Sir, Carl Bendelowmistakenly believes (Herald, 4th February) that reusing emptyproperties will address affordable housing needs in Eden and be lesscontentious than building affordable housing on new sites.
Firstly, even if all the 400 empty houses he quotes could be brought into use now for affordable housing (a very big “if”), this would provide for only 1.8 years’ worth of the backlog of housing need identified by the council for the period 2006-2011, i.e. 227 affordable dwellings per annum, and will donothing for newly arising need since 2011.
Secondly, of the six local authority districts in Cumbria, Eden has the least number of empty homes. The largest number of known empty properties is in the towns Penrith, Appleby, Kirkby Stephen and Alston. In the villages there are very few empty properties (for example, in the Heart of Eden parishes) but these are the same villages which need affordable housing now, according to the surveys carried out by Cumbria Rural Housing Trust.
Thirdly, there is noevidence that turning empty properties into affordable homes will be a “quick and easy” process. The reasons why they are empty vary greatly, and many landowners/landlords will not want to see affordable housinganyway. Nor will every redundant rural building be suitable for conversion.
Fourthly, the planning tools for ensuring villages get affordable housing through empty homes are pretty weak.
Eden District Council’s core strategy sets an affordable housing target at 30 per cent. on sites of four or more properties. According to the council’s 2010 survey, more than 40 per cent. of the parishes in Eden have fewer than four empty properties, which means there will be no necessary requirement on owners to provideaffordable housing in these parishes.
Fifthly, it is living in cloud cuckoo land to believe that the conversion of rural buildings,including traditionalagricultural farmbuildings, removesplanning problems.
Converting a ruralbuilding is rarelystraightforward and there are often special design requirements to be met, leaving aside thecomplexities of ensuring the provision of anyaffordable housing.
Of course, if some empty properties can deliver a few affordable homes this is very welcome, but only by permitting more new sites can the scale of thebacklog and future need for affordable housing be met.
Sites will have to be found in larger and smaller villages if their needs are to be addressed, and here lies the rub. New sites are unpopular in the very places where there is a housing need.
Unfortunately, Mr. Bendelow appears to have joined the bandwagon that says all “greenfield” sites are bad and all“brownfield” sites must be good prejudice against new sites then becomes part of the problem, not the solution.
What is needed is not another organisation for empty homes, but stronger political leadership towelcome and supporthousing developments on new sites in villages where landowners are willing to make affordable housingavailable as soon aspossible (and, mostimportantly, are willing to ensure it remainsaffordable for villagers in the future) and where there are planningbenefits for the village.
There will always be some locals who belong to the banana (build absolutely nothinganywhere near anyone) tribe, but the challenge is to listen more to those who so often do not exercise their voice when it comes to new sites. Yours etc,