Government inspectors have refused a Hartlepool Borough Council bid to takeover the derelict Longscar building.
Council chiefs say they are disappointed and shocked after a planning inspector refused to allow the authority to force the owners of the neglected seafront building to sell it.
The matter is finely balanced, but the forced sale of an individual’s property is a draconian measureJohn Chase, Planning Inspector
Hartlepool Borough Council sought a Compulsory Purchase Order for the Longscar Hall at Seaton Carew which has been empty for a number of years and branded an eyesore.
The council said the removal of the Longscar was a key part of its Seaton Masterplan regeneration plans.
It says it is now reviewing its options after planning inspector John Chase refused the Compulsory Purchase Order.
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 plans to redevelop it.
Mr Chase said the council had not conclusively proved that the owners would be unable to refurbish the property nor that it would be financially unviable.
He 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 inquiry heard the owners want to turn the Longscar into holiday flats and units, including a trampoline centre and bar, creating up to 100 jobs.
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.”