Deep cuts to the national social housing budget will extend the North West's unwanted status as the region with the highest number of empty homes in England, according to accountants and business advisors Beever and Struthers.
Beever and Struthers said housing organisations fear that budget cuts planned from 2011 will stall and possibly even reverse Government initiatives to occupy vacant properties in England. The financial adviser said recent estimates of the number of empty homes range from 652,000 to as many as 784,000.
Under the KickStart initiative, The Homes & Communities Agency, the national housing and regeneration agency for England, has announced £83m to unlock 5,696 new homes nationwide, including 3,503 affordable homes, some £10.5m of this latest tranche of funding is for 805 homes in the North West.
Government spending on all housing hit £8.9bn in 2008/2009, the highest level for 15 years and some 207,000 homes were built.
However, Beever and Struthers said the figure was below the Government's stated ambition of building 240,000 homes a year by 2016 and predicted cuts in funding will further reduce the number being constructed.
Chris Porritt, senior partner and head of Beever and Struthers, said: "We obviously welcome the record level of investment in housing but predicted budget cuts from 2011 will saddle the North West with the stigma of having more empty homes than any other region in England.
"There's an element of uncertainty caused by the looming General Election but whichever party is elected must make a renewed long-term commitment to maintain current spending levels to get people off the waiting list and into a place they can call home.
"We need radical thinking and relaxed regulation to make the best possible use of funding for empty properties."
Beever and Struthers said empty properties blight both the private and public sectors and many buy-to-let apartments in major cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Birmingham stand empty because private developers misjudged the level of demand while not building sufficient numbers of family homes.
Beevers and Struthers also said that housing associations are suffering because of the decline in the wider housing market as a result of the recession.
The financial adviser said profits from selling rented housing, which associations traditionally subsidised for rented housing activities, have also dwindled because homes have not been selling in the downturn and the funds are consequently not available for improvements to the social rental sector.
Statistics for 2009 from independent charity the Empty Homes Agency showed that there were almost 123,000 empty properties in the North West, which represented 3.91% of the region's total housing stock.
In the North West, 3,714 of the empty homes are owned by councils, more than 64,300 are private homes vacant for more than six months and 4,721 are private homes vacant for more than six months for regeneration or housing schemes.
Beever and Struthers said the figures for the North West contrast with those from the Empty Homes Agency for other regions in England such as 90,768 empty homes in Yorkshire and Humber, totalling 3.95% of stock, and 69,002 homes, 2.94% of stock, in the West Midlands. There are almost 652,000 empty homes in England as a whole, according to the Empty Homes Agency.
Beever and Struthers also said that housing groups fear that expected cuts to the housing budget from 2011 will prevent empty homes being returned to use to contribute to a cut in "the ever-lengthening housing waiting list". The latest total of those on the list stands at more than 1.8m.