LONDON BOROUGH SHOWS THE WAY IN MAINTAINING VACANT AND DISUSED PROPERTY WITH PROPERTY GUARDIANS

Glasbury House Outdoor Education Centre. A model in how the public sector can offset vacant property security costs whilst boosting the homes shortage issue.

Glasbury House Outdoor Education Centre, located in Hereford, was closed down in August 2015 as part of the widespread funding cuts to its children’s’ services.

The education centre, owned by the borough of Redbridge, had been used as an education and outreach venue for up to 1,800 pupils from the East London Borough, where they could partake in adventurous activities such as canoeing, rock climbing and kayaking. The centre’s purpose was to enable young people, who travelled to Wales from the Borough on organised trips, to interact with one another in a social but educational setting to boost confidence and mental well-being, and proved successful. However, in the era of financial moratorium being experienced across the whole public sector, the services were moth-balled, and the large property and its lands fell vacant.

The centre sits on seven acres of beautifully-kept land, at the centre of which are two large buildings – the main house and the bunk house. The main house has 9 large bedrooms, a lounge, kitchen, staff room, multiple bathrooms and more, totalling 650 square metres of floor space. The bunk house has five bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room, office, multiple bathrooms and much more, totalling 287 square metres of floor space.

When the leisure centre was forced to close, the council was approached by specialists Ad Hoc Property Management, a company that places Property Guardians in vacant properties to occupy and maintain them until they are eventually repurposed. Guardians pay an affordable ‘licence fee’, which can be as little as £160 per month, to live in the properties on a short-term basis.

Securing vacant properties can be extremely costly and risky for property owners, and if a property suffers damage through vandalism, squatting, break-ins or, at worst, asset stripping, these costs can become exorbitant.

With pre-approved, carefully vetted guardians in situ, vacant properties can be secured and maintained, all while providing an affordable, alternative way of living for the Guardians themselves. Local communities also benefit from property guardianship, as residents near previously vacant properties can be safe in the knowledge that a building is now occupied, significant reducing the risk of anti-social behaviour, illegal occupancy and of course physical damage.

In the time Ad Hoc has been managing Glasbury House, it has been estimated conservatively that over £8,000 of costs have been saved each month, a totalling a staggering £232,000 over the whole period to date.

The costs mitigated as a result of occupancy by guardians include the provision of security arrangements, and reduced insurance and taxes, so the benefits are shared jointly by property owners and guardians alike. In short, public money saved also leads to reducing the strain on the shortage of homes locally and across the UK.

If more vacant properties were occupied by Guardians in Wales, the full spectrum of the public sector that owns vacant property, especially local government, would benefit from saving on police resources (reduced call-outs for vandalism, break-ins and squatters etc), as well as savings on security and maintenance. But, it’s not just local government that benefits either, guardianship provides affordable living options for those who have been priced out of the rental market, and therefore must be considered by local authorities when it comes to empty buildings – a problem Wales must address, and fast.

The London Borough of Redbridge have shown how it is possible to save significant amounts of money on the public purse whilst safeguarding the community, and indeed the public realm.

Redbridge Council entered into an agreement with Ad Hoc for Glasbury House in summer 2016. Since then, up to 12 guardians have been living in the premises. Accordingly, the Council has not had to have paid for any traditional security and has received about £1,000 income each month. Both Ad Hoc and the guardians have also assisted in some management role for the property, which the Council is very grateful for, particularly as the premises is situated some 200 Miles from Redbridge’s base.  In early 2017, Redbridge was happy to enter in to another agreement with Ad Hoc for a large property located in its Borough.

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