Lib Dems and scandal of our empty homes
In her press release about the scandal of empty homes '“ and it is a scandal '“ Liberal Democrat Laura Gordon attacks councils for failing to act. (See The '˜scandal' of homes in Sheffield sitting empty for more than 10 years, The Star, January 10.
It is difficult to know whether she is being disingenuous or simply ignorant of the history of this issue.
In 2006, the Labour government introduced new powers for councils to tackle empty homes through Empty Dwelling Management Orders.
Throughout the country, under councils of all political controls, this resulted in action being taken to bring empty homes back in to occupation and to reduce nuisance to neighbours and to local communities.
However, in 2011, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition government (Deputy Prime Minister Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam, Nick Clegg) tightened the rules that enabled councils to tackle empty homes, claiming that “the current system infringes civil liberties”.
The changes meant that councils would have to wait for at least two years before they could attempt to take charge of an empty property, instead of six months in the 2006 powers, and they would only be able to seize buildings that are run-down “vandal magnets”, not simply because they were empty and causing a problem for neighbours.
I remember the impact of these changes particularly well as, at the time, there was a particular problem with an empty bungalow in Mosborough. It had been empty for nearly a year; it was overgrown and becoming a target for vandalism. Despite all attempts, the absent owners were declining to take any action.
The neighbours were complaining, as was the local community group. Local Labour councillors had persuaded Sheffield Council to act – and this was not a quick, cheap or easy issue to pursue as the law required a number of processes to be followed.
But then, the Coalition government simply stopped the required and planned action through its new legal restrictions.
I opposed the changes and I used the Mosborough example in local publicity (including The Star) and in parliament. It was noticeable that local Liberal Democrat councillors remained silent and, nationally, Liberal Democrat MPs supported the restrictions.
It is sheer hypocrisy for Ms Gordon to attack others for outcomes which have directly resulted from the actions of her Liberal Democrat and Conservative colleagues.
Clive Betts MP
Sheffield South East