MORE than 1,100 homes sit empty across Bracknell Forest — and one of these properties has been vacant for 21 years.

This is the “worrying” reality as hundreds of families from across the borough wait for a place to live on Bracknell Forest’s housing register.

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Of the 1,153 homes empty as of February 2020, 650 of them have been unoccupied for more than six months.

This is an increase of 159 long-term empty properties since June 2019.

Chris Bailey, from the Action on Empty Homes campaign, told the News: “The data from Bracknell Forest appears to show a big rise on the 2019 numbers of empty homes, this is worrying when housing waiting lists continue to rise and over a thousand Bracknell families are waiting for homes.

Bracknell News:

“We have seen national numbers rise three years running, with big rises in London and the South East, despite relatively high levels of new home construction.

“This calls into question if we are building the right housing to solve our national housing crisis.”


Data obtained by the News showed 200 of the empty homes have been without a tenant for more than two years.

One of these homes has been unoccupied since April 1999.

As of April 2019, there were 1,536 people on Bracknell Forest’s housing register waiting to be given a home.

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Vikki Farr, a 38-year-old mother-of-three from Easthampstead, has been waiting for a house of her own since 2016.

Bracknell News: Vikki and her childrenVikki and her children

Speaking to the News about the figures, she said: “It’s soul-destroying knowing these figures as I have been living with my mum since 2016.

“The twins and I are cramped in a room whilst my mum and daughter have their own.

“Living in such a crowded environment is horrid. When my partner stays over it can be hell on earth.

Bracknell News:

“We have completely taken over my mum’s home and it’s affecting her mental health massively.

“My mental health has gone downhill from this but I know if we were to be in our own place with our own space things would improve for us all dramatically.

“There are so many families like mine living in cramped conditions with families not being able to live a proper family life.”

“I wish it was that simple”

A page on Bracknell Forest Council’s (BFC) website says the authority “wants to bring empty properties back into use as soon as possible”.

To do this, council officials offer advice, guidance and assistance to owners after working out why the property has been left vacant.

BFC’s housing boss, councillor Dale Birch, suggested a number of reasons why houses may become unoccupied.

This could include homes being refurbished by housing associations or landlords, family estate issues, and more.

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Despite being able to work with empty homeowners, further, direct action is harder to achieve, according to Cllr Birch.

He said: “None of these empty properties are owned by the council.

“There is this expectation that the council can do things and has powers to click its fingers and the owners must do something.

“We do as a council try and work with people and offer help and advice in order to seek to work with them to bring properties back into use.

“But to the best of my knowledge, we have no statutory powers to enforce people to bring a property back into the market.

Bracknell News:

“We can’t use compulsory purchase orders, it is a policy used only in specific circumstances. It is not a wand you can wave to solve this issue.

“Some might think there is a correlation. If you have 1,500 people on the waiting list and you have 1,150 empty houses in the borough — problem solved.

“I wish it was that simple.”

‘Do the maths’

It’s a similar story in Wokingham borough where 1,299 homes lay empty as of February 2020.

Almost exactly the same amount of properties are ‘long-term vacant’ (644) in the neighbouring authority as in Bracknell Forest, with one home being unoccupied since 1993.

Chris Bailey believes urgent action is required to get the UK’s 220,000 empty homes back into use.

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He said: “It is time the government did the maths and gave hard-pressed councils the investment and powers to allow them to get more of these homes back into use faster.

Bracknell News:

“We really need a new national investment programme to turn isolated examples of good practice into something that can make a real positive impact on our housing crisis and gets tens of thousands of these wasted homes back into use for those who need them.

“Now as construction will slow and markets falter amid the corona crisis, it is all the more important that we use the homes that we have already built better and more efficiently.

“We simply can’t afford to let over 220,000 much-needed homes to continue to go to waste across England.”