Call for answers over empty homes in County Durham

County bosses have insisted they are getting families back into vacant homes – despite shelving roles dedicated to tackling the problem.

Friday, 29th January 2021, 6:06 pm
Updated Friday, 29th January 2021, 6:08 pm
Durham County Council's HQ at County Hall

The jobs were created in 2018 with the intention of speeding up efforts to bring County Durham’s estimated 6,000 empty properties back into use.

But leaders at Durham County Council have blamed recruitment problems and the coronavirus lockdown for failing to continue the scheme.

Kevin Shaw, cabinet member for strategic housing and assets, said: “In June 2018, three [posts] were originally contracted for a two-year period [later] reduced to two.

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“In April 2020, when the initial contracts with two offices were ending, lockdown was in place and there were few opportunities to take forward the empty property work.

“The decision was therefore taken to review the empty property work against the targets and past performance and under the potential of work progressing through the pandemic.

“The result of this initial review by the service management was that two of the three contracts will not be extended, with further work to be looked at on how we could better deliver on the outcomes that were agreed by full council.”

Cllr Shaw was speaking at a full meeting of Durham County Council, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.

According to Cllr Shaw, the council’s empty properties team helped bring almost 600 empty properties back into use between 2018 and 2020.

Creation of the three dedicated roles was originally proposed in an opposition motion to full council ahead of the confirmation of spending plans for the 2018/19 financial year.

Liberal Democrat opposition councillor Mark Wilkes, who requested answers from the county leadership, said: “For three years, instead of having three new employees, the council had two employees working for less than two years and another position for significantly less than that.

“And the council got rid of the manager’s position.

“One can only imagine how much more would have been achieved by this staff had what we voted on actually been put in place and the department not slashed.”

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