Back to Urban Regeneration
Empty and under-used buildings are blight on surrounding areas and waste of potential resources. As evidence of dereliction, they cause disproportionate damage to local morale and reinforce an overall sense of urban decline.
Bringing buildings back to beneficial use requires sustained action. Every local authority should be required to produce a comprehensive empty property strategy for their area. In the commercial sector, there is scope for making greater use of redundant offices and empty space over shops for housing. Incentives to owners could include a reduction in business rates. Sanctions could, meanwhile, be applied to owners of derelict and poorly maintained residential properties left vacant for more than a year by making them pay a special higher council tax charge.
In addition, the irregularity should be removed whereby renovation work on empty dwellings carries Value Added Tax (VAT) at a punitive 17.5%, but new house building and conversion of commercial premises for housing are exempt. Ideally, refurbishment and conversion work should be zero-rated. If European Union policy rules this out, the minimum rate of 5% VAT to all house building and conversion should be applied. A significant proportion of the extra revenue raised should then be used to fund regeneration and development on recycled land
Clearer planning guidance is needed on how the options for regenerating historic districts and 'landmark' buildings can best be assessed. Conservation bodies role should be reviewed to ensure they are able to act as catalysts for local regeneration schemes. The business rate exemption for empty 'listed' buildings creates a perverse incentive for owners to leave them vacant and should be removed.
Some repair work needed in our town and cities is on a grand scale. However, there are also smaller eyesores and under-used spaces where local communities could take action if the right support was available. Money should be made available so that local people and voluntary groups can tackle these 'tears in the urban fabric' for themselves.
|Give local authorities a statutory duty to maintain an empty property strategy that sets clear targets for reducing levels of vacant stock.|
|Introduce new measures to encourage the restoration and the use of historic buildings left empty by their owners.|
|Facilitate the conversion of more empty space over shops into flats by providing additional public assistance, including public equity stakes and business rate reductions.|
|Harmonise VAT rates at a zero rate in respect of new building and conversions and refurbishments. If harmonisation can only be achieved at a 5% rate, then a significant part of the proceeds should be re-invested into urban regeneration.|
|Establish a ten-year national programme to help repair our towns, whereby community groups and voluntary organisations can access the resources needed to tackle derelict buildings and other eyesores that are spoiling their neighbourhood.|