Anger over plans for rehab centre next to social club

Walter Cook with the former Registry Office behind him.
Walter Cook with the former Registry Office behind him.

A BUSINESSMAN has hit out at a council for agreeing to sell an unwanted building to a drug and alcohol charity on the doorstep of a social club.

Walter Cook, who recently bought the Engineer’s Social Club in Hartlepool, criticised Hartlepool Borough Council for not putting the former registrar’s office on the open market.

Walter Cook with the former Registry Office behind him.

Walter Cook with the former Registry Office behind him.

Mr Cook, 64, who runs a host of pubs in the region, says he wanted to make an offer on The Willows building next door to the club in Raby Road and would have paid more than the market value.

But the council says the sale represents the true market price and the deal is a great chance to bring an empty building back into use.

Mr Cook said: “I just can’t understand how the council can put a rehab centre next to somewhere selling alcohol.

“We would have paid more than the market value because it’s in our interest to do so and the council would have got more money.

“We are investing upwards of £350,000 in renovating the Engineers and The Willows would have suited our expansion plans.

“It should have been put on the open market.”

Mr Cook says his solicitors wrote to council chief executive Dave Stubbs in September expressing his interest in making an offer on the building but got no reply.

And he plans to contact watchdogs at the Local Government Ombudsman to question the sale process to Developing Initiatives and Supporting Communities (DISC).

The charity has secured a major grant from Public Health England to provide a new Treatment Recovery Hub.

Councillors on the Finance and Policy Committee discussed the issue after the former registrar’s office was declared surplus to requirements.

Coun Geoff Lilley proposed to defer deciding the sale to make sure the council was getting the best deal but the motion was defeated in a vote.

Denise Ogden, the council’s director for regeneration and neighbourhoods said any delay by putting the building on the open market could jeopardise bringing a desperately needed service to the town.

Mr Cook, of the Headland, who runs Cook Leisure, added: “I feel very disgruntled by it. I just think the council is riding roughshod over small businesses.”

A council spokesman said: “DISC approached the council earlier this year to inquire about the availability of the former Registrar’s Office, on Raby Road.

“Agreement was reached for the sale of The Willows to the charity, who believed it was an appropriate location for a new Treatment Recovery HUB, and as a result the property was never offered for sale on the open market.

“The council’s Estates and Regeneration team is firmly of the view that the agreed sale price represents the true market value of the property.

“The council saw this as an excellent opportunity to sell a property that was surplus to requirements and secure a vital new service for Hartlepool, helping people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.

“We can confirm that we received a letter from Mr Cook’s solicitors, dated September 11, and we have noted his interest in purchasing the property should it ever become available for sale.”