'Public must benefit' from redevelopment of arson-hit former Hartlepool chapel

Councillors have stressed the importance of the public benefiting from plans to use part of a £25 million Government funding boost to transform Hartlepool’s derelict Wesley Chapel.

Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 2:02 pm
Updated Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 4:59 pm

Refurbishing and transforming the arson-hit Wesley Chapel site is one of five projects earmarked to benefit as part of the £25 million funding pot.

Although the overall Towns Deal plans have been praised, concerns have been raised over using funds on the privately-owned Wesley Chapel.

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The fire-hit Wesley Chapel building, in Victoria Road, Hartlepool, is one of the buildings to benefit from £25m of government funding for the town centre.
The fire-hit Wesley Chapel building, in Victoria Road, Hartlepool, is one of the buildings to benefit from £25m of government funding for the town centre.

Stockton-based development company Jomast has had planning permission to transform the building – which was gutted by fire in December 2017 – into a boutique hotel.

Labour’s Councillor Jonathan Brash, speaking at the latest Hartlepool Borough Council finance and policy committee meeting, said: “The redevelopment of the Wesley Chapel is necessary and needed, it absolutely is and I want it to happen.

“But I’m very concerned at the idea of pouring a huge amount of public money into something that the public ends up with no stake in at the end of that process, I don’t think that’s right.”

He added as part of the business case that it should be looked at how the money can be used to ensure a public stake in the development.

Flashback to the devastating Wesley Chapel fire in December 2017.

Cllr Shane Moore, the council leader, said Cllr Brash’s points were valid and added that similar comments were raised at Hartlepool Town Deal Board meetings.

He added it was said in “numerous” board meetings that any funding would depend on there being a public return as part of the Wesley Chapel plans.

The Independent Union representative said: “It is the only part of the bid where there is no obvious direct payback for the public of Hartlepool.

“It is about making sure that there is some public benefit from that as well and that the owners don’t simply see all of it.”

Councillors also hit out at the limitations of statutory powers, such as compulsory purchase orders (CPOs), to take action over privately-owned derelict buildings.

Cllr Brash said the “ridiculous” CPO process makes it “impossible” for councils while Conservative Cllr Mike Young added the lack of powers to resolve “grot spot” issues is frustrating.