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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 May, 2005, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Shelter makes empty housing call
Photograph: Richard Hanson
Shelter believes Scotland suffers from a lack of suitable housing
The housing charity Shelter has called for more powers to be given to councils to let them lease empty properties.

Shelter wants local authorities to be able to rent vacant housing for fixed periods to bring them "back into use".

Cosla, which represents a number of councils in Scotland, said it was "not convinced" by Shelter's proposals.

But it added that "positive solutions" needed to be explored to counteract the number of people searching for affordable housing in Scotland.

Shelter said the best way forward was to introduce legislation allowing councils to make use of empty properties, by leasing them to people searching for an affordable home.

Giving evidence to the communities committee in the Scottish Parliament on the Housing (Scotland) Bill, the charity called for local authorities to be awarded more powers.

Shelter Scotland director Liz Nicholson said: "Rural areas in particular face acute shortages of affordable housing with young people being forced to move from their local area to find housing.

"It is counter-productive to have over 25,000 homes in Scotland lying long-term empty while so many households are looking for housing.

"The presence of empty properties in an area represents waste where there is so much unmet housing need.

"Local authorities should have powers similar to those in England to compulsorily lease properties for a fixed period and rent them to households in need of housing."

The presence of empty properties in an area represents waste where there is so much unmet housing need
Liz Nicholson
Shelter Scotland

But the Scottish Convention of Local Authorities (Cosla) said leasing empty properties may not be the best solution.

A Cosla spokesman said: "Cosla is keen to work with a range of partners to increase available housing opportunities for a full cross-section of society.

"We share Shelter's hopes for a better functioning private housing sector and are heavily involved in the current legislation progressing through parliament to tackle this.

"Whilst councils are always keen to explore ways of meeting housing needs, there is also a wariness of introducing further legislation that may have limited impact in addressing the actual problem.

"The underlying reasons for empty properties are varied and complex, and we are not convinced there are an overwhelming number of properties lying ready for people to occupy as permanent homes."

'Important role'

He added: "We are not convinced that introducing this measure in Scotland will have a significant impact of the supply of available housing.

"Indeed, we hope that the steps already being taken through the growing affordable housing agenda at national level, and through the work of organisations in both the public and private sector, will have a more positive effect in helping increase housing supply."

The spokesman stressed that Cosla was not rejecting Shelter's proposals, but insisted that the organisation would welcome the opportunity to discuss the issue further.

"Along with the Scottish Executive and other key stakeholders, COSLA will continue to explore positive solutions to Scotland's housing needs. Shelter's important role in this will be much valued, as ever," he said.

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