‘Big emerging pattern’ of historic Jersey farmhouses being left to ruin

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HISTORIC farmhouses worth millions of pounds are being left abandoned and need to be brought back to the market, senior housing officials have said.

Head of strategic housing and regeneration Natasha Day said that there was a ‘big emerging pattern’ that a large number of homes being reported as empty were ‘19th century farmhouses’ which had been passed down through generations.

And Housing Minister David Warr revealed that roughly 230 homes had been reported so far to the Empty Homes Service, of which a large number – which the minister was unable to specify – were old farmhouses.

He said that the department would be producing a report in the next six months which would give ‘a flavour of what we are seeing’. This forms part of a wider ‘action on vacant properties’ plan, which was launched in January.

During a recent Scrutiny hearing, Ms Day said: ‘We will be referring back to the Environment Minister with a new list of buildings to say there are some historic buildings here that are not getting the attention they deserve.’

Deputy Warr has now confirmed that ‘there does seem to be an initial pattern in terms of receiving inquiries regarding old Jersey farmhouses’ – many of which are listed, meaning they receive greater protection under planning policy.

‘Because they are listed, they should be cared for and we should not let them deteriorate,’ he said. ‘There are a myriad of reasons as to why these properties have been left empty. It could be a dispute with the will; it could simply be a situation where there is no will and we are trying to find the ownership of it.

‘That has been one of our big challenges because of current data protection laws, and we’re working our way through that.’

It may also be the case that Islanders are reporting on the older and more visible properties at this early stage of the Empty Homes Service, the minister added.

Deputy Warr continued: ‘The value of these properties run to hundreds of millions of pounds, and that’s the bizarre thing about these findings – the sheer value of the properties we’re looking at is significant and you would say there has to be a good reason why these properties are empty.’

The minister also said that bringing these historic homes back onto the market ‘will not solve the housing crisis on its own, but it’s part of the jigsaw’.

He added: ‘In the grand scheme of things, these estimated 900 empty homes form a quarter of our housing supply needs after 2030. It’s a significant number of properties. Why build on green fields when we have so many vacant properties already?’

Environment Minister Jonathan Renouf said that he too remained ‘deeply concerned that too many homes that could be available are empty at a time of acute housing shortage’.

He added: ‘In particular, given that there is continual pressure to provide more homes in the countryside, it is essential that we make sure that all steps possible are taken to bring empty homes – including historic and traditional buildings in the countryside – back into use.’

He also said he was supporting the Housing Minister’s effort to ‘find out what is preventing them being brought onto the market’.

‘Bringing empty homes back onto the market is particularly a priority because these are homes that already exist; they don’t need planning permission and they don’t need to be built. They offer the quickest route to increase the supply of housing that we have available,’ Deputy Renouf said.

However, Islander Ivor Barette, who was fined £50,000 by the Planning Department in 2016 for removing 15 historic sash windows from a historic granite property in St Mary, said that such homes were empty because of strict planning policies.

‘They [the Planning Department] are not very obliging when you want to renovate, which puts people off,’ he said.

‘I know mine should have been done six or seven years ago, but the stubbornness of the historic buildings officer held it back.

‘The planning laws should either be revised or relaxed, because I definitely think there are a lot of old houses that could be insulated more or refurbished so that people would want to live in them. You don’t want to live in a drafty old house with single-glazed windows with the cost of heating these days.’

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