Richard Rogers has called for a tough new tax on empty homes, warning vacant properties are both unsustainable and damaging to the public realm
The high-profile architect and Labour peer said a ‘severe’ tax on empty property was needed to stop prime areas of London becoming ghost towns.
He warned the growing trend for wealthy buyers to purchase homes only to keep them empty was causing social ‘erosion’ and harming local businesses and community facilities – reported The Guardian.
Rogers said investing in residential property in this way was ‘not sustainable environmentally or in terms of urbanism’ and that ownership involved a ‘social responsibility as well as an economic one’.
He continued: ‘It is not sustainable environmentally or in terms of urbanism. The government must take note. Houses should be used if we want to live in a humanistic society. Housing is not just a private matter, it affects the quality of public domain, which we all need and which gives us security. Instead, this is seeing housing as if it were gold bullion.’
Scores of apartments within the Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners-founder’s recently completed One Hyde Park residential development in central London, popular with international buyers, remain empty despite being purchased.
Around 19 of the 80 apartments inside One Hyde Park were registered as ‘occupied by individuals’ for council tax purposes – according to an Inside Housing report last year. A further 16 were registered as empty while 26 were second homes and 23 were designated as occupied by companies.
The architects’ remarks came as free market think tank Civitas called for non-EU nationals to be banned from buying UK homes and face tougher restrictions when purchasing new build properties as investments. According to the Civitas report 85 per cent of residential property purchases in the capital in 2012 involved overseas funding.
Nearly half of all central London residential sales worth more than £1 million went to buyers who were foreign by nationality in the twelve months to June 2013, according to Knight Frank, although only 28 per cent of those buyers were non-resident in the UK.
Commenting on Rogers’ demands British Property Federation director of policy Ian Fletcher said: ‘Councils already have a variety of tools at their disposal to tackle the problem of long-term empty homes, including empty dwelling management orders (EDMOs) and compulsory purchase powers and before we start to reach for more policy levers we should understand why the existing ones don’t work.’
He contined: ‘The BPF supported EDMOs, and thought the original ‘empty’ period before they applied of six months was sensible, but the Government lengthened that period to two years. Council tax is meant to be a tax that is each household’s contribution to paying for local services. Before we start reaching for penal council tax rates to tackle social ills and jettison that principle, we should understand better why existing policies are failing.’