Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Use it or lose it

I don't have much time for squatters or their proclaimed rights - but I have even less time for those people who leave buildings abandoned and unoccupied for years either.

At a time when there is increasing pressure to expand into green belt land to provide housing for our rapidly expanding population (it doesn't need to be rapidly expanding and the reason it is is almost entirely due to immigration - but that's a whole different rant) it is nothing short of a national scandal that there are hundreds of thousands of empty homes in Britain today.

Having said all that, I can completely understand why people do leave them unoccupied and abandoned - particularly if they are in prime locations such as town centres. I know of two instances reasonably local to me where the owners of a property on a large piece of prime real estate have left that site unused and abandoned for a decade or more - both were previously business sites.

They left them like that because the local council would not allow them to develop the land the way the land owners wanted to develop the land. The local councils wanted them to remain as business sites while the land owners wanted to build large blocks of luxury flats. Both sites were recently given the go ahead and one now has a humongous square lump of a building that more resembles a prison block than a luxury condo while the other is set to be developed into more luxury flats.

Of course, that's not the only reason such sites get left abandoned and empty. For some inexplicable reason, buildings that are left unoccupied get a discount on business rates - 75% I believe.

This has got to be the most stupid and self-defeating rule ever in the history of town planning. The last thing any town wants is to have its lucrative business areas not contributing to their full potential. Not only are they losing out on the business rate taxation, but they are losing out on jobs and the income that those jobs will generate.

Furthermore, if a prospective employer is looking at your town as somewhere to base their business in they won't be much impressed with rows of abandoned offices and industrial units. If anything, business units that are left unoccupied should attract an increase in business rates to make up for the loss that they would otherwise bring in - I would suggest double the rate.

This would encourage landlords to get tenants in as quickly as possible rather than leave these units abandoned and unoccupied. They might have to drop the rental a little, but better to have the property earning some money.

I also think that there should be a "use it or lose it" policy for any empty building or site. By that, I mean that once a council has identified a property as being unused they should issue the owner a notice that they have two years to submit an acceptable planning proposal or get that site occupied or the property/site will fall into council ownership.

I know that sounds draconian - and it is - but I would also expect councils to be more flexible on their planning consents. As long as the planning proposal isn't for a fifteen storey mega casino with attached brothel and nuclear reprocessing plant then they should allow the landowners to do pretty much whatever they want with their land - except leave it vacant.


Brian, follower of Deornoth said...

The discount for unoccupied space does have one benefit; it means that council officials will not harass property owners with frivolous and pointless objections to change-of-use planning applications, as doing so will cost the council money.

Charging extra will provide exactly the reverse incentive.

bernard said...


As a corollary to your piece, you could have mentioned the role of the EU in all this.
This malign Union introduced the 'Set-Aside' scheme in 1988, whereby agriculture land was left redundant to offset over-production in cereals.
The environment gained nothing from being left to decay like this, and then shortages in food began so the scheme was abandoned in 2008.
An utter waste of time, money and jobs.
Having learnt nothing from this stupid shortsightedness, the UE now continues with its open borders policy. So, once again pressure is put on agricultural land only for the reverse reason...
there is not enough of it this time round, to accommodate the forced increase in population!

As they say, you couldn't make it up. The EU is the hand-of-death on EVERYTHING it touches.

Jeez it's depressing.