Number of long-term empty properties in Scotland at '˜record high'

It was once known as the Big Bar, but to residents in the Bainsford district of Falkirk it's simply become a massive eyesore.

The former Big Bar in Bainsford has lain derelict since a fire in 2005 and its owners failed to agree on a repair programme. Picture: Michael Gillen

The substantial Edwardian building sits on a prominent junction and once contained a pub on its ground floor and several flats above.

But following a fire in 2005 it has lain empty, with its owners unwilling to share the £130,000 cost of fixing its roof.

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It was one of the 37,135 properties recorded last year as having been empty long-term.

Despite the issue rising up the political agenda, the most recent Housing Statistics for Scotland quarterly update revealed the number of long-term empty homes has risen by 83 per cent since 2007 when the total stood at 20,328.

The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP), funded by the Scottish Government and run by housing charity Shelter, was launched in 2010 to help tackle the problem.

Last year the SEHP called on councils to do more to bring long-term empty homes back into use. Out of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, 19 have a dedicated empty homes officer spending at least 10 per cent of their time on the issue.

The Scottish Conservatives have called for a mixture of new incentives and stronger regulation to be introduced to bring more properties back into use.

Housing spokesman Graham Simpson said: “Throughout their decade in government the SNP has seen empty properties soar, taking valuable properties out of use.

“For the thousands of people waiting for housing this latest increase in empty properties will feel particularly frustrating.

“The SNP must introduce a Help to Rebuild scheme which could bring together disparate grant schemes under one easily accessible umbrella programme.

“In addition, the SNP must enable empty business premises to be turned into affordable housing as well as help farmers convert empty buildings into housing.

“The SNP must take innovative action to tackle this rise in empty properties, help solve the housing crisis and enable more people to realise their dream of having a home.”

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A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We agree that empty homes can be a blight on communities and are a wasted resource at a time when people across Scotland need homes.

“New powers introduced in 2013 allow local authorities to apply a council tax levy on long term empty properties to encourage private owners to bring them back into use. We have supported the work of Scotland’s Empty Homes Partnership since 2010, which has now brought over 2,800 homes across Scotland back into use.

“Ministers have committed to doubling funding for the Partnership for the next three years. This provides support for a network of Empty Homes Officers who help private owners return their houses into homes.”

Meanwhile, the future of the Big Bar looks far from certain.

Falkirk Council issued its owners with a dangerous building notice last month.

Local authorities can order a property to be repaired, secured or demolished if it is deemed to be causing a danger or potential danger to its occupants, the public or nearby buildings.

“The owners had a chance to do work but they never did any,” local councillor Robert Bissett told The Falkirk Herald. “Nobody would take responsibility.

“They had the chance to fix the roof but they didn’t do it so the council served the dangerous building notice. Different owners owned different flats and I think that’s what the problem was.