Nearly 600 long-term empty homes in one Welsh town, report states
Anthony Lewis, Local Democracy Reporter
An update on how the council is trying to bring empty properties including key sites and Grade II-listed buildings back into use in Merthyr Tydfil is set to be given to councillors.
A report for the council’s regeneration and public protection committee said there are currently around 568 long-term empty homes in Merthyr Tydfil.
The report sets out that the council has a target in its empty property strategy 2022-2026 of bringing 200 empty homes back into use.
Under the strategy, which was approved by full council in February, it wants to bring 7% of empty properties back into use each year.
The updates on some of the key sites and Grade II-listed buildings include the old General Hospital.
The report said it is a locally listed building which is a priority for re-development and the building was purchased in 2020 by a private owner.
There is a proposal to redevelop the building into social housing and the council is working to bring in a registered social landlord.
Once proposals are developed, the council will apply to the Welsh Government’s transforming towns programme and social housing grant programme.
Site surveys have been done and the site has been cleared with vegetation removed and key departments such as planning, environmental health and housing have been involved.
The Theatre Royal is a Grade II-listed building and the previous developer spoke with the council regarding aspirations to develop property.
Development funding was secured from the Welsh Government’s transforming towns programme and an appraisal of options and a structural survey were done.
Cadw and the planning department have been consulted and a private developer bought the building at a recent auction.
The council has been speaking with the new owners and discussions are ongoing with the project set to be led by the private sector.
The YMCA building is also a Grade II-listed building and the plan is for it to be redeveloped into 10 office spaces.
Funding has come from the Welsh Government, the council and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Planning permission and listed building consent has been granted and the project will cost around £10m.
John Weavers were appointed as the contractor with the contract having started in November 2021.
Emergency works were undertaken to stabilise the building and the project is being led by the council.
On housing at St Tydfil’s, the report said it is a key site in the town centre impacted by high levels of anti-social behaviour.
The site is in full ownership of the developer and part of the site is Grade II-listed.
The current proposed development is for the creation of 70 homes, including some social housing.
Potential funding opportunities are being discussed with the Welsh Government and planning permission has been granted.
Remediation works are to start on site as the first major milestone for the project, which will be led by the private sector.
The synagogue is a Grade II-listed long term empty building.
The Foundation for Jewish Heritage bought the building in 2019 and urgent repairs and site clearance has been done.
A business plan has been put together and the proposal is to create a museum for Jewish heritage.
King Charles III visited in 2020 and development funding has come from the council, Welsh Government transforming towns and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The miners hall is in private ownership and there has been limited engagement with the owner of the building, according to the report.
It is a long-term empty site and a feasibility study to identify future potential uses was done in 2015.
The report said “significant levels of finance” are required to redevelop it and there are no current plans for development as the focus is on the other properties.
‘Engagement and support’
The main ways the council said it looks to bring empty properties back into use include engagement, such as contacting all property owners every two years, questionnaires and tailored support.
It said it also offers advice and support like technical advice on required work, advice on VAT relief, selling options such as the All Wales Auction, an empty homes matching service, letting options and an empty property advice booklet.
Another way is through financial assistance such as empty home loans and the availability of any relevant grants with the last option being enforcement such as enforced sale, compulsory purchase or an empty dwelling management order.
The committee report said: “Empty homes are a wasted resource particularly when there is a need for more housing.”
It also said there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution and it can take a considerable amount of time and effort to bring a property back into use.
It also listed the social and environmental problems associated with empty homes which include rodent infestations, fly-tipping and a general poor impression of an area.
The report also mentioned crime, which can include vandalism, anti-social behaviour and drug abuse, nuisance to neighbouring properties, a negative effect on communities, the fact it’s resource intensive on the public sector such as the council and emergency services, there is a risk to the public through unsafe structures and unsecured properties and that it affects neighbouring house prices.
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Funds should be diverted from less deserving projects ( like that farm in the Usk valley!) into these redevelopments. Easy to justify – just stick the word green into the plans somewhere! Seriously a lot of the properties earmarked for repurposing into residential should have top grade insulation and energy capture technology built in and could be used as demonstration projects for others to learn from.
Agree with hdavies15. Gov. can buy soon at low rates and then initiate “rent to buy”.