WINCHESTER housing officers have called for a premium council tax to help deal with the city’s empty and derelict homes.

There are currently around 300 empty homes in Winchester at any one time out of a housing stock of 43,260.

In the last year officers from Winchester City Council have successfully worked with property owners to bring 219 back into use.

Officers found that many unoccupied homes were as a result of the homeowner inheriting properties and not having the expertise or funds to renovate them, with a reluctance to put them on the market for sentimental reasons.

As a result of this it has been proposed that the council could provide loans to help property owners to bring their unoccupied dwellings up to scratch in order to return them to use.

Despite relatively low numbers of empty homes there are still 40 properties that have remained vacant for five years or more, with 13 properties found to be derelict, which hosing officer Gillian Knight say poses a serious problem.

To help deal with the problem, officers suggested introducing a Premium council tax rate for properties that had been left empty for more than two years, which would help fund the proposed loans scheme.

However, Cllr Stephen Godfrey opposed the premium council tax which he branded a very negative approach, and asked if there were other options available to officers.

“While the principle of an Englishman’s home is his castle is all well and good, we need a way to provide homes and ensure people can afford to live in Winchester.

“The use of the tax system which was widely opposed when it was introduced nationally is something we should not leap at. We need to look at what powers and approaches we can adopt, and to offer a service to support owners to bring their houses back into use”.

Ms Knight said current powers such as as compulsory purchase and management orders could be used to recoup expense from the loans through rent and sales, but that these options were easily frustrated by property owners and could take years to be enacted.

Cllr Ian Tait said: “The public are conscious of properties that are derelict and badly maintained. Those are the ones that pull focus and affect neighbourhoods.

“There are some easy wins here by making owners aware. But it’s those long term empty and derelict properties that make real grief.”

He added: “I support officers in trying to make things better, if people have property that they don’t use, the premium rate is one way that we can get them to do so, and if they just pay we at least get more money in the coffers.”