Senior councillors asked to back £500k fund to tackle the blight of empty homes in the Borders

Senior Scottish Borders councillors will next week be asked to rubber-stamp funding of £500k to help the owners of empty homes in the region to bring them back into use.

Empty homes are a blight.
Empty homes are a blight.

Neglected empty homes can have an adverse effect on communities, such as anti-social behaviour, vandalism and falling house prices in the vicinity.

Figures from the Scottish Government show that 1,543 properties were listed as long-term empty in the Borders in 2020, with 61% of them being empty for a year or longer.

The increase in numbers of empty homes across the country is being seen as part of the economic legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic and the full impact may not be known for some time.

Galashiels and Hawick town centres, Hawick Trinity and Hawick Wellogate had more than 5% of properties classified as Long-Term Empty (LTE) between 2016-2019, according to data from the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP).

As part of action to tackle the problem, the council recently appointed a dedicated empty homes officer.

And when members of the authority’s executive committee meet on Tuesday, December 7, they will be recommended to back the spending of £500k to help owners get buildings back into use.

Grants will be capped at a maximum of £25k per applicant and properties must have been empty for at least a year to qualify.

A report to the committee says: “The most common hurdle for empty home owners is the financial cost of bringing the property back into use.

“A total of 1,543 homes are registered as long term empty, accounting for 2.6% of the total housing stock in the Borders; higher than the national average of 1.8%.

"Homes lying empty cost communities in financial terms (as well as social) for example in lost rent, lost local spending, cost of boarding up properties, dealing with and responding to anti-social behavior, crime, and emergency services call-outs. By proactively tackling empty homes in addition to saving on these

costs, the estimated community spend generated through the re-occupation

of an empty home is estimated as £13,410 per property per year.

“As empty homes represent a wasted resource in the Borders and can also cause significant problems for neighbours and surrounding communities there is merit in providing financial assistance to owners to bring their properties back in to use as housing. It is recognised that working proactively with owners to bring properties back into use can be time consuming and complex and it is also recognised that one of the most significant barriers to bringing properties back in to use are the associated costs.”