Duncan Thomson Group Manager – Private Sector Neighbourhoods, Regeneration & Sustainability at Glasgow City Council talks about the benefits of CPO and what more is needed.
At Glasgow City Council we have been at the forefront of using compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) to tackle the problems of long-term vacant properties, increasing affordable housing supply and ensuring the upkeep of pre-1919 tenements.
CPOs are a way of responding to the blight caused by derelict/abandoned flats/houses that have been left vacant for a variety of reasons or properties which have previously been let out but are below tolerable standard(BTS).
The promotion of CPOs send a message that this Council will take action where private landlords or other individuals fail to address problems with their properties.
While they are used as a “last resort”, 52 homes across Glasgow have been pursued for compulsory purchases since 2019. While almost three quarters of these have been progressed or confirmed (i.e a compulsory purchase order has been made and approved by the Scottish Government) in other cases the home has been returned to use without the need to progress to a CPO. 13 owners have opted to sell voluntarily to housing associations and a further 2 properties have either been sold or occupied by family members meaning that the planned CPOs were discontinued.
In all cases to date where CPOs have been confirmed, once the council has vested in the property, it has entered into a ‘back to back’ agreement with a local housing association which carries out necessary repair work to bring it up to standard and back into use to provide affordable housing for those who need it.
Some of the properties targeted have been lying empty for more than 14 years while other properties have been designated as being BTS for more than 5 years.
All empty properties create environmental blight and the community benefit derived from bringing these and other homes back into use is significant particularly for those tenants and owners who live in close proximity, some of whom or their properties have suffered as a direct consequence of these abandoned neighbouring properties which have continued to deteriorate while they remain empty.
But there is a limit on how much we can achieve through CPOs alone. The steps in making and obtaining CPOs are complex, time consuming, costly and also resource intensive. They are also dependant on knowing that we have a partnering housing association willing to take on the property after we purchase it. Without this, there is the risk that we are paying out money to acquire assets that will cost further sums to repair and may still be left on the council’s balance sheets. Even with back to back purchases, like the ones we have used, the cost and resources of seeing a case through to confirmation limits the number of CPOs we can promote.
A Compulsory Sales Order (CSO) provision, as proposed by the Scottish Land Commission in 2018, would help to increase the number of homes that could be returned to use through compulsory processes. As well as removing the need for the council to purchase the property and identify a follow-on buyer before doing so, it would also open up the sale of neglected and abandoned properties to the wider market, clearing the way for buildings to be redeveloped and returned to active use.
With the right safeguards in place CSOs and compulsory rental order (CRO) powers, modelled on provisions that have been trialled elsewhere in Europe, could both be additional enforcement tools that local authorities across the country could use to increase housing stock. We know that many homes are empty not because of any deliberate intention on the part of the owner, but rather because of individual circumstances, however, that is not always the case.
As with CPOs, CSOs and CROs would not necessarily compel an owner to give up their property as the owner would always have the option to bring the property up to standard and to sell or let it themselves. However, where owners are unwilling or unable to take action to repair and maintain their property or simply do not understand that responsibilities come hand in hand with the right to own property, then such issues require to be addressed as their lack of action can negatively impact the lives of neighbours and their homes and also wider communities.
Local authorities need more powers which CSOs in particular will provide to help tackle the problem of long term empty homes.