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Claims Caerphilly Council should have launched empty homes crackdown earlier

Plaid Cymru group leader Lindsay Whittle at Ty Penallta (Pic: Plaid Cymru)

MEASURES to tackle long-term empty homes in Caerphilly County Borough could have been more effective if the council had “grasped the nettle earlier”, the opposition leader has claimed.

Lindsay Whittle, who leads the Plaid Cymru group in the council chamber, welcomed the council’s recent work to bring empty homes back into use, but said his party had been “highlighting this issue for many, many years”.

There are 1,008 so-called long-term empty homes across the county borough, including 131 that have stood empty for a decade or longer.

The council’s cabinet member for housing said the local authority was “committed” to tackling the issue, and its work had won national plaudits.

Last month, the council announced it had returned 104 properties into use last year.

Owners of long-term empty homes can apply for Welsh Government funding to help them carry out repairs and bring the properties back up to scratch.

Some 13 applications have been approved so far for homes in the Caerphilly area, in grants worth £284,000.

A further 31 applications are still in the pipeline.

And the council’s cabinet recently backed a proposal to quadruple council tax bills for properties left empty for a year or longer. That policy will soon go out for public consultation.

Cllr Whittle said he “welcomed” news of the 104 properties being brought back into use, and the planned council tax premiums hike for owners.

“Long-term empty homes are a blight on communities and a wasted housing resource when so many people are desperate for a home for themselves and their families,” he said. “Also, perhaps the council would look at the possibility of sharing homes for single people if they can be paired successfully.”

He added: “Think how many more homes could have been brought back into beneficial use if the Caerphilly Labour administration had grasped the nettle earlier and taken the issue much more seriously.”

Cllr Whittle also suggested that returning empty properties into use “might also help the pressure for so many new-build homes on greenfield sites”.

Cllr Shayne Cook

Responding to those comments, Shayne Cook, Caerphilly Council’s cabinet member for housing, defended the local authority’s record on empty homes.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service long-term empty properties were an “unsightly blot on our communities” and “represent a wasted resource, particularly during the current national housing crisis”. 

He said the council had worked “for many years” to support owners to “bring empty homes back into beneficial use”.

The council had established a dedicated Empty Properties Team, developing a “wide range of methods to address the issue of empty homes”, Cllr Cook said, adding that its work had “delivered quantifiable results” and “helped transform lives”.

“Caerphilly’s approach to addressing long-term empty properties has been cited as best practice and has seen the team win several national awards, including ‘Housing Team of the Year’ at the 2023 Welsh Housing Awards,” he added.