Owners face £30k fines or being made to sell up as Blackpool's eyesore buildings are targeted in clampdown
The owners of more than 200 problem properties in Blackpool face court action – and a possible £30,000 fine –if they do not bring them up to scratch.
A new task force to tackle the derelict buildings blighting the resort have helped secure improvements to around 100 properties so far.
But council chiefs have warned owners who fail to comply will be targeted with tougher new powers granted by the government.
They included forcing neglectful owners to sell up and prosecution through the court.
Legal proceedings are currently being pursued in seven cases, with another four enforced sales being sought.
Coun Christine Wright, cabinet member for housing on Blackpool Council and chairman of the task force, warned owners who persistently ignored improvement notices would face the consequences.
Coun Wright, inset, said: “We need to get the message out across Blackpool that we won’t tolerate irresponsible ownership. We will use the full powers at our disposal because when buildings are badly neglected they become a blight on the whole neighbourhood, and that’s not fair to other people living in the area or trying to run a business.”
The task force has seen Blackpool Council team up with police and the fire service to make use of the tougher powers in the battle against irresponsible owners and absent landlords who allow premises to fall into disrepair.
The problem is not just blighting neighbourhoods but creates a danger when buildings attract squatters and vandals.
Now the Problematic Empty Property Group has been set up to make use of stronger legislation introduced last year. It includes council officers from legal services, housing, planning enforcement, environmental services and council tax.
Initially around 300 properties in Blackpool were identified as being neglected and authorities prioritised those that posed the most risk.
The first step was to speak to owners and the number requiring attention has now been reduced to just over 200 without the need for enforcement action.
But new powers will be used to tackle those who still fail to improve their properties, culminating in action such as enforced sales and prosecution.
Coun Wright added: “If we can prove we have gone through all the channels, and still nothing has been done, then these stiffer fines will come into force.”
And she said the new set-up was working well.
“At one time if the emergency services were called out to a fire at an empty property, they wouldn’t inform the council of the issue but now that’s happening and we are being made aware of these properties,” she added.
“It’s also important for safety, for example if a property is not secure children could get inside.”
Coun Wright also hopes focusing on problem properties will encourage investment in order to bring them back into use again.
Enforcement officers also believe upgrading neighbourhoods helps drive down crime by giving people more pride in the area they live in.
Buildings can become empty due to issues ranging from a failed business to bereavement, and while many properties are former B&Bs, some are also houses.
Councillors are concerned about the state of 31 Elizabeth Street, pictured above and inset left, which is currently the subject of an enforced sale
Below: The New Kimberley Hotel
What effect have these methods had so far?
Owners who fail to comply with orders to take action to bring derelict properties up to scratch can hinder efforts to tidy up Blackpool.
In some cases, boarded up buildings can attract anti-social behaviour, crime and squatters, making them unsafe as well as unattractive.
One such case is 31 Elizabeth Street, in central Blackpool. The property is currently the subject of an enforced sale after the owners failed to heed the council’s warnings.
The property has been a magnet for squatters and anti-social behaviour causing problems for other residents in the area.
Despite the council taking extensive enforcement action against the owners, no improvements have been made leading to the use of powers to force a sale of the building.
Elsewhere, the Ambassador Hotel, at the junction of Derby Road and the Promenade, has been known to house rough sleepers and has also been a magnet for anti-social behaviour since it closed around six years ago.
Firefighters have attended numerous incidents including a serious blaze in January last year.
It is believed a sale has now been secured, but council enforcement officers say they reserve the right for prosecution if the property remains unsold and neglected.
And in 2014, landlord Peter Metcalf was sentenced to 18 months in prison after fire and council officers found a catalogue of breaches of regulations when they searched the New Kimberley Hotel in South Beach.
Inside the 190-bed property investigators found four tenants, despite the building having no working fire alarm system, combustible materials close to the exit and other escape routes chained or nailed shut.
In 2017 plans to redevelop the site, also including the Waldorf and Henderson hotels, into 88 apartments were approved by the council.
What powers does the task force have?
The new Problematic Empty Property Group has a range of powers at its disposal to clamp down on owners of derelict buildings.
++ Community protection notices and warnings
++ A 215 notice where the external appearance of a building is detrimental to the area. Failure to comply can lead to prosecution.
++ A section 80 notice, which forces someone to secure their property
++ Improvement notices, issued under the Housing Act, which can be used to improve internal rooms within a property
++ A section 79 notice under the Building Act, which can be used to safeguard dangerous properties
++ An empty dwelling management order that seeks to bring empty properties back into use
As a last resort, authorities can seek an enforced sale or compulsory purchase order
Non-compliance with an improvement notice under the Housing Act can lead to fines of up to £30,000 per offence.