What do we know about empty buildings and unused land in Leeds?

monochromatic-hallwayimage: Monochrome Hallway by Tom Blackwell

Empty dwelling management orders and activism from charities like Leeds Empties has meant empty domestic properties have been under a spotlight, despite a lack of enforcement of orders.

What about commercial empties and unused land? To find out, Sue Ball and I started looking into the situation in Leeds, South Leeds in particular. Unlike some councils, Leeds City Council publishes a list of long term empty properties owned by limited companies (protecting the privacy of individual home owners by excluding them).

According to the Leeds Data Mill, the portal for Open Data in the city, “This data relates to long term empty properties (i.e. those that have been empty for more than 6 months). The information relates purely to empty property addresses that are within the private sector and which are not owned by private individuals (i.e. owned by limited companies)”.

On a tablet, we couldn’t work out if this information listed both commercial and domestic properties. We also found some annoying quirks with the layout of the preview mode losing the right-hand side edge of the dataset. On a laptop, we could see quite a bit of useful information: how long the property has been empty, who owns it and where it is. This was excellent but we still couldn’t tell if these properties were domestic only. We also wanted a list of unused land in and around South Leeds.

The helpful open data team at Leeds City Council provided a prompt response to our query, pointing us to the Council Land and Building Assets page.This has a lot more detail, presumably because these are council-owned assets. At first glance, I couldn’t tell if these assets were land, buildings or both. A closer look was needed, luckily, the data is available to download and play around with in your favourite spreadsheet program.

Finally, we looked into land held by the central government, called e-PIMS or more wordily: Central Government Property and Land including Welsh Ministers estate. Would these assets appear in the Leeds City Council’s list? It would be interesting to find out.

According to data.gov.uk, the central catalog for UK government open data: “Data files from e-PIMS, Government’s Property and Land asset database containing details of location, tenure and other key attributes for each asset. It includes details about the buildings, any vacant space and occupiers”. This looked promising! The data files provided are listed in a bit of jumble, with no sense of rhythm or rhyme, so it was tricky to work out if the files were up-to-date.

Now e-PIMS comes in four flavours: Building, Vacancy, Occupation, and Register of Public Sector Land. I’m not sure what we’ll need, so I grabbed all four. If you don’t want to wade through files, fear not, there is an alternative: Government Property Finder service. I believe it uses the same information as e-PIMS, but best to check this yourself. If it helps, the helpdesk listed is e-PIMS Service Delivery Helpdesk, so I’m pretty darn confident.

In any case, it is a much friendlier beast if you aren’t a data ninja, can’t be bothered to play with files, all or none of the above. You can search to let, for sale or the entire government estate. It’s a wizard, so just point and click. “South Leeds” as a place brings back nothing, nada, zilch, zero, but Leeds brings back 130 results! Now, we can’t tell from the listings if the property or land isn’t in use but you can download the results or pop them on a map.

What did we learn?
Firstly, yes, there’s a lot of information out there but it it comes in lots of different shapes and sizes and we still haven’t answered the burning questions which I’ll summarise below.

Secondly, we’re missing a big chunk if the long term empty properties owned by limited companies doesn’t hold commercial properties.

Thirdly, we could do with pulling all this together and speaking to some experts, either at Leeds City Council or commercial estate agents.

Burning questions

  1. Does the long term empty properties owned by limited companies also list commercial properties? [Leeds Data Mill]
  2. Does the Council Land and Building Assets split assets by type?
  3. Why is e-PMS so out of date? [Cabinet Office]
  4. Is the Government Property Finder service more up-to-date? [Cabinet Office]
  5. What land and which properties aren’t on our combined list? Do they matter?
  6. What exactly do we mean by “South Leeds”?

So we have our work cut out for us going forward but it’s good to know that when it comes to empty properties and unused land in Leeds, the information is out there.

Breaking news

Read or comment on the work in progress.

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