MORE than 2,500 homes in Blackburn with Darwen are sitting empty, despite a national housing crisis which has left thousands of families homeless.

And new figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government show that hundreds of properties have been left unoccupied for at least six months.

In October last year, when the most recent count was taken, there were 2,838 vacant homes in Blackburn with Darwen – one in every 21 houses in the area.

Of those, 1,132 were classed as long-term vacancies, meaning that they had been unoccupied for at least six months.

Conservative group deputy leader Cllr Denise Gee said there were ‘far too many’ vacant homes in the area and the council needed to be doing more.

However council regeneration boss Cllr Phil Riley said the council was working hard to fill the homes and expects the number to continue to drop.

Cllr Gee, who represents Blackburn South and Lower Darwen on the council, said homes left empty for years can damage an area.

She said: “It’s far too many vacant homes.

“We’ve got lots of families and young people trying to get on the housing ladder, yet we have so many long-standing empty homes.

“Empty homes bring down an area if they are in disrepair which is a problem for residents.

“It’s crucial the council does more to take back some of these empty homes and bring them into use, especially the long-standing empty homes.

“The council should be doing everything possible to get families into these homes.”

The problem of empty homes in Blackburn with Darwen has improved in recent years.

In 2008, when the number of vacant properties peaked nationwide, there were 3,643 in the area.

Cllr Phil Riley, regeneration boss for Blackburn with Darwen Council, said the council was working hard to continue to bring the number of empty properties down.

He said: “We are aware of this issue and that’s why we are in the process of increasing the number of members of our empty homes team.

“Bringing back empty homes is a very laborious task.

“They are often owned by people who are not local residents any more, who are not in the borough or even in the country.

“We’ve already increased the number of empty homes being brought back into use and we expect more to be filled up and that number to drop further.”

Across England, there were more than 600,000 vacant properties last October, over a third of which were long-term vacancies.

Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said that making sure properties were occupied was just part of the answer to the country’s housing shortage.

She said: “In the midst of a homelessness crisis it is of course frustrating to see houses left empty.

“But the fact is that even if we filled every one of these, there still wouldn’t be nearly enough homes to solve the problem.

“Decades of failure to build has left us in the lurch - the Government must now get on and build a new generation of social homes where people need them most.”

Figures show that 101 new homes were built in Blackburn with Darwen last year. In total, 139 new homes were created, including those converted from office blocks or houses split into flats.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “The number of long-term vacant dwellings in England is still lower than when records began, but we are determined to bring this figure down.

“That is why we are equipping councils with tools they need to tackle the issue head on, such as bringing forward legislation that will allow them to double the rate of council tax on those homes left empty for two years or longer.”