Council chiefs say they are considering their options after Government inspectors rejected a bid to takeover Seaton Carew’s neglected Longscar building.
Hartlepool Borough Council sought a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) for the privately-owned seafront property which closed a decade ago and has been branded an eyesore.
The council said the removal of the Longscar was a key part of its Seaton Masterplan regeneration scheme which includes demolishing the Longscar building and replacing it with a market square and events area.
A three-day inquiry was held at Hartlepool College of Further Education in August after the building’s owners Terence and Barry Wilkinson objected saying they had their own plans to redevelop it.
Inspector John Chase said the council had not conclusively proved that the owners could not make a go of it.
Mr Chase said in his report: “The matter is finely balanced, but the forced sale of an individual’s property is a draconian measure, and it is reasonable that the benefit of doubt should lie with the objectors [owners].”
The council said the CPO bid was a last resort after years of trying to get the owners to improve the building and felt it had put forward a “very strong case”.
Council leader Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “We are hugely disappointed and very surprised by the planning inspector’s decision.
“We have worked incredibly hard to encourage the owners to revitalise this key site in Seaton Carew and we made a very fair offer for the building based on expert independent advice.
“The decision is made all the more frustrating after the inspector expressed doubts in his report about the owners’ plans to refurbish and re-use the property, there being ‘scope for some scepticism’.”
The building which was previously a bar and nightclub closed in 2006 after a dispute between Terence and Barry Wilkinson.
The inquiry heard the owners now want to turn it into holiday flats and units, including a trampoline centre and bar, creating up to 100 jobs.
The Wilkinson family set up Longsco Ltd in 2014 to lead the refurbishment.
The owners declined to comment on the inspector’s decision yesterday. But at the inquiry, one of the directors Gary Wilkinson said: “We want to get the planning permission in for our refurbishment and get the project back on track.
“Myself and the other director, my cousin Craig, are both in a financial position to ensure this project succeeds.”
Mr Chase added: “There is reason to consider that the refurbishment and occupation of the building in the form proposed by the objectors would eliminate the harm arising out of its present poor condition.”
Coun Kevin Cranney, chair of the council’s Regeneration Services Committee, said: “The former Longscar Hall has been a blot on the landscape for years and I am shocked that the decision has not gone our way.
“The owners now owe it to the people of Seaton Carew and Hartlepool to refurbish the building and make it an asset to the resort within the 16-month timescale they gave to the planning inspector.
“The council now needs to review its options going forward in the light of the inspector’s decision.
“The ball is certainly in the owners’ court and we await their proposals to secure a sound future for the building and the site.”
Seaton ward Councillor Paul Thompson said the Seaton Masterplan project was now in jeopardy.
He said: “We’re talking a multi-million pound regeneration project is at risk because of this one decision.
“Residents have had to live with this grotspot for the last ten years of it just being left to rack and ruin.
“I just hope that the owners are true to their word and go through with the promises they made and we are not sat here in 18 months time saying it was all a load of baloney.”