MORE than 300 long-term empty homes in Bolton have been brought back into use this year.

Bolton Council says it has helped restore 318 empty properties since March, and has encouraged more landlords and owners to make use of its services during national Empty Homes Week, which runs from today (Monday, October 16) to Friday.

Bolton Council’s executive cabinet member for environmental services, Cllr Nick Peel, said the council was committed to getting Bolton’s empty homes back into use for people who need them.

He said: “We have a team who provide help and support to owners of properties and hundreds of homes are now occupied thanks to their intervention.

“There are lots of reasons why houses can be empty and some of it is just the normal churn of the housing market. The actual number of properties that have been empty for longer than two years is around 450 and the owners have to pay 150 per cent council tax.

“We would always rather work with the owner to get homes back into use for people who need them.”

Empty property owners are invited to a free drop-in advice session at Castle Hill Centre, in Castleton Street, on Thursday between 2pm and 4pm.

Anyone who owns a property, which has been empty for more than six months and meets the eligibility criteria, can apply for an interest free loan of up to £20,000 from the council to bring their property up to a suitable standard for rental.

Cllr Peel added: “Sometimes owners are struggling and our team is here to help. Take the example of a long term empty house on Buckley Lane where the owners have worked with the council and taken up the offer of an interest free loan.

"The house has now been fully refurbished up to a good standard and will make a great family home, as shown by the interest from lots of potential tenants.

“We always try and work with landlords first, but if after repeated contact they don’t take action and the empty property is causing an issue, we will look to use our enforcement powers. A recent example on Halliwell Road involved the council using its powers to require external improvements to the property. The owner has since carried out the work required, along with additional improvements which have really enhanced the external appearance.”

The council also recently unveiled it has joined forces with Bolton College and the University of Bolton on a pilot project to transform the borough's longest-term empty home, in Victoria Grove, which has been vacant since 1993.