Empty property in Northern Ireland 'should be taxed'

Northern Ireland finance minister Peter Robinson has proposed that extra rates should be imposed on empty properties in the province in a bid to encourage them back into use.

The government estimates there are between 10,000 and 20,000 empty houses and such a move could raise up to £10 million a year.

In the consultation paper launched yesterday, Mr Robinson said that many properties are left empty "through choice".

He commented: "This can have an undesirable social and economic impact, blighting local areas, discouraging wider investment and affecting community cohesion."

It is hoped that people will either rent out their empty properties or go through solicitors to sell them.

Consultations will last for 12 weeks and will look at possible exclusions and how to implement the policy.

The University of Ulster's house price index recently revealed that house sales have fallen by 60 per cent in the last year.

There were 896 transactions in the first quarter of 2008, compared to 2120 in the first three months of 2007.

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