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Anger over empty Norwich council homes

The city council has defended its record on getting empty homes back into use.

The city council has defended its record on getting empty homes back into use.

EDP pics © 2007

Council homes in Norwich are standing empty for so long City Hall is missing out on hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost rent, opposition councillors have claimed.

Figures revealed the average number of days which council homes stood empty between old tenants leaving and the houses being ready for new occupants was 66 days for the period between January and March this year.

The council’s own target is to have the empty homes, known as voids, ready within 24 days and, with almost 6,000 people on the waiting list for social housing, the council has conceded the speed has to improve.

But Labour, which runs the council, said the figures had been skewed because some properties which had been empty for a long time had been brought back into use.

However, Judith Lubbock, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, who raised concerns about the performance at a council meeting this week, said even with those properties taken out of the equation, the council would still have missed its target.

She said the council was set to miss out on £1m in rents because homes were empty, although Labour councillors reject that figure.

She said: “While I am pleased to see Labour taking on board Liberal Democrat calls for action on long-term voids, the report makes clear that even without this factor the council would still be missing the target of 24 days.

“The overall figure for last year was 46 days, this simply isn’t good enough.”

She said the council could ill afford to miss out on the rent lost because nobody was in the homes, but added: “What is even worse is the people in Norwich who are stuck on the housing waiting list unable to access homes.

“We have a target to turn around properties in 24 days, this Labour administration has not met that target for years.”

A spokesman for Norwich City Council said the figures were skewed because of “substantial structural work to 20 long term voids” to bring them back in to use.

More recent figures show the average number of days properties are standing empty has reduced. For April this figure was 35 days and for May this has reduced to 22 days.

Victoria MacDonald, Labour’s cabinet member for housing, said: “We could have just washed our hands of the long term void properties that needed substantial structural work but we didn’t do that because we wanted to make sure they were brought back into use so we can provide homes for those most in need.

“The figures being thrown around by the Liberal Democrats with regard to voids are being massaged and they are simply plain wrong.

“The figure of £1 million rental loss for voids has been plucked out of the air. The real figure is in fact close to half that amount and currently stands at around £580,000.”

• Do you have a council story? Call Evening News reporter Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375 or email dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk

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