THE number of homes in Barnsley left empty for long periods is among the highest in the county - but council bosses are encouraged that the number is falling.

Of the 19 local councils in Yorkshire, Barnsley ranks eighth with 11 out of every 1,000 homes lying empty for six months - a total of 1,162 empty homes.

With regards homes that have been empty for more than ten years, there have been 61 of these in Barnsley - the fifth highest in the region - according to the figures, gathered by insurance company Admiral and through live tables available on the government website.

But the council’s new approach - which includes giving officers the power to seize properties and sell them on - is proving to be a positive step towards decreasing the number of homes that lay dormant for long periods of time.

The number of empty homes in Barnsley has consistently fallen since 2010, when 2,173 homes were empty.

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Coun Tim Cheetham, spokesman for regeneration and culture, said: “We introduced a new Empty Homes Programme in April 2018, aimed at reducing the overall number of empty homes in the borough. Since then almost 300 properties have been brought back into use.

“We offer a range of different information and support packages to owners of empty properties. Where appropriate we use enforcement powers to manage homes that may have become a problem to local residents.

“In rare instances this could include taking a property through an enforced sale. In the last year, six properties have been taken through this process and are currently being refurbished into much needed homes.

“It’s encouraging to see that the Admiral study shows that the trend of empty properties in Barnsley is reducing.”

Last week, 45 empty homes were brought back into use - meaning almost half of the council’s annual target has already been met.

But the high number of properties still vacant - and a worrying upward trend in the proportion of empty homes nationally - is cause for concern say some of the borough’s MPs, including shadow housing secretary John Healey.

“Empty properties are a waste of much needed homes and a blight on local streets,” said the MP for Wentworth and Dearne. “The number of empty homes is rising for the first time in nearly ten years which is a stark sign of government policy failure, with homelessness also on the rise.

“When I was Labour’s last housing minister we’d allocated over £300m a year to bring empty homes into use, especially in Northern towns like ours but the Conservatives cut all funding after 2010.”

Barnsley Central MP and Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis said he was ‘concerned’ about the high number of empty homes in Barnsley.

“At a time when Barnsley is facing serious housing challenges, including rising levels of homelessness, we need to be working hard to ensure that every resident has a decent place to call home,” said Dan.

“I’m working closely with our local authorities here in South Yorkshire to tackle the scourge of homelessness and address our housing challenges.”

Barnsley East MP Steph Peacock added: “An entirely preventable housing crisis has been overseen by this government, and homes standing empty whilst demand increases is simply further evidence of a broken system.

“The government should address this crisis as a matter of urgency, and can start by giving local councils and authorities the necessary funding and powers to provide homes for people in communities like Barnsley.”