The latest empty homes report shows that 1,267 properties in Edinburgh had been empty for over 12 months and are not being marketed for sale. No doubt many of these properties will be sitting empty as a result of deaths, and families will be waiting for estates to be settled. Others will be empty as they are undergoing renovations.
The vast majority of these empty homes cause no problems. Others are empty for longer periods and do result in problems – overgrown gardens, vandalism and the ever present risk of a fire.
One of these problem empty properties is just 280m from my home in Buckstone and has been empty for around 20 years despite being valued at well over £300,000. Since I was elected in 2017 I have been working with local residents, the Police and Council Officers to have it brought back into productive use.
Although the background is complex, it was clear to me last year that there was a lack of communication internally within the Council, and also with external agencies. There was also a reluctance to act due to a separate ongoing action by a bank to repossess the property.
What I hope is a breakthrough came when a Council Officer met with the residents of a neighbouring property so they could explain how the empty home is destroying their quality of life. We heard of how delivery drivers use the back garden as a toilet, how the property flooded when pipes burst in a bad winter and how there had been multiple break-ins.
The Council has no repossession powers that the bank does not have. The Council does, however, have compulsory purchase powers. After hearing the personal testimony of residents, the Council agreed to test the use of these powers on empty homes.
If all goes to plan, on the 30th of August Edinburgh’s Housing and Economy Committee will agree to test the use of these powers and turn neighbourhood eyesores across Edinburgh in to homes.