The Independent London Newspaper
16th January 2018

Government blocks Camden Council plan to double council tax for property owners who leave homes empty

    Published: 30 October 2013
    By RICHARD OSLEY

    CONSERVATIVE ministers have told the Town Hall to forget about plans to impose a “ghost town tax” on property owners who leave homes empty for long periods.

    Labour finance chief Councillor Theo Blackwell wants to get tough with property moguls by charging double rates of council tax when multiple homes are bought up and then left vacant.

    But he can only hike bills to that level with permission from Eric Pickles’ local government department at Whitehall – and this week he was given a firm “Ño”.

    Mr Pickles’ minister Brandon Lewis responded to Cllr Blackwell’s request by saying: “The government believes the current empty home premium is appropriate and has no plans to make the changes you suggested.”

    He added that he would not favour a “punitive” approach and insisted: “We want to work with communities, using incentives and cutting red tape.”

    Cllr Blackwell says the current premium of 150 per cent council tax does not go far enough and that the wait of two years before the Town Hall can impose it is too long.

    He has identified at least 200 empty homes that have been empty for lengthy periods.

    The issue of homes in Camden being underused at a time of chronic shortage has been debated across the borough but has been drawn into particularly sharp contrast in Primrose Hill, where moneyed foreign in­vestors have been accused of using the neighbourhood as a playground.

    This has brought warnings about how the community could ultimately become a “ghost town” of holiday homes for jet-setters.
    Local estate agent David Birkett warned earlier this year: “The biggest threats to Primrose Hill at the moment are the many who use property as an investment vehicle.”

    Labour are resisting provocation from the likes of London Mayor Boris Johnson who have caricatured “use it or lose it” ideas for empty homes as a “Marxist land grab”.

    Cllr Blackwell said: “We were asking for this freedom because of special market conditions in Camden and because some people were trying to game the system by claiming their properties were furnished and lived in when they weren’t.”

    He added: “A higher rate would discourage owners from leaving homes unoccupied, which is especially a problem in central London where foreigners ‘Buy to Leave’.

    “It would help increase the stock of housing accommodation available for letting where demand exceeds supply in London. It should be down to local people to decide, not Whitehall. It’s no use shouting ‘Marxist’ at measures like this when the government and the Mayor have no answer at all for the market conditions they are allowing to get out of control.”

    But local Tories steadfastly agree with Mr Pickles’ office and are opposed to the double rate of council tax idea.
    Councillor Jonny Bucknell said: “I am dead against it. I just don’t believe you can solve these problems with taxation. To me, the inflated prices in London are a blip. It is temporary.”

    He added: “There are lots of reasons why a home may be empty. I've heard Theo say empty homes that need refurbishing can be turned around in a month. He's been watching too many episodes of Changing Rooms I'm afraid. It can take six months to sort out some homes in need of real refurbishment.”

     

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