Published: 08 September 2011
by DAN CARRIER
CAMDEN Council must release a list of all of its empty homes to a group of squatters, the High Court ruled on Monday.
But the decision was described as “lunacy” by the Town Hall’s housing chief as he turned the focus onto private landlords who leave homes empty. They should be penalised with fines or a special tax, he said.
The Squatters Advisory Service pressure group had submitted a Freedom of Information request to Camden Council for the addresses.
The Town Hall is considering an appeal against the judgment.
Housing chief Cllr Julian Fulbrook said it was “lunacy” for the council to be made to publish the list, adding: “I would be interested in seeing how we can help private landlords fill their homes. It is monstrous that so many properties lie empty, but short of requisitioning them, as the Attlee government did after 1945, it is very hard to get this moving.”
Although the Town Hall has not revealed the exact number of empty homes it has, the council has said it works to get tenants in as quickly as possible.
Cllr Fulbrook said: “We have 33,000 homes and every so often people pass away or move on, or the homes need repairs, and it means the properties are left empty for a short period of time. We are working very hard to get this time down so there is as short as possible a space where the properties are left empty.”
Squatters rights group Squash has been campaigning for the information to be made public. Spokesperson Paul Reynolds said: “It is about accountability. They will no longer be able to hide the extent of empty, publicly-owned housing in Camden.
“And if nothing is done to fix, repair or fill an empty home, homeless people can move in until this is done, which is a good thing.
“If Camden does not want this to happen, they should put people in these properties.”
The council’s lawyers told the court that making such information public could increase crime. Judge Fiona Henderson ruled that disclosing where there were empty homes was in the “public interest in putting empty properties back into use”.
The New Journal tried to find out the same information in 2007 using a Freedom of Information request but had the attempt ruled out by council officers.
Figures published by the Town Hall last year revealed there were 496 empty council homes in the borough and 105 empty business units in council property.
The average period the homes had been left empty was about two-and-a-half years, with businesses slightly less.
Home cleared by bailiffs
A COUPLE prevented from moving into a new home in West Hampstead after squatters got there first won an eviction order on Tuesday.
Bailiffs removed the squatters from Oliver and Kaltun Cockerell’s house yesterday (Wednesday) – the day that Mrs Cockerell was due to give birth.
Dr Cockerell, 49, a consultant neurologist at the Royal London Hospital and the London Clinic, had appealed to the squatters to leave voluntarily and had even offered them £500.
The couple claimed the stress caused by the squat was putting their unborn child at risk.