BURNLEY has the largest proportion of empty homes in the country, new figures have revealed.
The statistics from the Empty Homes Agency paint a shocking picture of abandoned property in East Lancashire, placing Pendle second in the national table for empty and boarded-up homes in 2013.
Three other East Lancashire boroughs featured in the top 10, with Hyndburn third, Blackburn with Darwen fourth and Rossendale eighth.
The loss of Government cash for the Elevate scheme in 2010, which has left whole streets awaiting demolition, has been blamed by some for the figures.
The project, which sought to bulldoze and rebuild empty properties, was scrapped by the Coalition Government after allegations it failed to tackle the root causes of the problem.
Coun Mark Townsend, leader of Burnley Council, said: “The loss of the Elevate funding has left us in limbo. We have got blocks of empty homes that are boarded up that were earmarked for demolition under that scheme that we never got the chance to start work on.
“We will be lobbying for Government assistance with empty homes. If there is no money to demolish them then we want to bring them back into use.
“We have to hope the taps of funding will be turned back on to allow us to complete some of the work that was started under Elevate.”
When axed in 2010, Elevate had seen £317m spent on 7,500 homes in East Lancashire.
At its height in 2008, Burnley was given £14.4m and Pendle £10.6m.
Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle said nobody wanted to live in old, damp terraced houses anymore.
He said: “Burnley is on the up at the moment, industry is improving and unemployment is down. People want to live in nice, new houses with a front garden and central heating, not 120-year-old terraced houses that have damp.
“With the town doing well it is about creating good, clean, nice houses for people to live in, the type we now see going up around Burnley Wood and Accrington Road.
“This is an old problem. It dates back to when the population of Burnley was 80 to 90,000. It is 20,000 less than that now.
“People now aspire to live in different houses. In Burnley Wood there were a lot of very poor terraced houses, and they were taken down and rebuilt. That’s what the answer is.”
Despite the problem Coun Townsend said Burnley was making ‘great strides’ in tackling this blight through schemes such as the Empty Homes Clusters Programme.
The latest figures show that last year in Burnley 3.33 per cent of all homes were empty for more than six months, while in Pendle it was 3.26 per cent.
In Pendle council leader Joe Cooney and MP Andrew Stephenson said an alternative approach to Elevate’s funding had resulted in properties being brought back into use.
Mr Stephenson said: “The number of empty properties have reduced since the Elevate scheme ended. The approach is now about bringing homes back into use, rather than throwing money at the problem and bulldozing entire neighbourhoods.
“This Government doesn’t believe that throwing money at it will solve the problem, and as Pendle Council has shown these homes can be brought back into use without being demolished.
“We need to make sure there are jobs available and school places for people to move back into these neighbourhoods.
“The Whitefield area in the centre of Nelson has traditionally been a big problem for empty homes, but this summer a new £6million state-of-the-art school will open, and with houses in the area being renovated it will attract families back to Whitefield.
“I am confident progress is being made to tackle empty houses, but it is also clear more still needs to be done.”
Coun Cooney said: “We have taken on a different approach since the loss of the Elevate funding.
“Over the last 12 months we have put contracts out to tender to private companies to renovate empty homes.
“Since 2010 we have reduced the number of empty homes in Pendle by 34 per cent.