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Friday, 9th April 2010

Preston: The city of ghosts

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Published Date: 06 April 2010
Almost 3,000 homes - including a raft of luxury apartments - are lying empty in Preston.
Figures released by Preston Council show 2,925 properties have been declared empty for council tax purposes.

And the Lancashire Evening Post can reveal upmarket new-build apartment blocks are among those with large numbers of unoccupied units.

City estates agents say they are seeing rising numbers of repossessions in modern flat developments in central Preston.

The council list, released under the Freedom of Information Act, shows 44 flats in the Light Building, a luxury 68-apartment complex near the city centre in Walker Street, are listed as empty, although the company behind the scheme today insisted the figure given by the council was incorrect.

Other developments with a number of empty homes, according to the council's list, include Kayley House in New Hall Lane, Fishwick, which has 13; Moor Heights, on Moor Lane with 11, and Brook Court in Dorman Close, off Blackpool Road, Ashton, which has nine.

Alex Starritt, an empty homes officer with Preston Council, said they were seeing more and more new-build apartment complexes with empty units, as buyers struggled to secure mortgages from banks.

She said: "We are getting more long-term empty properties, some of them new flats. That has not been a problem until quite recently.

"We are looking at how we can work with developers to try to get people into properties. The difficulty is getting new mortgage products."

Some developers have been forced to slash sale prices by up to £25,000, or to offer incentives to help shift unsold apartments.

City estate agents today said they reckoned large numbers of similar-looking, upmarket apartments being built in the last few years had led to many going unsold or unlet by landlords struggling to find tenants.

Georgina Cox, of Moving Works, said: "We have had an over-build.

"There were developers who were not local coming into the area who built quite expensive apartments.

"(Investors) bought them off-plan and expected them to sell at profit but it didn't happen.

"A number have rented them out but there are quite a lot of those types of property and that has pushed rental prices down."

Ms Cox added that she believed some of the apartment developments had been built in parts of the city where there was little demand for contemporary flats.

She said: "We are classed as a city but don't have that much city living yet.

"Maybe if it had been terraced housing built in some areas, it would have been more popular."

Kevin Richardson, a partner at Garside Waddingham estate agents in Preston, said a dip in the buy-to-let market had led to problems.

He said: "A few years ago, there was a boom in investors buying to let out apartments and they anticipated returns which were very ambitious, to say the least.

"A lot of landlords were anticipating rental incomes of £750 a month which was way out of Preston's standard.

"A lot of landlords would not let for £200 less than their mortgage - they were horrified about how hard it was to achieve the dream of investment.

"Equally, it's become harder and harder to find enough tenants to fill empty spaces."

Mr Richardson said that around 60- 70% of the repossessions Garside Waddingham dealt with in the city centre were modern apartments, mostly owned by landlords.

He added more established developments, such as Preston Docks apartments, continued to sell well because of their location.

He said: "They have been around for longer whereas some of the new city centre sites are not in ideal positions, like down side streets."

In addition to apartments, family homes, farms, homeless accommodation and sheltered housing flats are also among the properties on the council's empty list.

Alex Starritt emphasised that some of the homes on the list could have been declared empty temporarily for council tax reasons - for example, by someone going into hospital for a long time or landlords awaiting new tenants moving in to rented premises.

Owners get a discount on their council tax if the property is declared empty.

Housing campaign charity Shelter is calling for local authorities to scrap that discount, to discourage owners from leaving homes empty or unlet.

A spokesman said: "Using revenue from that would give local authorities more resources to bring homes back into use.

"However, even if all the 307,000 empty homes in England were brought back into use, there would still be nearly one and a half million households on housing waiting lists.

"Significant numbers of new affordable, family sized homes are urgently needed to ensure that all people can access a home of their own."

The council's figures, which were compiled last month, have emerged a few weeks after Shelter revealed there are more than 4,700 families waiting for affordable housing in Preston.

The charity claimed it would take almost five years to clear the city's waiting list.

A spokeswoman for Ben Bailey Homes confirmed that the figure for the Light Building is inaccurate since several of the properties are sold but not yet occupied.

She said: "Over 60% of the Light Buildings development has already sold with 21 apartments reserved this year alone. A number of the city centre apartments have been bought by parents investing in property for their children attending the nearby University and there is considerable interest in the remaining apartments as the market continues to improve."

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  • Last Updated: 06 April 2010 9:30 AM
  • Source: n/a
  • Location: Preston
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06/04/2010 08:45:56
Comment Reported Unsuitable By User

Martyn Rolly,

Fishwick 06/04/2010 08:46:36
The empty homes officer does her best but she's just hacking at the tip of the iceberg with a blunt ice-pick.

The Tory cabinet have done NOTHING but talk about reducing empty homes and increasing affordable homes in this city.

They believe the market should provide - but the market has failed and they are unwilling to step in...


Preston 06/04/2010 08:47:53
That's interesting - no need to build any more then is there!
No need to build anything on green land - hurray - simple!!


06/04/2010 09:42:46
I always voted Labour, but now I think the sooner we get rid of them we can start sorting out the huge mess this country is in. This story sums up 'new' labour. What a waste of time.


06/04/2010 09:48:18
Comment Reported Unsuitable By User


06/04/2010 10:00:12
Comment Reported Unsuitable By User


Preston 06/04/2010 10:19:58
I am also led to believe that this horrendous government decreed that the payment should be paid to the tenant and not to the landlord. So as you can expect the landlords whistle for their rents.


06/04/2010 10:39:58
Comment Reported Unsuitable By User

Martyn Rolly,

Fishwick 06/04/2010 12:05:01
Labour has removed barriers for councils and housing associations to build affordable housing but the Tories in Preston are not interested.


Preston 06/04/2010 12:27:39
So why are we planning to build about 500 more apartments in the Tithebarn area?
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