A PROJECT aimed at protecting empty homes is continuing to make its mark in a County Durham town.

The project, led by the Safe Durham Partnership, set out to tackle issues affecting residents in New Shildon and side streets in the Byerley Road area of the town.

It followed a spike in empty dwelling burglaries and a strong desire by the community to find ways to bring them back into use.

During the first six months, the partnership, which includes Durham County Council, Durham Constabulary and Shildon Town Council, managed to reduce burglaries in the area by 50 per cent by increasing police patrols and raising awareness of crime prevention methods.

Now, after securing funding from Shildon county councillors Shirley Quinn and the late Henry Nicholson through Bishop Auckland and Shildon Area Action Partnership, the next stage of crime prevention is underway.

It will see more than 100 properties marked with SmartWater – a forensic liquid that is painted onto valuable items such as boilers and radiators.

A unique code is then registered to the address where it has been used ensuring items are easily identifiable should they be stolen.

SmartWater is invisible except under an ultraviolet black light and can remain on the skin for up five years after someone comes into contact with it.

Many homes across Shildon and the Dene Valley have already had SmartWater applied and work is ongoing to attempt to mark up all empty properties in the area.

Councillor Kevin Shaw, Cabinet member for strategic housing and assets at Durham County Council, said: "We want all communities in County Durham to thrive.

"Empty homes are not only a loss of valuable housing, but they can impact on our local communities by attracting fly-tipping, anti-social behaviour and burglars.

“This project is a great example of how partnership work can produce results and make a difference to the lives of local people.”

Shildon’s Temporary Inspector, Alex Clarke, of Durham Constabulary, said: “Empty properties continue to be a target for burglaries and can also attract anti-social behaviour, which results in an increased demand on public services.

“SmartWater is not only an excellent deterrent but assists police in identifying those responsible for the crime. Hopefully, the real prospect of getting caught may make them think twice.”

SmartWater kits are available free of charge subject to availability across Shildon and the Dene Valley. Empty home owners who are interested in having their property marked up are asked to contact Durham County Council’s housing solutions team on 03000 268000 or privatesectorhousing@durham.gov.uk