to bring a quarter of a million empty homes back into use, making homes available for people who need them and creating 65,000 jobs.

There are over 760,000 empty properties across England which are no longer used as homes but can be brought back into use with some investment. People who own these homes will get a grant or a cheap loan to renovate them so they can be used: grants if the home is for social housing, loans for private use.

The plans form part of the economic stimulus package outlined as a core principle of the Liberal Democrat election manifesto. In the first year of the new Parliament, the party would redirect over £3.6bn of spending to create jobs and build up Britain’s infrastructure. In the following years this money will be redirected to other Lib Dem spending priorities and reducing the structural deficit.

This is excellent news, and win-win-win-win territory. Homeless families win – increasing the housing stock makes it easier to find a home. Owners of empty properties win because it helps them turn a burden into an asset. It’s good for the environment because restoring existing properties is more carbon-efficient than building new homes from scratch, and because it can help councils resist green-belt development and new land take for housing. Providing more housing in existing communities also helps with transport and infrastructure planning. Local authorities win because occupied homes pay council tax, whilst empty ones often don’t. And it’s a win for employment and jobs since getting 750,000 homes up to standard is going to take a lot of employees to do.

And as well as all those wins, it’s a good thing for all those of us living in streets with empty homes that make our streets look deserted. And if, like me, you’re living in a semi-detached house with no neighbour, it would be good news for my heating bill not to have a cold empty house leaching my heat by conduction through the party wall!

Perhaps we could go a little further? Currently there is no statutory responsibility for councils to tackle empty homes in their areas and for many, this is not a priority. Where they exist, Empty Homes Officers can often have a huge workload and have to concentrate their efforts into the worst, most dangerous properties in their areas, whilst the more easily relettable ones lie empty. And the longer they’re empty the harder it will eventually be to bring them back into use.

Existing powers such as Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) are unwieldy and seldom used. They have numerous failings as this piece by Peter Black from Freedom Central explains. And even when councils are minded to use them, they are an expensive tool which must be funded from existing resources. Manchester councillor Iain Donaldson has called for greater central funding to be available to help use EDMO legislation more widely.

One final useful link: if there’s an empty home in your street, you can report it using Shelter’s website. It will take details from you about where the home is and pass them onto your local authority. If your council is on the ball, they can respond with what they are doing about that property to bring it back into use.