A three-year long-term empty homes programme has had revenue funding approved by councillors at a cabinet meeting of East Suffolk Council.

The initiative is being designed to bring residential properties that have been empty for at least two years back into use. In East Suffolk, currently 280 properties in private ownership fall into that category.

These will be prioritised for action according to type, location, duration unoccupied, and housing need in the surrounding area.

The new programme forms part of the council’s initiatives for tackling the long-term empty homes issue in the area. There has also been a proposal to appoint a dedicated Empty Homes Officer to drive policy.

The programme will be designed to bring homes back into use via a variety of options.

Councillor Richard Kerry, East Suffolk Council cabinet member with responsibility for housing, said: “Empty homes are a wasted resource and can cause blight on neighbourhoods, attracting anti-social behaviour, vandalism and fly-tipping.

“We recognise the value of bringing an empty home back into the housing stock. The result can be a modernised, more energy efficient home, utilising fewer resources than a new build.

“We also realise that solutions need to be tailored to each case and owner, often requiring time to explore all options.

“As a local authority, we can play a key role in opening up the opportunity for investment and restoration where it may have stalled.

“Costs of all actions and their impact on overall long-term empty homes will be kept under review, and the programme revised and tailored to maximise effectiveness.”

Examples of empty homes becoming part of the Council’s own stock, to provide affordable accommodation and much needed regeneration, include 560 London Road, Lowestoft, converted into a House in Multiple Occupation, and 98 Park Road, Lowestoft, now occupied as a five-bed council house.

Funding to support the development of a long-term empty homes programme is available from reserves created from the New Homes Bonus (NHB) claimed by East Suffolk Council from central government in recent years.

The revenue cost of the service is estimated at £281,958 for three years.

Property purchases would initially use the reserve as a source of funding, with capital receipts providing a replenishment when properties are sold.

There are approximately 117,000 homes in East Suffolk. The number of long-term empty homes represents less than 0.25%. Despite the low percentage, a survey carried out on behalf of the charity Empty Homes, in October 2016, found that 76% of adults surveyed believed their local authority should place a higher priority on tackling empty homes.