Cheltenham’s MP, Alex Chalk, has opened up a new front in his campaign to tackle Cheltenham’s grot spots. Since his election as the town’s MP in 2015, Mr Chalk has led an energetic campaign, targeting everything from derelict buildings to graffiti-covered utility cabinets, scruffy waste bins and wonky street railings. Now he has empty and derelict buildings in his sights.
Local authorities have a number of powers to deal with empty and derelict properties, including Section 215 notices, Empty Dwelling Management Orders, Listed Building Enforcement Notices and Council Tax surcharges. The Government recently granted local authorities the discretion to double to 200% the Council Tax surcharge property owners face when they leave their homes empty for more than two years, and this came into force in Cheltenham on 1 April 2018.
To ensure this change is as effective as possible in Cheltenham in bringing empty properties back into use, Mr Chalk has contacted the Housing Minister to ask what steps the Government is taking to prevent property owners trying to relabel their property as a second home and avoiding this charge.
Moreover, this policy only addresses those homes empty for more than two years and Mr Chalk believes more should be done in the meantime. Since 2011, Cheltenham Borough Council have issued 29 Section 215 notices, which equates to 4 a year. In comparison, Gloucester City Council issued 36 during the same period and in Brighton, which has similar architecture to Cheltenham, the local authority has issued more than 100 notices.
Commenting on his campaign, Mr Chalk said: ‘‘Cheltenham is a beautiful place to live and work but derelict properties let our town down. Landowners in the largest conservation area in Europe have a responsibility to look after their properties and protect what makes Cheltenham so special.’’
In 2016, Mr Chalk drew up a top 10 Grot Spot hit list, which he submitted to the Borough Council for action. Of the 10 sites identified, a number have now been brought back into use, including:
(I) the Springbank Shopping Centre – which Mr Chalk raised in Parliament and where new homes are now being built
(Ii) the Banksy House on Fairview Road
(Iii) 127 High Street – which is now part of the John Lewis site
(Iv) 331 High Street – which has been refurbished and is currently being marketed to retailers
But a number remain derelict including the former Caledonian Pub on Swindon Road, the former Gas Nightclub on St James’ Square, the former Carlton Street post office and the former Mecca Bingo site.
Chalk added: ‘‘With ever greater pressures on Cheltenham’s precious green spaces, it’s even more a priority that brownfield sites are brought back into use. Every available lever should be pulled. ’’