East Sussex County Council’s handing of a derelict former care home has come in for criticism from a Hastings councillor.
Speaking at the authority’s place scrutiny committee on Tuesday (June 11), Cllr Godfrey Daniel (Lab) raised concerns about the former Mount Denys care home, following a deliberate fire at the long vacant property last month.
Cllr Daniel, who represents Hastings Braybrooke and Castle ward, made his comments during a wider discussion on vacant and surplus properties in county council ownership.
He said: “What concerns me is the delay in having certain property disposed of or reused or whatever.
“That building has been closed since 2014 and for a building to be surplus for more than five years, just left there basically, I don’t think is acceptable. I can’t imagine why it should take that long.
“With empty buildings, if we just leave them there, they will get burnt down. Things will happen to them.
“Now you’re going to have to pay to bulldoze it down, to demolish it and for security.
“I wonder what other buildings have been vacant, surplus, for many, many years, which in the normal commercial world would be disposed of much more quickly.
“I don’t think five years is acceptable and I can’t imagine any member of the public in Hastings thinks that it is a good idea to keep a building empty.”
In light of this, Cllr Daniel asked if there was a standard time frame for the sale of former council properties and whether other buildings were in a similar state.
To guard against similar cases in future, Cllr Daniel also suggested the council’s scrutiny committee be informed of the details surrounding vacant buildings once they had been empty for two years.
Responding to Cllr Daniel’s comments, council officers said the issue with the site was that it had still been partly in use.
Officers said the site is made up of three buildings, one of which was still in use by council staff. They said the council had been in the process of moving staff out of this final building and had been delaying taking the next steps until this building was also free.
This would give the council ‘a much larger site for redevelopment’ said Graham Glenn, the council’s acquisition and disposal manager.
Mr Glenn said: “The quicker we dispose of [vacant] buildings the better.
“The reality is that some sites do take a long time to go through the planning process. There is one site, which we will talk about later on, which has taken two and a half years to go through the planning process.
“But you need to go through that planning process in order to add the value to it, rather than selling it at a wholesale price on day one.”
Mr Glenn also confirmed the site is set for demolition following a major fire at the property on May 30.
It had been the fourth time it had caught fire in a month. Previous fires had been reported on April 30, May 8 and May 18.
Fire investigators ruled that the blaze had been started deliberately.
According to council papers, the county council currently has 16 properties listed as surplus to service needs, or vacant.
However this includes properties which are temporarily surplus, where assets are being held back for alternative service use.