The growing number of empty homes in the borough is one of the biggest flash-points for housing campaigners – including those protesting against ‘infill’ developments in their estates.
People are asking why the council doesn’t just take over empty homes or buy them up, instead of trying to cram more housing into estates designed with light and green space in mind.
One in 24 in Southwark are now ‘empty’, with the number no longer listed as primary residences rising by 600 per cent since lockdown, the largest seen in any London borough; as we reported in late 2020.
The News understands that next month Cryan’s colleague, Darren Merrill, will publish a new strategy for tackling the issue.
However, during our exclusive interview with Cryan last week, she claimed that while important, empty homes are not a panacea for the borough’s chronic housing shortage.
“Seventy-five per cent of empty homes in the borough are privately owned and there is very little we can do about them, we don’t have the powers to just take them over,” she told us. “We do everything we can do, and are allowed to do, already.”
Empty homes figures are usually a ‘snapshot’ of the number at any given time, and lack insight into why they are empty and how long this is likely to last.
There are around 4,215 in the borough at the latest count considered to be ‘empty’ encompassing homes on the market for sale, being done up, or recently inherited. Some could have gaps between tenants as well as simply being left unused.
At any given point only about 1.5 per cent of the council’s 55,000-strong housing stock are void. In some cases they are properties in need of considerable modernisation.
Others are on regeneration sites and will be repopulated later. Either way, Cryan says, there is no simple fix to house all 16,000 people on the register.
Many of our readers will immediately think of Maydew House – a prime example of apparent waste. Why hasn’t it taken so long to refurbish?
“We needed to take our time to look at what we were doing in Maydew House after Grenfell and do it right,” Cryan explained.
“The asbestos needed to be stripped and we are doing structural surveys at the moment.
“Then COVID happened and that delayed work too so it has taken longer than anticipated to refurbish it.
“We are bringing people back into homes on regeneration sites where possible.
“In Aylesbury we’ve had some homes done up in Brockley House and Wolverton to use as temporary accommodation, whereas it’s harder and harder to keep Taplow and Wendover up to standard so people are coming out of those homes.”