LANDLORDS could be squeezed for more than £1.5m if they leave homes in County Durham sitting empty under new plans.

Almost 7,000 properties have been left vacant across the county, according to figures obtained by Durham County Council’s (DCC) opposition Liberal Democrats.

But under proposals due to be voted this week, some owners could see their annual council tax bills quadruple.

“This council could have had about £820,000 extra [this year],” Cllr Mark Wilkes told yesterday’s the council’s Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Management Board.

“If we don’t do this it will be another £820,000 that we will lose.

“When you then consider the extent of the problem we’ve got with empty properties it should put pressure on to the people leaving these homes empty.

“By putting the pressure on landlords we can try and make a real difference.”

Figures show more than 200 homes sitting empty in Easington and Easington Colliery and a further 185 in Horden.

The DH1 postcode area has the most in the county, with 758, closely followed by the DL14 area, with 667, and then SR8 with 505.

Durham County Council is due to vote on its latest

spending plans on Wednesday.

An amendment put forward by the Liberal Democrat group has proposed using new government rules allowing councils to double council tax bills for empty homes from April 2020

This would triple for properties left vacant for five years or more from April 2021.

And a premium of 300 per cent could be added to properties unoccupied and unfurnished for more than a decade, also from April 2021.

According to their figures, this could save up to £1,220,000 in 2020/21 and £311,000 in 2021/22.

In their budget amendment, the Lib Dems have suggested extra cash raised could be used to install dropped kerbs, 20mph zones around schools and repair the county’s unclassified roads.

Cllr Wilkes added: “By putting in this charge we will be able to spend some of that money.

“Whatever you think about how we allocate that spending, I hope you will bear that in mind.

“We don’t believe the extra money in the budget for highways is sufficient – we’ve got a backlog of £180m in repairs.”

The main budget proposals put forward by the county council’s leadership include a council tax rise of almost five per cent. This would add around £70 to the annual charge for a Band D property, before other precepts for the police and fire services are added on.

The county council’s budget for 2019/20 also includes plans to plug a gap in funding for children with special needs worth more than £5.5m with the council’s cash reserves.