Thursday, 05 March 2015

Empty homes campaigner attacks squatting plans

The presenter of a Channel 4 programme highlighting the ‘scandal’ of empty homes has slammed government plans to criminalise squatting.

In the first episode of a two-part series looking at empty homes last night, architect George Clarke spent a night in an empty property.

George Clarke, Nirvair Sander, Jonathan Driffill

Architect George Clarke with Nirvair Sander, of Ark Housing Consultancy (left), and Jonathan Driffill, of Friendship Care and Housing

After the experience he said: ‘The government has got to wake up to the issue of squatting. Making it illegal is going to solve absolutely nothing, because squatters won’t stop squatting until they’ve got a viable alternative.’

In October the government released proposals that would make squatting in residential properties illegal.

Mr Clarke suggested the solution to squatting lay instead with bringing empty homes back into use and using them to house homeless people.

‘People squat because they have to,’ he said. ‘They need a roof over their head.’

During the campaigning programme Mr Clarke examined why properties are left empty, and worked with Birmingham City Council, Friendship Care and Housing, and Ark Housing Consultancy to show how empty homes can be brought back into use.

He is calling on the government to introduce a low-cost loan fund to allow people to access funding to renovate empty homes and bring them back into use. The campaign is also seeking a new right to allow people to take over the management of empty properties.

Mr Clarke was scathing of schemes that have seen empty homes demolished to make way for new developments, such as the housing market renewal pathfinders, claiming it was less expensive and more worthwhile to convert existing homes so they meet modern needs.

During a debate after the show he said: ‘We should be proud of our historic housing stock and there’s no reason why that can’t be upgraded and brought into the twenty-first century.’

The Great British Property Scandal

Mr Clarkes’ programme on empty homes is part of a series of shows on the theme of housing being shown by Channel 4 over the next few weeks. Coming up are:

  • Tuesday 6 December, 9pm - The Great British Property Scandal – second part of the empty homes programme
  • Wednesday 7 December, 9pm – Phil’s Empty Homes Giveaway – Location, Location, Location presenter Phil Spencer helps homeless people get a roof over their heads
  • Thursday 8 and Thursday 15 December, 8pm – Kevin’s Grand Design – Looking at Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud’s vision for UK housing

Readers' comments (12)

  • Evan Owen

    Does he have an 'empty' house where they can squat?

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  • George Clarke made some excellent points about wasted empty housing. Rows and rows of perfectly good terraces that could be renovated. It is a national disgrace.

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  • Mr Owen, cheap sarcasm suggests you have been lucky enough in your life not to face the hideous and life changing event that is homelessness. You will never be able to contribute to the solution as such an outlook is in fact part of the problem

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  • Alpha One

    The problem is, and always has been, that squatting is not confined to people in genuine need. There is, an element, who squat out of choice, who see property ownership as theft and themselves as some idealists who are living the dream.

    They invade properties, causing damage on entry, in situ and when they leave. They have no regard for personal property, since they are diametrically opposed to the concept of ownership.

    It is this element that the new laws are designed to deal with.

    Squatters who are in dire need don't trash properties, they live in it as their home and so treat it with respect. It these people we need to be helping, the rest deserve the full force of the law coming down on them.

    Did the legislation need changing, no, did the current legislation require some beefing up, yes. It would have been simple to amend the current regulations to give the police the power to forcibly remove squatters who refuse to leave.

    That amendment could have provided that squatters who leave must pay compensation either in the form of money or in the form of unpaid labour either putting right the damage caused or, if the home owner doesn't want this, then community service.

    That would have dealt with the problem elements of the squatting community.

    To deal with the rest, I absolutely agree with George, it is a criminal waste of money to leave empty and, eventually, destroy perfectly good homes. Sure a new development may make better use of the space, but if that new development is not forthcoming in the near future, you have homes which could be occupied left empty.

    A few years ago I attended a meeting where the speaker suggested we should reduce the high standards demanded of new homes for social housing to the same level as developers normally provide. In those times I though that was a bit rich, but as far as empty properties go, perhaps there is legs in this.

    Surely people who are living in often squalid conditions would rather have a decent roof over their heads that live in some of the holes that pass for B&B accommodation.

    As long as the property is habitable, is sealed to the elements, has working services, has heating and doesn't suffer from mould or damp too badly, it there perhaps a case for bringing these properties back into use in the short-term, with the longer term plans of completely renovating them?

    Perhaps we could give incentives for occupants to renovate the homes, such rent reductions or even rent holidays. We could start by giving the money that would be spent in the next 2 years securing the property to those willing to move in and renovate.

    We need to think outside the box, and that means doing things a little differently.

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  • F451

    Give food to the hungry
    Give warmth to the cold
    Give empty homes to the homeless

    Seems a sensible idea that could catch on Alpha.

    However, the current philosophy is never mind everyone else it all belongs to the 1% club - so give all the empty homes to the private sector, give them grants to do them up, give them subsidies against their borrowing, don't tax them, and allow them to charge the earth to rent those homes to the homeless who will pay through benefits - because as we all know, 'Housing Benefit can take the Strain' (Shapps, Oct 2011)

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  • New labour have proved totally awful in their 13 years for
    tenants and first time buyers,as their main housing strategy
    called market renewal pathfinder,managed to spend
    billions of pounds in order to demolish 50,000 homes then
    build 50,000 new homes ,but still left tens of thousands of homes
    boarded up .Meanwhile they allowed a devastating explosion
    of bank lending ,which caused the hugh rise in property prices,
    and has caused so much financial damage to the country.

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  • abner arrow

    squatting is not the solution for releasing empty homes. The owners of Empty homes should be taxed heavily instead

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  • Evan Owen

    I was brought up in a one room cottage with a timber partion separating the 'living' and 'sleeping' areas I shared with my parents. One cold tap, no hot water, no drainage, outside chemical toilet that I often had to empty until we found a council house when I was 10. Even then we didn't have a bathroom until I was older.

    The cottage was built by people who needed a roof over their heads and had a few rocks and timber to build with. No planning laws when that was built.

    The terraced house I live in now has an earth floor, no DPC, the roof is only partly insulated. Again no planning laws.

    Can someone find me a nice squat in London where the jobs are?

    No, the problem is the planning system, or should I say myopic planners.

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  • Nicole M

    Your cottage had a room with a partition? Luxury! We lived all seven of us in an under stairs cupboard. Water on tap?! You were lucky!... We had to wash in dirty puddles.

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  • F451

    Eh Lass - don't you take on so; when I were a girl we had to share a bed between 15 of us and wash in the septic tank.

    An absolute all time favourite that should be re-run. Perhaps the Tories can compile a housing strategy from the script; or have they done that already!

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