MoD helpless to stop empty homes selloff

5 Dec 02
The government's affordable housing strategy ran into trouble this week when the Ministry of Defence admitted it could not stop 25 homes at an Essex army barracks being sold off.

06 December 2002

The homes, in Saffron Walden, were part of 57,000 MoD properties that were originally sold to private firm Annington Homes six years ago for £1.6bn and leased back by the ministry.

The Housing Corporation is teaming up with English Partnerships to put pressure on government departments to give up land and property for affordable housing.

'We expect government departments to bring buildings back into use so that they have an impact on the development of social housing,' said a spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

But Annington, which received a bid for the homes from Hastoe Housing Association, instead sold them to individual buyers for about £130,000 each – £25,000 more than Hastoe had offered.

A spokesman for Annington insisted that it was within its rights to sell the homes at a profit but said it often sold properties to housing associations when it received a 'realistic offer'.

Only last week, housing minister Lord Rooker pointed out that empty and under-used commercial properties in London and the Southeast could be used to build 400,000 new homes.

Urging local authorities to take more steps to bring properties back into use, he told the Empty Homes Agency's annual conference that it was wrong to assume empty buildings were a problem only in the North.

In addition to commercial properties, there were 70,000 'long-term' vacant private sector homes in London and the Southeast, he told the conference in London on October 29.

Across England, the number of long-term private sector vacancies has hardly changed recently, in spite of the overall housing vacancy rate falling last year by 25,000 to a new low of 732,000.

Insisting that every council should have an empty property strategy, Rooker said the government was pushing through measures such as allowing local authorities to levy a higher council tax on second homes and the selective licensing of private landlords, due to be included in the forthcoming Housing Bill.


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