Council looks to buy up 'impaired' homes in Wisbech

FDC investment committee

The investment committee/board of Fenland District Council meeting this week. Most of the agenda was discussed in private but a paper on acquiring 'impaired' homes was discussed publicly. - Credit: Archant

Fenland Council is to consider buying houses and flats – initially in Wisbech – that fall under the general heading of ‘impaired’. 

This means the council will be looking to acquire homes which could have been left empty for years or where legal complications have complicated sale or refurbishment.  

It is one of the early proposals from its new business investment committee and is the first strategy to be made public.  

The committee considered bigger schemes this week – including land by the Nene in Wisbech – but did this behind closed doors.  

Council leader Chris Boden said the aim of buying up impaired properties was “not to make a quick buck”. 

It was not regeneration that was being considered but investment, he said. 

Fenland’s finance chief Peter Catchpole said there were many ways to approach the proposals. 

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He said they include but are not limited to buying long term empty homes and investing in them to bring them back to use. 

“This could be potentially to let out or to market them for sale,” he said.  

They could look at homes impaired by legal matters “and again trying to find resolutions to bring them back into the market”. 

And it would mean targeting potential areas of Fenland where these issues are deemed to be most prevalent “and this initial paper is looking at Wisbech in particular”.  

He said that “in view of the reduction in central government support the council has a responsibility to consider smarter ways of working and providing additional income”.  

Fenland was reviewing how it manages property investment to generate income to continue to maintain services and to live within its means.  

Mr Catchpole said the council's business plan shows that improving infrastructure and housing growth is a priority. 

Setting up a separate property company will provide the means to explore new methods of property investment and housing delivery across the district.  

Managing the portfolio could be through the council’s new trading arm - Fenland Future Ltd - or an external provider depending on the volume and nature of the properties.  

“It is envisaged that this would be outsourced initially until there is sufficient critical mass to manage directly through Fenland Future Ltd,” he said. 

"It may be beneficial to strike a balance between acquisitions, holdings and sales at any given time which is in essence an effective asset management process.  

“This would need to allow for disposal of troublesome/void properties and continual refinement of the asset base.”  

Funding would be available through the council loaning its trading arm sufficient sums to buy the properties.  

"A robust risk management plan will be developed as part of the business plan in undertaking acquisitions,” said Mr Catchpole. 

He said the council will need to consider the capacity of Fenland Future Ltd to deliver and manage these investments and to ensure statutory compliance and financial sustainability. 

Mr Catchpole said the council would probably to have ‘buy in’ housing management until ‘critical mass’ was achieved.  

He admitted that it had been difficult to get “real examples” of others doing similar schemes. 

Cllr Ian Benney suggested although the scheme looked okay in principle there were probably lots of reasons why the properties being suggested were not in use.   

He said that if the council was going to look to buy “the really bad ones, we don’t want those”. He said the cost would be too great and would stretch into regeneration and not investment.  

He asked if the council was going to look at compulsory purchase orders. 

Cllr Benney said that “if people wanted to dispose of them, they come to the market anyway”. 

Cllr Boden said there were “quite a number of properties” within the scope of the policy being considered, not all of them necessarily in Wisbech.  

He said the council’s protocol would be one “which would concentrate on revenue generating potential”. 

Cllr Boden said a source for impaired properties could be where homes have been empty for some time. The council was well placed to encourage those to come back into use.