Worcester MP welcomes launch of Open Doors project

Robin Walker MP has welcomed today’s unveiling of the Government’s flagship Open Doors project, launched by the Communities Secretary James Brokenshire in a bid to tackle social problems- including crime, unemployment and loneliness.

The Open Doors project is set to link landlords who own vacant retail units with local community groups to provide vital services for the youth and the elderly.

Robin has welcomed the imaginative vision put forward by the Communities Secretary in tackling the social and economic challenges local communities face to transform much-loved British high streets into vibrant community hubs of employment, socialising and retail.

The potential of this project is vast, and provides an essential opportunity to reignite a community spirit up and down the country for everyone, but especially for the most vulnerable.

Recent figures have estimated that there are currently over 27,000 vacant properties in England’s town centres. If only a fraction of these properties were converted into living spaces and homes, thousands more people could have a roof over their head.

The Worcester MP has long been a supporter and advocate for more housing, and specifically more affordable housing. Next week, Robin will officiate the opening of Sir Thomas White Court, which is to provide 10 new affordable flats for the homeless.

Since 2013, Worcester Municipal Charities has been pursuing this new investment strategy of providing affordable housing for the single homeless, and since 2015 has been helped by Homes England with grants to create flats “over the shops” and in empty office buildings.

Housing and infrastructure has been a major focus for the Government throughout this parliament with investment worth £44 billion over the next four years announced at the budget in October. The funding is designed to accelerate the supply of housing and deliver 300,000 new homes a year to open up the housing market so that more people have the chance to own their own home.

The recent Budget set out the steps being taken to keep the government on track for housing supply to reach 300,000 a year.

Further steps announced at the Budget include:

  • a new Help to Buy Equity Loan scheme that will run from April 2021 for 2 years
  • extending Stamp Duty Land Tax relief for first time buyers to purchases of all qualifying shared ownership properties
  • further investment to deliver more homes, including an extra £500m for the Housing Infrastructure Fund
  • confirming that the Housing Revenue Account cap that controls local authority borrowing for house building will be abolished from 29 October. The Welsh government is taking immediate steps to lift the cap in Wales.

In April, Robin spoke out in support of the Government’s planned legislation to increase the council tax premium local authorities can impose on long-term empty homes. Figures show the importance of dealing with the city’s empty homes.

Robin first campaigned on the issue in 2011 and championed a change in the law in 2013, when local authorities in England were given the discretion to charge a premium of up to 50% on ‘long-term empty dwellings’ – that is, homes that have been unoccupied and substantially unfurnished for at least two years. The premium is in addition to the usual council tax charge that applies to the property.

This new initiative will ease the pressures felt by those waiting to purchase a home, and councils approving the new developments by utilising spaces and structures already in existence but not in use.

Robin has expressed support for the engaging process through which this project has been launched, including the new Community Roadshow, during which James Brokenshire and his Ministerial team will tour Britain’s towns to experience, learn from, and celebrate the fantastic and essential work being done up and down the nation by community groups.

Robin said:

“I believe that the Communities Secretary’s launch of Open Doors will assist greatly in the supply of new homes for those who need them, whilst also reinvigorating the High Street in Worcester, and high streets across the country.”

“I appreciate that there is limited space within the city boundaries but the use of brownfield land should allow for faster delivery and I will continue to advocate for this. At the same time, more needs to be done to bring empty properties back into use and promote ‘living above the shop.’ We are lucky to have such a fantastic High Street in Worcester, which has been acknowledged time and time again, whether by the British High Street Awards, or the Unbroken Britain survey which ranked Worcester as the happiest city two years running, but there is always more to be done.”

“We all know the importance and value of local community led groups and initiatives and I am proud to be a part of a Government which acknowledges and values community spirit and the role of the voluntary sector so highly.”

ENDS

Notes to editors