Owners of properties lying empty in Edinburgh are to be issued with a “use it or lose it” ultimatum.
The city council is set to push ahead with plans to force owners to sell up abandoned empty homes by using controversial legal measures.
The Capital currently has 1,267 properties which have been empty for more than 12 months, while more than 5,000 homes have remained vacant for at least six months.
Officers will draw up plans to pilot the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) to force homeowners to sell up their properties as the council adopts a more “interventionist approach” to freeing up housing stock.
Members of the council’s Housing and Economy Committee heard from residents who have been forced to put up with an abandoned property next door for 20 years. As well as broken windows, fly tipping and a garden that police refuse to enter – the property has attracted intruders, antisocial behaviour and has been labelled a fire hazard.
Housing and Economy Convener, Cllr Kate Campbell, welcomed the agreement to push forward with action to bring homes back into use.
She said: “We heard about the impact on people’s lives and we have an enormous amount of pressure on our housing market in Edinburgh. Bringing homes back into use is really important.
“I’m very pleased with this pro-active response, it’s the first step to getting on and doing something about the problem of long-term empty homes. The committee were keen to be kept informed and I think this shows the level of concern and that we will be monitoring progress.”
The council will present business cases for each CPO it wishes to pursue, and will need the approval of the Full Council and Scottish Ministers in order to proceed.
The authority currently has four properties on a shortlist, which have been abandoned for at least ten years. Council officers are currently dealing with a case load of 34 homes – putting pressure on owners to reintroduce properties.
Green councillors hit out at the empty homes situation in Edinburgh and called for a dedicated officer to investigate bringing empty homes back into use. The party also pointed to Glasgow and Stirling where more empty homes than the 27 in Edinburgh were brought back into use during 2017/18. Officers said that in Glasgow, more homes are able to be reused as part of regeneration policies.
Green housing spokesperson, Cllr Susan Rae, said: “The council’s willingness to look at compulsory purchase powers for long term empties where the owner is simply not engaging is welcome and overdue.
“In a city with such acute housing shortages and with such pressure on our precious green spaces, the blight of empty homes must end.”
Conservatives backed the CPO proposals, but warned about potential high costs to the council in taking over properties that have fallen into disrepair.
Conservative economy spokesman, Cllr John McLellan, said: “Compulsory Purchase Orders are not necessarily a silver bullet. In those circumstances a CPO would still mean the council would have to pay the market price for that home. That home, even in its dilapidated state, is still going to rake up £350,000 to £400,000 – which the council would have to pay.
“The margins in buying that property and then putting it back on the market could actually be quite small for the council.”