Surveyors' warning over derelict homes rise in Wales

Improvement work on one Rhondda Cynon Taf housing estate is building confidence

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Derelict houses could become a bigger problem in Wales unless greater incentives are given to owners to renovate them, it has been claimed.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) in Wales says many owners are put off because of red tape.

Figures obtained by BBC Wales show there were at least 33,789 empty properties in Wales in March 2012.

The Welsh government said 2,000 empty homes had been brought back into use since the assembly term start in 2011.

Start Quote

Availability of funds from banks at present is virtually non-existent for development purposes”

End Quote Will Lysaght Developer

BBC Wales asked the 22 local authority in Wales how many residential properties were empty in the three years from 2010 to 2012.

Only 17 replied with comparable statistics.

As of 31 March 2010, 29,349 properties were empty in those authorities, and the number had increased to 31,574 the following year.

By March 2012 there were 33,789 empty properties - an increase of about 10% on 2010.

Surveyors say properties can become more expensive to renovate if left unoccupied for a long time, sometimes falling victim to vandalism, damp and other problems.

The institution also says an area's economic circumstances can also play a role, with properties away from employment centres often attracting less potential tenants.

'Incentivising investment'

It is also concerned that if large numbers of empty houses are left in some communities it could affect the surrounding areas.

Chris Sutton said the RICS wanted to see "an approach to incentivising investment rather than penalising parties".

He added: "That may be through short-term tax breaks, it could be through grant aid, or it could be through interest-free loans."

One part of the Welsh government's strategy is to make use of existing homes, rather than start building new housing estates.

Housing Minister Huw Lewis told AMs on Tuesday that a scheme launched last year to bring empty properties back into use is "working well".

Under the Houses into Homes scheme, owners of properties which have been empty for more than six months can apply for interest-free loans of up to £25,000 so people can live in them.

Church into flats scheme

Mr Lewis said £3m of the £10m of new capital funding made available to local authorities had been used, and councils have said they expect to use all of the money by the end of March.

He said that target of bringing 5,000 empty properties back in to use by the end of the assembly term in 2016 was "well within our reach".

The minister highlighted Pembrokeshire council as the only authority not taking advantage of the scheme.

Powys council told BBC Wales that it operates a similar scheme and has got 40 houses back into use.

Blaenau Gwent has issued three loans since April 2012. One was to a development company to convert an old church in Ebbw Vale which had been derelict for 20 years into flats.

Will Lysaght, a partner involved in that company, said: "Availability of funds from banks at present is virtually non-existent for development purposes and this scheme has enabled us to develop five or six residential units as opposed to two or three."

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