Council chief says HMO closures last resort in town which has 600 and where they’re needed

DEMAND by mainly migrant workers has seen the number of Wisbech homes in multiple occupation soar to more than 600.

“Not all are known,” said a spokesman for Fenland District Council. “The number has risen sharply over the past 12 years”.

The figures were discussed at a meeting organised by Fenland Council and followed concerns raised by NE Cambs MP Steven Barclay. It brought together representatives from FDC, the police, the fire service and the Luminus Housing Group: Mr Barclay was represented by Alan Brace, his Parliamentary assistant.

Mr Brace said the MP received many complaints about them and “the issue is not one of those that we know about, it’s the ones that we don’t know about.”

A data sharing system called ECINS is being extended to make it easier to access pooled information about HMOs.

Councillor Kit Owen, portfolio holder for housing said: “Closure is only taken as a last resort when we haven’t been able to make a property safe through other kinds of action. If we have to do it, we will – and over the past three years we have closed 13 of them. But if we can mitigate any existing problems to make a property safe, that is the far better option.

“You have to bear in mind the continuing pressure on the housing market and the impact that precipitate closure could have on homelessness and rough sleeping, as well as on the local economy.

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“HMOs are vital in providing homes for migrant workers who we rely on as part of our workforce.”

“Closure and the resulting increase in empty properties can also lead to an increase in crime, as we saw with the spate of arson attacks on empty properties last year.”

Last year 200 investigations were carried out at HMOs and action taken in 55 cases where serious hazards were found such as gas and electrical faults or overcrowding.