OWNERS of empty homes are being offered grants of up to £1,000 by Rochford District Council to put properties back into use and help alleviate the housing shortage in the area.

Enforcement officers have inspected 70 empty houses across the district as part of a drive to meet housing supply needs and also improve the appearance of the area.

The planning enforcement team are hoping to visit around 400 properties over the next few months as part of the campaign to get empty homes refurbished and back into circulation.

Empty property owners are being offered the money by way of an “Empty House Grant” which can be used to kick-start work to get a property back into use.

Ian Ward, Rochford District Council’s councillor responsible for planning, said: “The benefits of bringing empty properties back into use are two-fold.

“Firstly, it can help us to meet our local housing supply needs, and secondly it helps improve the overall appearance of the district.

“It can really make a difference to the way we feel about our town or village when we see that all the houses on our street are in a good state of repair.”

The initiative was introduced when improving neighbourhoods was identified by residents as a key priority for the council.

As a result, the council also launched a web page, rochford.gov.uk/emptyhomes where residents are encouraged to report empty properties and sites in their area.

Mr Ward added: “In general, our planning enforcement team has found that properties in our district are well maintained even when unoccupied.

“Where properties have been identified as in need of some refurbishment, our private housing service has been working with the owners to get the property back into a condition where it is suitable for sale or rent.”

Richard Lambourne, chairman of the Rayleigh Action Group, believes it is a step in the right direction. He said: “As a resident of Rayleigh, I think this is a very good move by the council and I am happy they are doing it.

“There are a number of empty houses across the district and this could go some way to lessen the need for the 400 new houses a year the planning inspector is calling for. It would alleviate the pressure to build on green belt land.”

Residents can report any empty properties at rochford.gov.uk/emptyhomes so the owners can be offered support and advice to get them back into circulation.