Call for more to be done to reduce empty private properties in Wales
EMPTY houses have reduced by 2,000 in less than two years, but more must be done, an AM has claimed.
Peter Black (pictured) Lib Dem member for South Wales West welcomed the progress but called on the Welsh Government to do more to help local councils in Wales to reduce that number even further.
He was referring to the 23,000 empty private homes in Wales.
Mr Black said: "Councils have some tools such empty dwelling management orders and compulsory purchase but these are expensive and often the condition of the property is such the local authority cannot recover the cost of the order and works.
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"In many cases owners are reluctant to cooperate and in these circumstances councils should be able to charge them additional council tax so as compensate the community for the blight they have visited on it.
"The minister needs to legislate to give ensure that councils are more focused on dealing with this problem and ensure that they have the tools to do the job properly."
Swansea Council has been working to help owners to turn houses into homes. Towards the end of past year there were still 1,300 private houses in Swansea that had been empty for six months or more.
"In September the authority signed up to the Welsh Government's Houses to Homes scheme.
It has also forced sales of properties which had fallen into disrepair, causing neighbours to complain. This included a house in Banwell Street in Morriston, which was vacant for 40 years.
In 2009, two neglected properties in St Teilo's Street, Pontarddulais, were demolished under enforced sale procedures.
Neath Port Talbot Council, which has around 1,200 empty properties, has also used the House to Homes initiative.
Angela Thomas, head of business strategy and public protection, said: "The council is in the process of recruiting an empty properties officer."
Carmarthenshire had 2,142 private sector properties vacant for six months or more as of April 1, 2012. It was the first in Wales to have an empty properties officer.
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: "We recognise that empty homes are a wasted resource and a blight on communities and are committed to doing all we can to return as many of them to use as possible. We have set a challenging target of returning 5,000 empty properties to use as homes during this Assembly term."
She added: "The Housing White Paper launched last year highlighted our intention to legislate to give local authorities discretionary power to increase council tax on long term empty properties to encourage owners to bring their properties back into use through either sale or rent. This legislation is expected to be included in the Housing Bill when it is introduced later this year."