EMPTY homes left to become unwelcome eyesores on Oldham’s streets are to be taken over by the council and transformed into social housing under radical new plans.

The town hall is piloting a "carrot and stick" approach to 20 properties left empty for longer than six months.

The move has been heralded as a possible solution to the social housing crisis which has seen rising numbers of families housed in temporary accommodation or bed and breakfasts.

Using government funding the authority is offering incentives to house owners to sell their property directly to the council, which will then refurbish it and hand it on to a management company to lease to social housing tenants.

Alternatively, people can opt for a "lease and repair" model, in which the council takes over the lease and brings the property up to standard, but the deeds remain with the original owner.

Under that option, the houses would be privately rented to an "affordable housing" level.

If landlords choose not to engage with the council, the so-called "stick" would be brought out in the form of Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs).

These hand the town hall the legal powers to take on the property and forcibly lease it, whether the owner agrees or not.

They are considered a last resort for dealing with properties that have been empty for longer than six months.

If the pilot proves to be successful, the authority wants to bid for more money from the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) and Homes England to roll it out across the rest of the borough’s 1,100 empty homes.

The new scheme could provide welcome relief to people living alongside the decaying buildings.

At an empty house on Werneth Hall Road, the front garden is overgrown with huge bushes sprawling across the front door, blocking the rubbish-strewn pathway.

A resident who lives next door told The Oldham Times the property has been empty since she first bought her house and began renovating it in 2016.

She explained she was forced to pay £120 to repair the neighbouring gutters after they continued to leak onto her property.

The concrete back wall refused to dry, until she paid to have the work done next door.

The 40-year-old said: “I had no choice because I couldn’t track the owner down, I contacted the council and they said there was nothing they could do.

“If I wanted to complete my own house, I had to pay.

“In the back garden there’s loads of rubbish been dumped, baths, mattresses. It’s really bad, I’ve seen mice there.”

She added: “Everyone has got to the point now where they just throw their rubbish next door.

“Nobody lives there. Everyone just dumps everything as they walk past.

“It is a bit of an eyesore. I have never seen anyone visit that property, nobody checks up on it.”

On Frederick Street in Coppice, a derelict house sits in the middle of a smart row of semi-detached homes.

The front door is boarded up, windows smashed and its garden is choked with weeds.

Neighbour Sheikh Muhammed says the house has been empty for the whole 18 years he has lived on the street.

“We have complained so many times, it’s like we’ve been talking to a brick wall,” the 72-year-old said.

“It’s not a nice thing to have on your street, to have to walk past.

“I know two or three people who told me they would buy it straight away, but it’s never been put up for sale.

“It’s been so long we’ve just given up. It’s about time something was done.”

Another neighbour whose home sits directly alongside the empty property, said he was forced to move part of his treasured book collection into the attic after a number of shared walls became damp.

The 45-year-old also said he had been trying to get authorities to deal with the property, without success.

“We had dampness coming through the walls, they have been re-pointed twice,” he said.

“It’s not very aesthetic, it undermines the standard of the area as well. I always feel there is the risk of a fire hazard in that house.”

Portfolio holder for housing, Cllr Hannah Roberts told councillors at a recent cabinet meeting that the carrot and stick approach was to encourage private property owners to bring them back into use.

“We have got increasing pressure on homes in Oldham with rising numbers of families who are in temporary and including bed and breakfast accommodation,” she said.

“Currently we have about 1,100 empty homes across the borough, we know this from our council tax records, and while the numbers have been reducing in recent years we think it’s important given the stresses that there are around housing to do what we can to encourage more to come back into use.”

Across the borough there are around 4,000 people on the housing register who are in identified housing need.

Both models will require the council to procure a partner to deliver and manage the lettings.

Cabinet member for health, Cllr Zahid Chauhan, added: “As a society we can’t justify having 1,100 empty homes and then children and families being placed in guest houses or rest houses or even being on the streets.”

Finance chief, Cllr Abdul Jabbar described the pilot as a "fantastic initiative".

“It will bring back properties into use and more than that it will be a home to somebody, hopefully somebody who is inadequately housed in Oldham,” he said.

“We sometimes forget to estimate the amount of disruption and damage an empty property causes in a neighbourhood.

“Sometimes we see a lot of anti-social behaviour, we see fly-tipping, we see neighbours being very upset from seeing a property rundown on their street.”

Council leader Sean Fielding added: “Across the borough there are homes that are criminally not being used when we have so many people on the housing waiting list.

“It is unjustifiable that homes remain empty and anything that we can do to bring those back into use is very important and we should be doing it.

“Often when homes lie empty they do become a blight on the neighbourhood, and I can think of half a dozen or so in my own ward that time after when we go round to canvas for the local elections we find that they are empty.

“They are untidy, and they are a real frustration for neighbours in and around those homes so anything we can do to improve that situation is certainly welcome.”

The cost to the council has not yet been made public.

See also: Towers demolition splits residents of Crossbank and Summervale