My hon. Friend’s question is well timed, as it is empty homes week. I am sure that there will be concern right across the House at the fact that there are currently 738,000 empty homes in this country and that more than 300,000 of those have been vacant for six months or more. They are a blight on the community and a waste of housing that we cannot afford.
The coalition agreement says clearly that we are planning to tackle the issue, and we have made the first steps. We intend to provide £100 million over the spending review period to bring empty homes back into use—that is a tripling of the money contributed by Labour in the last comprehensive review period. We are consulting on how the new homes bonus can also be used to bring more homes back into use.
In Hastings, more than 2,300 families are on the housing waiting list and there are more than 800 empty homes. Has the Minister considered whether there is any additional incentive that we can give to councils to try to bring the more difficult properties, which have been empty for more than two years, back to productive use, as against the slightly easier properties, which have been empty for six months?
Every effort needs to be made by local councils. They have some statutory tools at their disposal—statutory improvement notices, enforced sales and the empty dwelling management orders. However, I hope that the fact that we are tripling the investment for bringing empty homes across the country back into use will give my hon. Friend some assurance that we are serious about the issue and will work with local authorities to deliver a much improved record.
Some £100 million is intended to assist in bringing back 3,000 empty homes into use, and that is direct financial support. I draw the House’s attention again to the impact that the new homes bonus can make in increasing that, and there are of course the statutory levers that local authorities should use to make sure that the blight of empty homes is reduced.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s remarks about the new homes bonus. However, will he go a little further and confirm that that bonus will be payable to local councils that bring empty properties back into use, so that councils such as Basildon and Thurrock can benefit from the measure?