Unlucky 13 - owners of derelict properties across Fenland face legal action

Propertiesin Newgate Street before enforcement action was taken.
Propertiesin Newgate Street before enforcement action was taken.

Thirteen owners of derelict properties across Fenland have been threatened with legal action in the past two years because of the state of their buildings.

Fenland District Council confirmed it has issued 13 Section 215 notices since 2015 and at least two of those have resulted in court appearances for the receipients.

Properties in Newgate Street, Doddington taken this week showing the site has been tidied.

Properties in Newgate Street, Doddington taken this week showing the site has been tidied.

The council was responding to ongoing criticism by local MP Steve Barclay who has made regular calls for action on the area’s unsightly buildings since he was first elected.

Most recently the North East Cambs MP published a spreadsheet drawn up in 2015 by the council highlighting all properties of concern in Fenland’s towns and villages. Mr Barclay wanted to know how far the council had progressed as the spreadsheet states some of the owners were facing enforcement action.

The MP cites Constantine House in Wisbech as a success story for his initiative to have Section 215 notices issued to property owners who refuse to act on buildings whose poor condition make them a blot on the district’s landscape.

A section 215 notice involves the council securing a court order which means if the owner does not repair the building they can be hit by a daily fine. This financially compels property owners to bring their buildings up to scratch rather than just land banking them.

Posting on his website earlier this month Mr Barclay said: “Back when I was first elected, I repeatedly questioned the lack of action to resolve the derelict Constantine House in Wisbech, only to be told the landlord refused to act. I found this unacceptable, and researched in the House of Commons library for a way to resolve this. I uncovered some old legislation called a ‘section 215 notice’ which, once served, the landlord was forced to repair the building.

“I am again questioning whether more can be done to speed up work on other derelict buildings.”

However, a council spokesman said the council has taken action by issuing the 13 notices, which saw two owners in court.

Among those prosecuted was the owner of 3A Chapel Lane, Wisbech a S215 Notice was served but was not complied with as a result the owner was successfully prosecuted in Peterborough Magistrates Court in August 2016. Works have now started and the council says it is working with the owner towards a satisfactory completion of the required works.

It was a similar story for the owner of land adjoining 10 Newgate Street, Doddington where a S215 Notice was served due to the state of an unfinished residential development and surrounding land. Again the notice was not complied with and the owner was successfully prosecuted in Peterborough Magistrate’s Court in August 2016. The council says the site has now been tidied and the notice complied with.

Other owners such as that of a house known as East of Spring in High Road, Guyhirn acted when the notice was issued and the building has been tided.

Discussions are on going with owners of other properties including the Old School House at Tydd St Giles and the council spokesman said they are working with the owners of the site towards a “satisfactory resolution”.

While 30 Milner Road, Wisbech - the example given in Mr Barclay’s recent blog - has also seen the owner issued with a S215 Notice. The council spokesman said: “The property remains in an untidy state, but we understand that the property is now to be sold.”

The spokesman concluded: “We are working hard to tackle derelict buildings across the district as part of our broader Streets Ahead project to monitor and improve the local street scene for the benefit of the whole community. We work closely with property owners and try to resolve issues through prevention and intervention, such as offering conservation advice or help applying for grants, before enforcement action is taken where appropriate. When formal action is necessary, our enforcement team uses powers under Section 215 to their fullest potential to ensure owners make improvements to their property.”

Meanwhile the council’s conservation team have offered to help the owners of Constantine House - where refurbishment of the building, both inside and out, is progressing well, to help get the flats and commercial units occupied.

The team has also been in pre-application discussions with the owners of the old church hall at Elm where there are plans to convert it into a home.