Action plan to get vacant houses onto the market

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‘DRASTIC measures’ – including the use of compulsory purchase powers – are being considered as part of a new strategy by the Housing Minister to get vacant properties back on the market.

Deputy David Warr yesterday published his Action on Vacant Properties plan, which outlines six main points currently being implemented and several other options under consideration.

New taxes, including an annual charge levied against vacant properties, have also been listed among the potential proposals – but Deputy Warr said the government was ‘trying to avoid using a sledgehammer to crack a nut’.

The news comes shortly after Deputy Steve Luce lodged an amendment to the Government Plan, calling for the introduction of a Residential Land Withholding Tax that could act as a ‘deterrent’ for non-resident investors to own residential properties in Jersey – thereby freeing up homes for Islanders.

Around 4,000 homes were recorded as empty on the day of the 2021 Census, but Deputy Warr said that based on further research his officers estimated the true number to be about 900.

The figure was reached alongside a proposed definition of a ‘vacant home’, stated in the report as ‘any accommodation which is no one’s sole or main residence, is not actively undergoing construction or renovation, and remains unoccupied for a minimum period of 12 months’.

Deputy David Warr said the government was ‘trying to avoid using a sledgehammer to crack a nut’.

Of the 900 properties, around 500 were believed to be second or holiday homes, 178 empty staff accommodation, 108 as ‘owner away long-term’ and a further 125 were categorised as empty for ‘other reasons’.

The action points include establishing a ‘community-led reporting mechanism’ before the end of January.

This would enable Islanders to report properties they believe have been vacant for a long period of time, or are in a very poor condition.

Deputy Warr said this would take the form of a website, allowing people to send pictures of empty homes along with their reports.

Other actions include the creation of an Empty Homes Service that will provide advice to Islanders and monitor the issue to inform government policy.

The report states that, of the future options being researched, ‘empty dwelling management orders’ could be introduced to enable the government to take control of a property for a period of time to bring it back into use.

Compulsory purchase action is also being considered ‘where all other available options have been exhausted’, and public interest in acquiring a property can be ‘proven’.

Deputy Warr admitted that the latter method was a ‘drastic measure’.

‘There are also tax options in there but we are trying not to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

‘It’s not about big bad government trying to force Islanders to do things, it’s about making the best possible use of our built environment,’ he said, adding that there was a ‘moral imperative’ to address the issue.

‘We have just got to get on with it.

‘When people are leaving the Island and there are affordability issues [in the housing market], how can we have empty homes?’

He explained that work to implement all six action points had begun and a progress review would take place after six months, which was also when the additional options – such as the new taxes and compulsory purchase powers – would be re-examined.

‘We are taking a proactive, community-led approach. It’s also about getting the data that we need to prevent these properties from remaining vacant,’ he added.

The six actions outlined in the report include:

• Action one – collection of anonymous vacancy data through parish rate declarations in 2023 and progressing a law change to enable this to be collected formally in the future.

• Action two – set up a community-led reporting mechanism for Islanders to report homes they believe are vacant or in a very poor condition which is harming the environment. To be supported by a new Empty Homes Service to be established in January 2023.

• Action three – work with the Environment Minister to more proactively manage land condition and make better use of existing homes in the Island.

• Action four – help His Majesty’s Receiver General to identify vacant and ownerless properties and bring them back into active use.

• Action five – support States-owned entities in the purchase and redevelopment of vacant properties, while encouraging the development of local skills and meeting wider government objectives for construction innovation and carbon-neutrality.

• Action six – establish an Empty Homes Service to provide advice to Islanders, monitor and analyse demand and policy development, and, make referrals to the Receiver General.

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