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‘It’s a tragedy there’s 31,000 empty homes when so many need a place to live’ - Peter Black AM

February 19, 2013 11:57 AM

The Welsh Liberal Democrats will be using their debate this week to call for an empty homes strategy, after a poll was held by the party asking for people to decide what should be debated in the National Assembly.

Marking the first time a political party has ever done such a thing, the Welsh Liberal Democrats launched an online poll in January asking people what they wanted debated in the National Assembly for Wales. A debate calling for a Welsh strategy for bringing empty homes back into use was chosen.

Peter Black, Welsh Lib Dem Shadow Minister for Housing, commented:

"Empty homes are a huge problem here in Wales, as can be seen by the support this issue received in our poll. It's an absolute tragedy that there are over 31,000 empty homes across the whole of Wales just sitting there going to waste while there are so many people on the housing waiting list. Welsh Labour has done too little on this and more must be done to tackle the problem.

"After a decade of near inaction from the Welsh Labour Government, the Welsh Liberal Democrats are using our debate to call on the Welsh Government to develop a strategy that will help local authorities bring empty homes back into use.

"It is essential that we equip our local authorities with more effective tools if we are to make real progress on this issue. This is why the Welsh Liberal Democrats want councils to be allowed flexibility in their approach to council tax.

"The 'Houses into Homes' initiative is a welcome start, helped in particular by the fact that the initial £5million identified for the scheme was doubled to £10million following the budget deal between the Welsh Liberal Democrats and the Welsh Government last year. But we believe this scheme needs to be developed much further, including ensuring there is more information out there for people to access."

Kirsty Williams, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said:

"We decided to run this poll because we wanted to give people a direct say in what is discussed in the chamber.

"Quality, affordable housing is getting more and more out of reach for the average worker and this problem is even more acute in rural areas, such as in my Brecon and Radnorshire constituency. In rural areas the gap between wages and house prices is often the largest and it is where the development of new affordable housing is often the most challenging due to the particular nature of planning policy in rural areas.

"In Scotland the Government has invested £4.5million in its Empty Homes Local Fund. Of this total, £2million is being targeted at renovating empty homes in rural areas in recognition of the particular challenges being faced there. We will be using this debate to call on the Welsh Labour Government to consider whether rural areas in Wales would benefit from similar targeted support.

"This is a hugely important issue that the Welsh Labour Government hasn't done anywhere near enough to tackle. Not only are empty homes a blight on our communities, but they are an immense waste when you consider the high number of people that are in desperate need of a home."