A TASK force aims to tackle the scourge of empty properties and absentee landlords in part of Shildon.

The issue has been highlighted during a clean-up operation by the Durham County Council-led Community Action Team (Cat) in the New Shildon area.

The team was launched earlier this year to work in some of the most health deprived parts of County Durham.

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Moving around the county, council officers work with partners such as town a parish councils, police, fire and rescue and health services to tackle the most pressing issues identified in each community.

The team is midway through eight weeks of action in New Shildon where they are visiting houses to gather residents’ views of their neighbourhood and refer problems to the most relevant body for resolution.

In six terraces - Adamson Street, Bouch Street, All Saints Road, Thomas Street, Kilburn Street and Walter Street- there are at least 40 unoccupied houses.

The council will contact owners and urge them to take responsibility for their property, take enforcement action if necessary and direct them to any public support that is available to bring them back into use. They will also tackle issues such as fly tipping or dog fouling, dangerous buildings or environmental health concerns and fight for tenants’ rights.

Durham County Councillor for Shildon and Dene Valley, Coun Henry Nicholson, said: “This used to be a desirable place to live, but instead of homes being owned by families that work locally, lots have been bought and rented out by landlords and tenants move on after a short while.

“If a house stands empty for a while and isn’t maintained it starts to get rundown, becomes more difficult to rent out, can be lead to anti-social behaviour and drag the look and feel of a street down.

“Hopefully, this action can halt that decline.”

Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman, whose constituency includes Shildon, added: “It is good that the community action team has come here and it can make a difference, particularly if the people who live here can involved.

“The Cat can come and clean up and target what problems they find but then they move on to another area and the people here stay, they need to get involved in order to shape the next steps and what happens in the long term.”