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West Berkshire Council executive discusses empty homes options as it pledges to invest an additional £1.9m on homes for displaced people

Empty houses in West Berkshire should be used to house refugees from Ukraine.

That was the plea sent to the new Lib Dem administration in its first executive committee meeting of the new West Berkshire Council.

West Berkshire Council is planning to invest an additional £1.9m on a housing scheme for displaced people – boosting the number of homes for families arriving from Ukraine and Afganistan to 27.

In March 2023, the council announced plans for a £6m housing project to provide 17 homes for these families.

It was described as ‘an excellent scheme’ by opposition leader Ross MacKinnon (Con, Bradfield) not missing the opportunity to claim it as a Conservative party initiative.

“This has a knock on advantage to increasing our own housing stock,” he added.

“I’m strongly in favour of this - it's great,” said David Marsh (Green, Wash Common).

“My only regret is it's too small. One request - can the council look at houses which have been left for a long time for properties it might acquire.

“There are houses which are empty but just need a bit of money spent on them? Could that be looked at as it would solve two problems in one.”

Denise Gaines (Lib Dem, Hungerford and Kintbury), executive member for housing announced the plan at the meeting, saying: “We are very in support of bringing empty homes back in to operation. Empty homes should not be allowed in this day and age.”

The schemes are part funded by the Local Authority Housing Fund to help councils manage the impact on its housing services when supporting displaced families arriving in the UK.

West Berkshire Council has been allocated £3.6m, which is capped at 40-50 per cent of local authority costs.

Most homes will be bought on the open market but five will be created by converting the vacant West Point House in Newbury into accommodation.

The building, owned by the council, has been empty since all staff moved into one office building in Market Street.

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