£90m housing bill ‘fuelling resort decline’

Work has already been carried out on some properties in Crystal Road, South Shore, to provide better quality homes

Work has already been carried out on some properties in Crystal Road, South Shore, to provide better quality homes

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A £90m housing benefit bill in Blackpool is helping fuel many of the resort’s problems, council leader Coun Simon Blackburn warned today.

Now he is hoping radical changes to local government could help the town have more clout over who gets the payments.

Currently millions of pounds of government money is paid to landlords renting out sub-standard accommodation which acts as a magnet for vulnerable people including alcoholics, drug addicts and ex-convicts, the leader said.

But devolved powers would enable the council to control who it paid housing benefit to, and give it the power to drive bad landlords out of business.

Money saved from the housing benefit bill could then be used to buy and demolish rundown properties and replace them with family homes.

Securing devolved powers could be done through the Lancashire Combined Authority which is expected to be established next year.

Coun Blackburn, who has been appointed chairman of the shadow combined authority, said: “The Government is currently spending £90m a year on housing benefits in Blackpool.

“The vast majority of which is going into the hands of private sector landlords, many of whom don’t live in Blackpool.

“What would be useful is if we could set the housing benefit level for Blackpool locally.

“If we were able to do that, for a good landlord operating good premises we would leave housing benefit as it is.

“If we have a landlord offering poor quality accommodation and not meeting a certain standard, we could reduce their benefit levels.”

Coun Blackburn added many rogue landlords targeted vulnerable people because their benefits would be paid directly to the landlord.

He said: “If we could reduce the £90m bill to £70m, we could use the remaining £20m to buy property from those landlords and clear these sites for quality housing.

“If we did that for 10 years we would have a radically altered physical landscape.”

The move could put an end to Blackpool being a magnet for vulnerable people from other towns and cities.

Coun Blackburn added: “We see adverts for bedsits in Blackpool being put up in prisons and all sorts of environments hundreds of miles away.

“And these are only to benefit landlords who are putting the money into their pockets.

“It is not helping these vulnerable people, because if you have a drug or alcohol problem is coming here going to help you?”

Landlord Stuart King, who owns around 20 properties in Blackpool, welcomed the initiative providing it did not affect families.

He said: “I think it seems a good idea as long as it targets the worst accommodation such as low quality bedsits.

“But I wouldn’t want it to affect families in two or three-bedroom homes.

“We have all seen the decline in Blackpool in the last few years, but while there are many bad landlords and I have seen some terrible properties, there are also lots of good landlords.

“They will use any money they have left at the end of the year to improve their properties which are their investments.”