Plans for a major regeneration of Seaton Carew could be put at risk unless Hartlepool Borough Council is given permission to buy the eyesore Longscar building, an inquiry has heard.
The authority hopes the buy the currently unused site and knock it down to make way for a public realm area including leisure and tourism facilities where events can be held as part of the Seaton Carew Masterplan.
However, the owners of the building, brothers Terence and Barry Wilkinson, object to the council buying the 1960s-built venue, saying they have their own plans for the site which could soon be a reality.
The authority has since submitted a bid for a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to push through the deal.
The council’s plans for the Longscar have the backing of Historic England and the council’s planning committee.
At an inquiry held at Hartlepool College of Further Education in Stockton Street, barristers and council officers have set out the authority’s case for the Department for Communities and Local Government to approve the purchase.
Martin Carter, acting for Hartlepool Borough Council, told the meeting: “The building has a strong negative impact upon the amenity of the area in which it is located.
“Its state has provoked complaint over a prolonged period and its removal has strong public support.
“The present adverse impact of the building is exacerbated by the building’s condition, but it is not the sole nor even principal reason for the adverse effect.
“Even if the building were in use, its design, mass, footprint, scale, materials and location all contribute to an adverse impact upon the visual and other amenity of the sea front and of the adjacent Seaton Carew Conservation Area.”
Mr Carter added that the “retention of the building would not bring about the significant change of emphasis of tourist offer that Seaton Carew needs”.
“Confirmation of the CPO is required in order to help bring about a significant improvement of Seaton Carew sea front in terms of its character, appearance, function and tourist offer.”
Council principal regeneration officer Rob Smith told the hearing that work to regenerate the area would be completed in three phases, with phase one seeing the removal of the Longscar and phase two seeing landscaping works take place as well as beach huts and picnic benches created.
“Funding is in place for the first two phases of the scheme but not yet for the third which is expected to provided following an application to the Coastal Communities Fund.
“This will enhance the visitor offer with the removal of an inappropriate building,” said Mr Smith.
Mr Smith added: “If the CPO was not confirmed, the council would not be able to proceed with the regeneration.
“It would have a detrimental effect on that area and it would make it very difficult to deliver anything.”
Mr Smith was asked by barrister Gary Grant, acting for the Longscar owners, if the council’s £177,000 valuation of buying the Longscar was “wildly wrong” would the authority provide cash to make up the shortfall.
“The council is not writing a blank cheque, is it?” asked Mr Grant.
Mr Smith replied: “The council is committed to delivering the scheme and the costs of the scheme.”
Sarah Scarr, of the council’s landscape planning and conservation team, told the inquiry that Historic England has given its “strong support” to both the proposed acquisition of the building and the planning permission to demolish it.
The Esh Group has been chosen as the private company to carry out the work at Seaton Carew.
The hearing, which is expected to last until Thursday and is due to hear from a number of other witnesses, is being presided over by planning inspector John Chase.