We must tackle empty properties in the borough
23 September, 2021
‘Use every suitable empty property to remedy the situation of the many homeless people for which the borough is responsible’
• I WRITE as a Westminster resident who is concerned about empty properties in the borough and the serious lack of housing for those in need, as opposed to investment opportunities for the wealthy.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government’s figures for Westminster show there were 565 long-term empty homes in the borough in March 2020 (https://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/vacant-dwellings).
In addition there are many other empty properties, for example, offices, pubs, and shops, suitable for use as housing for the 1954 families and 799 single people in temporary accommodation.
Of these 1,570 are placed out of the borough, far from their schools, jobs, services, families, and friends, leading to long-term damage to their wellbeing (https://www.westminster.gov.uk/housing-policy-and-strategy/social-housing-homelessness-and-rough-sleeping-statistics).
The building that reminds me of this most acutely is the Samaritan Hospital on Marylebone Road. This Grade II-listed building has been sitting empty since 1997.
Although it’s very run down, it cannot be demolished and must be renovated in keeping with its character to stay within the law.
It would be a great place to convert into accommodation for essential front-line staff who cannot otherwise afford to live near their work, and are often among the lowest paid.
It would involve a significant investment but would be self-sustaining in the long run. It belongs to Imperial Health Care NHS Trust. No planning application has ever been made for it.
The health trust say they are waiting to find a new home for the Western Eye Hospital next door to sell both buildings off together, to help fund the redevelopment of St Mary’s.
This would no doubt go the same way as most city-centre sites and be turned into a luxury hotel or investment properties that are used as safe places to park the funds of wealthy people who live elsewhere.
It is far preferable to redevelop existing buildings rather than demolish and build new – to minimise the damage to the environment and keep things in character in their neighbourhoods.
The borough does not need any more empty space for the rich, it needs liveable homes for the people who have local connections and contribute to a real community.
A National Day of Action on Empty homes is October 9: (https://bit.ly/3Ai69h4).
Please support this action: urge local authorities to take all action within their powers and use every suitable empty property to remedy the situation of the many homeless people for which the borough is responsible.
EMILY ENGEL, W10