There are roughly 6,000 properties sitting vacant in Bristol whilst thousands more people are waiting for affordable places to live. Whilst local councils are scrambling to find solutions to the housing crisis, there’s one solution that is not being utilised enough; one that can save public sector organisations money, including the police, whilst helping to provide affordable accommodation and improving community safety.
Newton House, a former residential care home, is situated in Bristol and was previously under the ownership of South Gloucestershire Council.
In early 2014, and as part of a wider review of its services, the Council mothballed the property and approached Ad Hoc Property Management Ltd to manage the property on its behalf whilst it considered how best to use it going forward. Ad Hoc were to ensure its physical security and safeguarding through a period of repurposing and potentially new ownership, which in turn saved the council copious amount of money in insurance, security and taxes.
For three years, under the direct supervision of the company’s regional manager, Simon Wright, Ad Hoc Property Management successfully managed Newton House, providing live-in Guardians who ensured the building was safely and responsibly maintained. These live-in Guardians were responsible for ensuring it was secure from illegal occupancy and damage, and meanwhile each made it their dwelling for an affordable license fee.
Local residents were delighted with the arrangement, secure in the knowledge that the building wouldn’t be a centre of attention for vandals or illegal occupants, together with any of the associated problems.
However, in September of 2017, the Council finally found a buyer after marketing the property for a number of years, an investment firm that takes on former care home properties. Insisting that they had their own equally effective methods for safeguarding vacant properties, the investment group chose not to go down the Guardianship route, following which the property went into very rapid decline.
Quickly becoming a target for vandals, Newton House soon became a notorious call-out location for already stretched local police services. Not only was the building used as a playground for local youths, but while there, they regularly used the place to smash windows and damage fixtures, leading to numerous arrests.
Jackie (surname withheld for privacy and security), who lives in the adjacent road with her autistic son said she frequently had to call the police due to teenagers being on site and trying to break into the building. “The anti-social behaviour alarmed my son greatly and I had no other option but to call the Police each time. It’s been an absolute nightmare, with kids hanging around on the site, breaking into the building, smashing things up inside and noisily playing football in the property’s private grounds. They even started a fire at the back of the property and then flooded it! It’s an absolute disgrace.”
Another local resident, Anne, who normally lives alone in Earlstone Crescent, said local disturbances at the Newton House property had reached a point where she even had to ask her son to move back in with her temporarily. “I would much prefer having a presence in Newton House, people looking after the building and preventing all the riff-raff that have been hanging around there since it fell vacant.”
Last September in Bristol alone there were a staggering 553 cases of criminal damage and arson, and an even higher number of cases of anti-social behaviour, more often than not associated with criminal damage. When UK constabularies are already stretched to the limit, wanton property damage and squatting is adding daily to the burden on policing resources, not to mention costs to the public purse. For local councils, it is estimated that every single unoccupied public building is costing the tax-payer over £1500 a year in security alone.
Property Guardians, meanwhile, who can live in a central location with sometimes far more space than conventional living accommodation, can do so for as little as £160pcm, with many guardians using their monthly accommodation cost savings to go towards a deposit on their first mortgage.