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EHA to launch new campaign

Campaigning charity the Empty Homes Agency is gearing up to launch its new campaign to bring down the number of empty homes. The main public launch of the campaign will be during Empty Homes Week, which runs from 1st to 5th December 2014, but emails have already been sent to council Leaders today with a view to getting local authorities to pledge support to the new initiative formally.

Helen Williams, Chief Executive of the EHA, has copied to EHN the email sent to council Leaders, which reads as follows:

Empty Homes Week 2014 - 1st December to 5th December

Helen Williams, Chief Executive of the campaigning charity Empty Homes Agency, has announced the dates for this year's Empty Homes Week - from the Monday 1st to Friday 5th December 2014.

An announcement on the Empty Homes Agency website reads

The Empty Homes Agency is encouraging all those working to bring empty homes back into use to make the most of this week to publicise the good work that they are doing and to make the case for plans to bring long-term empty homes back into being a priority both locally and nationally.

£10million more for Wales Houses to Homes scheme

The Welsh Draft Budget for 2015-16 adds yet another £10million to the Houses to Homes loans initiative, bringing the total to £30million since the inception of the scheme.

The Draft Budget notes:

Financial transactions funding of £10m in 2015-16 to expand investment in this scheme to over £30m since its launch in 2012. This successful initiative has already delivered almost 500 residential units and leveraged an additional £7.8m of private sector funding to bring empty homes in Wales back into use and increasing the supply of housing across Wales.

Office-to-residential conversions have variable impact nationwide

Research by the Local Government Association seems to indicate that the relaxation of the planning regime around conversion of offices to residential use has had a varibale impact around the country.

A significant proportion of responses highlighted the predictable negative effects such as displacement of businesses, absence of contributions to affordable housing and infrastructure. But it is a surprise that the negative responses were not higher.

Government issues guidance on definitions of empty homes and second homes

The Department of Communities and Local Government has issued a letter to clarify the definitions of empty homes and second homes. The letter, signed by Hülya Mustafa, a Deputy Director for Council Tax, seems to have been prompted by concerns about avoidance, whereby otherwise empty homes have furniture put in them specifically to avoid the Empty Homes Premium.

Minister praises EPOs, but no to programme extension

In a letter to the Empty Homes Network, Stephen Williams, the Minister for Empty Homes has turned down our plea for an extension of the current Empty Homes Programme beyond 31st March 2015 (reported here), whilst acknowledging the contribution of local authority empty homes officers in bringing down the total number of empties.

The letter to us reads as follows:

Thank you for your letters of 28 July to Brandon Lewis MP and I about the empty homes programme.

Welcome to incoming Executive

With no contention for Executive places, those people nominated were returned unopposed and without the need for an election (phew!).

At its last meeting in July, the Executive voted a huge thank you to Matt Smith of Birmingham City Council (pictured left) for his two-year stint as Chair, a period that included continuing growth for the Empty Homes Network despite the cuts and was also brightened by probably the two best national Conferences that EHN has ever run. Matt's steadying influence has been invaluable during a challenging time.

New tool improves access to register of government land

The Cabinet Office has announced its Government Property Finder to help people find out about the government's property portfolio, including both surplus land and buildings that could be converted to homes.

The announcement is tied in with a plug for the government's "Right to Contest" which allows members of the public to challenge the current use of buildings or land if they think that it is being used ineffciently or inappropriately.

Landlord penalty under Proceeds of Crime Act scaled back

A landlord who was fined £1.4million under the Proceeds of Crime Act for unlawfully converting a house into an HMO and then ignoring enforcement orders requiring him to convert the house back to a single dwelling has had his penalty under the Proceeds of Crime Act cut to £544,358, according to a story published in Letting Agent Today and elsewhere.

He still faces five years in prison if he fails to make the payment.

The judges in the Court of Appeal determined that

CLG seeks bids for small underspend on CGP

The Department of Communities and Local Government is offering a "very small amount" of underspend within the Communities Grant Programme (CGP) for organisations that can spend before the end of the programme on March 31st 2015.

The deadline for submission of any bids is 22nd August 2014, so the opportunity is only available to organisations that are poised and ready with projects in existing pipelines.

Permitted development rights don't include sub-dividing a flat above a shop

In a recent appeal case, the planning inspector supported a council in refusing to give a lawful development certificate to a property owner who had divided an existing flat above a shop into two flats.

Currently it is possible under recent changes to the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) to convert retail space above a shop into two flats without needing planning permission. Prior to the changes, there had been the flexibility to create only one flat.

Government planning proposals: further relaxation for residential conversions

In a consultation document issued on 31st July, the government announced plans for further relaxations around the conversion of commercial property to residential use.

The two key proposals are in Section 2 of the Consultation document ("Reducing planning regulations to support housing, high streets and growth") and were as follows:

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