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Carmarthenshire approves policy to bring nearly 500 empty homes back into use

PEOPLE with long-term empty homes in Carmarthenshire will be offered help to bring them back into use but could also face enforcement, including a compulsory purchase order.

County councillors have approved a policy which aims to reduce the number of private empty homes from 1,984 to 1,500 in three years’ time.

Speaking at a meeting of full council, Cllr Linda Evans, cabinet member for homes, said 62% of the 1,984 properties had been empty for more than two years – some for more than 10 years.

“We have to take steps to deal with this,” said the Plaid councillor. “We have to realise that it’s not acceptable that homes are empty for a long period of time.”

Cllr Evans said Carmarthenshire had the second best record in bringing empty homes back into use of Wales’s 22 councils, but that more needed to be done given demand. Carmarthenshire has more than 4,000 people on the housing register and Cllr Evans said 872 of these individuals “presented as homeless”, with 137 currently in temporary accommodation including 31 families. The county’s population was 187,900 in 2021.

The Welsh Government offers interest-free loans of up to £25,000 to empty property owners to make them liveable, with grants available if the property is then leased to help those at risk of homelessness. Councils can take enforcement action, including in some cases an enforced sale or a compulsory purchase.

Labour councillor Kevin Madge said he felt more use should be made of compulsory purchase orders, adding that one house in his Garnant ward had been vacant for 40 years.

He said: “There is no doubt that the housing situation is critical.”

CllrMadge also said that empty council houses “really frustrates me”, and that the authority should buy back more former council properties than it currently does.

Cllr Evans said Carmarthenshire had 400 empty council houses just over a year ago but that this had come down to 230. She said it was to be expected that around 200 of the council’s 9,000-plus houses and flats would be empty at any one time.

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The new policy excludes empty council and registered social landlord properties. Independent councillor Sue Allen said she felt council houses should be covered by it.

CllrAlun Lenny, cabinet member for resources, said the Plaid-Independent administration had returned some 700 private empty homes to use over the past five years and that this was part of a wider approach, including the construction of new council houses, to increase the housing stock.

From next April, long-term empty homes in Carmarthenshire will be subject to a council tax premium, which council chiefs hope will further encourage owners to take action.

Labour councillor Michael Thomas asked if the administration had considered pod-type homes for temporary accommodation.

Cllr Evans said this had been looked at, and might one day be looked at again, but that the preference was to provide people with somewhere permanent not short-term to live.

Temporary accommodation, she said, was “not right, especially for families”.