AN EBBW Vale church, empty for more than 20 years, is set to be turned into six two-bedroom homes as part of a new Welsh Government scheme.

St John's Church is one of the first properties in Wales which will benefit from the Welsh Government's £10million Houses into Homes scheme.

The idea is for local authorities to offer interest-free loans to property owners so they can renovate properties which have been empty for more than six months.

The church's owner Will Lysaght said he had planning permission to convert the church into severn homes several years ago but could not fund the whole conversion at that time.

He said the credit crunch meant lenders became reluctant to provide developers with working capital.

But he said: "The Houses to Homes scheme was perfect and has provided sufficient capital to enable us to build six of the units."

Mr Lysaght was met by housing, regeneration and heritage minister Huw Lewis who visited the church on Friday.

The minister said: "Empty homes are not only a wasted resource, especially at a time when the need for housing is so great, but they can also attract vandalism and anti-social behaviour and can damage the appearance of our neighbourhoods. This development is one of the first of many across the country which will go some way towards improving our communities and increasing the chances of families to find a suitable home."

Under the scheme, the converted homes can be put up for sale or rented and the loans will be repaid over a fixed period making the money available for other properties in the future.