With the emphasis on new build, it is easy to forget a vitally important and sustainable weapon in the battle to provide homes.

It is estimated by the communities department that, of the 670,000 empty homes in England, some 290,000 have been empty for six months. This is equivalent in size to the city of Leeds. Moreover, more than a third of these are located in the South-east, London and eastern England. Research has shown that empty commercial floorspace also represents the equivalent of a further 420,000 empty homes, bringing the total close to 1.1 million.

Even if just over half of all the potential empty homes in England were renovated, this would represent about 20% of the target to deliver 3 million new homes by 2020. Although the restoration bill would be substantial, the bill for new build is higher.

Two important questions remain: will local authorities see the incentive to deliver more success by bringing empty homes back into use? And will the private sector really be incentivised to play its part?

Tim Dixon, professor of real estate, Oxford Brookes university