'Landlord licences' plan to regenerate housing

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The Independent Online

COUNCILS WILL be given powers to license private landlords under a Government scheme to breathe new life into deprived areas by bringing abandoned housing back into use.

COUNCILS WILL be given powers to license private landlords under a Government scheme to breathe new life into deprived areas by bringing abandoned housing back into use.

New research by the Government has shown that an estimated 880,000 homes in Britain have been abandoned or have plummeted in value because they are surrounded by neglected properties. The scale of the problem is much bigger than expected and ministers are now drawing up a five-year plan costing hundreds of millions of pounds to tackle it.

The most controversial proposal is to force private landlords to obtain a licence from the local authority in areas plagued by run-down housing. The aim is to prevent "bad landlords" buying up cheap properties and renting them out – often to people on housing benefit – with no intention of carrying out repairs.

Officials at the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions have concluded that these landlords are a primary cause of the problem.

Such direct intervention in the private rented sector would attract criticism and is expected to be tested in a small number of deprived areas before being extended. The Government will argue that special measures are needed to tackle the exceptional circumstances. "There are too many landlords who put tenants in and leave the property to go to ruin. We have to break the cycle and stop them doing it again somewhere else," said one source.

Other measures in the "market renewal" package include ploughing more Government money in to demolish and rebuild schemes, renovating homes which are in better condition and buying out landlords and owner-occupiers. As well as turning round the areas already affected, the Government will intervene in places showing early signs of developing such problems.

Although London and the South-East suffer from a shortage of affordable homes, most vacant properties are snapped up. But the Government's survey found that the number of abandoned houses is growing rapidly in parts of the Midlands, North-West, North-East and Yorkshire cities such as Sheffield and Bradford.

The research found that empty housing was often a symptom of wider social problems including unemployment, poor schools and crime, and concluded that these issues must also be addressed if the deprived areas were to be regenerated.

Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, told The Independent yesterday: "It is now becoming clear that there is a major issue concerning the abandonment of properties in a number of areas around the country.

"We believe that there is a role for government in tackling this and we are working on a set of proposals with the aim of resolving these difficulties."

Mr Byers is seeking extra cash from the Treasury to address the problem in negotiations over a three-year public spending programme, to be agreed in July, and the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, is thought to be sympathetic.

The Treasury has promised that the spending review will address housing problems as part of the Government's fight against poverty and social exclusion. It said: "Low demand and abandonment are serious obstacles to the renewal of deprived neighbourhoods and to the social and economic well-being of wider communities."

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