A CHARITY which campaigns to put empty homes back into use says Swindon Council needs to do more to rid the town of vacant properties.

The Empty Homes Association says there are many tools available to councils to solve the problem, including empty dwelling management orders (EDMO), compulsory purchase orders (CPO) and government grants and tax subsidies.

As reported in yesterday’s Adver, there are currently 2,139 empty homes in the borough – despite the council’s housing waiting list currently sitting at 8,363.

EDMOs allow councils to take control of a private property for up to seven years if it has been empty for at least six months, while CPOs allow councils to force the purchase of a home through the courts.

The organisation, an independent charity, says that Swindon’s empty home list is growing and jumped from 1,745 in 2003 to the current figure of 2,139. And 778 of those homes have been empty for six months or longer.

Henry Oliver says that often councils like Swindon don’t give empty houses the attention they deserve, even though the homes often provide a ‘solution going begging’ for long housing waiting lists.

Mr Oliver believes that sometimes the problem in bringing houses back into use amount to a lack of political will.

He said: “You don’t need money to help bring about change, other councils that are worse off than Swindon do so.

“Swindon can do a lot without spending money including naming and shaming, judicious use of enforcement powers like EDMOs and CPOs, publicity and getting the community behind their cause.

“These houses need to be brought back to life otherwise they risk becoming objects of hatred for the communities that must live with them and suffer from increased cases of arson and drug dealing.”

Mike Ash, Swindon Council’s deputy director of housing, says the council’s target is to bring 74 homes back into use this year – and 50 have already been brought back to life so far.

He said: “There will always be a proportion of empty homes in the system, what we don’t like is where we have people going for six months and thinking that’s okay.

“EDMOs and CPOs are long and drawn-out legal processes and they are designed to ensure fair play, so that the owner is given every chance to bring it back into use themselves.

“However, we are hoping EDMOs will be used more often now.”

He added that houses were left empty for a number of reasons, including the high cost of rebuilding dilapidated housing, property speculation, people who buy a new house and then don’t let out the old one and people taking time to sell houses they have inherited.

If anyone knows of an empty home they are asked to ring the council on 01793 464286.