Plan to tackle empty homes issue are approved

ALMOST 1,200 homes in the Borders are now classed as long-term empty, according to Scottish Borders Council, which has now approved a strategy to tackle the issue, writes Mark Entwistle.

Last week’s meeting of the local authority executive saw members approve a draft strategy and action plan for the next five years, which highlights key issues involved and the priorities for the local authority in dealing with the situation, and bringing long-term vacant properties back into use.

The strategy and action plan, which are now going out for a three-month public consultation exercise, provide a definition of what is an empty home – empty for at least six months – and identifies a wide range of reasons why properties may become vacant.

The officers who compiled the report say the majority of private homes which become vacant are when the previous occupant dies, moves to hospital or is evicted and the property repossessed.

Currently, two per cent – or 1,197 – of private dwellings in the Borders are classed as long-term empty – double the national average.

Selkirkshire councillor Gordon Edgar, SBC executive member for roads and infrastructure said he welcomed the strategy, saying it would provide SBC with a “tool” to determine what actually was and was not a long-term empty property.

But he warned: “The situation can be misinterpreted because a number of the homes standing empty are because people are trying to sell them or rent them, and in the current economic climate that is not so easy,” he told us.

“But there are properties which could be possibly brought back into use – I’m thinking of buildings like old unused farm cottages and that kind of thing.

“The council can offer to arrange help to do up such properties and if people refuse, then this strategy would mean it could take action,” the councillor added.

The strategy report highlights Galashiels and Hawick as the towns with the highest levels of empty properties, and these are also the areas with high unmet housing need.

Hawick had 253 empty properties, followed by Galashiels (119), Peebles (106), Kelso (77), Jedburgh (73) and Selkirk (43).

In Berwickshire, Duns was recorded as having 64 empty properties, followed by Eyemouth (42) and Coldstream (23).

Key points arising from the survey included one showing half of all empty properties in the Borders were found within the central area.

Of the overall empty properties in the region, 55 per cent are houses and 24 per cent are flats. Almost half of the 39 per cent of people who responded to the postal survey of empty properties carried out during December and January, said the standard of property was ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’.

A quarter of respondents were trying to sell their properties and almost half did not know how long it would be before their property was occupied again.