YP Comment: Lost potential of empty homes

Can better ways be found to bring empty homes, like these in Wright Street, Hull, back into use?
Can better ways be found to bring empty homes, like these in Wright Street, Hull, back into use?
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Bring properties back into use

EVEN though the Government says the number of empty homes is at its lowest level since records began, it certainly make sense to redouble efforts to fully utilise these properties at a time when there is a chronic shortage of affordable housing and when Yorkshire’s priceless green belt is coming under so much pressure.

With nearly 30,000 of the 77,117 vacant properties deemed to have been empty on a ‘long-term’ basis, it would ease the region’s housing crisis significantly if councils could work with the owners of such homes to bring them back into use. Not only will this help to reduce the pressure on property hotspots, but occupation has the potential to raise the profile of those inner city areas where these buildings tend to be clustered.

That can only be beneficial as councils, and planners, come under pressure to restrict development opportunities in those parts of Yorkshire where the basic infrastructure is already creaking. Yet it is not straight-forward. It has taken years, for example, to make some dilapidated streets in Hull fit for human habitation despite being located a short walk from the city centre; local authorities only have limited regeneration funds at their disposal and then there is the challenge of persuading absentee landlords to comply with these sound intentions.

Perhaps one way is to make the registered property owner personally liable for council tax if the house in question has been empty for more than 12 months – that might just concentrate some minds. In the meantime, every council in Yorkshire should look at the experience in Hull – this is a city truly on the up after years in the economic doldrums – and whether its regeneration policies can be applied elsewhere. It has to be in the interests of all, whether it property owners or those trying to gain a tentative foothold on the property ladder when prices are rising relentlessly because the number of new homes being built can’t keep up with the demand.

The big picture: EU reform and Ukip’s final fate

IT speaks volumes about Ukip’s febrile state that a leadership spat between Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell, the party’s only MP, should completely overshadow David Cameron’s first attempt at renegotiating the terms of Britain’s relationship with the European Union.

Yet this power struggle must not detract from the big picture and the Prime Minister convincing his more amenable counterparts at Thursday’s late-night summit in Brussels that there is a real likelihood of Britain leaving this institution if it does not accede to this country’s demands, not least on the eligibility of EU migrants to welfare entitlements if they move here.

As Europe, and its de facto leader Angela Merkel, struggle to come to terms with the repercussions of mass migration from the Middle East, the debt crisis which paralysed the euro and the EU’s lack of transparency, this should be a very timely opportunity for belated reform. It should also be remembered that the EU needs Britain more than Britain needs the EU. The question now is whether this will be realised in time for Mr Cameron to reach a new settlement with Brussels, present the final deal to the electorate and win the argument for EU membership. It will be a close call. Whatever happens in the referendum, the outcome is unlikely to settle the issue for a generation – irrespective of Ukip’s final fate.

Vote Yorkshire at SPOTY

THEIR successES were such that they would enrich any sporting year. Heptathlon’s golden girl Jessica Ennis-Hill back on top of the world a year after giving birth to her son Reggie; Lizzie Armitstead becoming cycling’s world champion 11 years after being persuaded to take up the sport during a school visit by Olympic talent-spotters and then Kevin Sinfield signing off from a glittering rugby league career by leading the unstoppable Leeds Rhinos to an unprecedented treble.

And these were the county’s competitors, all ultimate role models, who did make the shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. Others, like Ashes-winning tyro Joe Root, did not make the cut. Yet, with this prestigious show likely to be overshadowed, regrettably, by the presence of boxing bigot Tyson Fury, probably the most controversial nomination in the programme’s history, and the BBC’s unfathomable obsession with Formula One’s Lewis Hamilton (motor racing is one of the few events still shown by the Corporation), there is only one answer – vote Yorkshire.