No powers to force eyesore demolitions

Echo: Tony Cox at the Turpins Tyres site Tony Cox at the Turpins Tyres site

DISAPPOINTED council chiefs have been told they do not have the power to stop developers dodging rates by bulldozing half of their derelict buildings.

Bosses at Southend Council had been investigating whether the Government would allow them to tighten up laws which allow property owners to escape business rates if a site is no longer usable.

They cited dozens of examples in the town, including Esplanade House on the seafront and the former Turpins Tyres site in West Road, Shoebury, of preventable scars on the landscape.

But chiefs have been told there is no leeway in the law to allow them to scrap the tax exemption and force developers to take action.

Tony Cox, a member of the ruling Tory cabinet, said he was disappointed by the verdict.

“It seems to be an obvious measure to stop this kind of thing from happening,” he said.

“They are real eyesores in the town and ones which could be avoided.”

Historically, buildings which were empty were exempt from business rates.

However, in 2008 the law was changed so that buildings were only exempt if they were unusuable.

The move led many developers across the country to partly bulldoze their properties to avoid paying the tax.

Esplanade House, which stands on the edge of the council’s £7.5million City Beach revamp in Marine Parade, was supposed to be knocked down in 2008, but the bulldozers were called off when redevelopment plans for the site were put on hold.

However, Perry Gamon, managing director of site owner Robert Leonard Group, said the office block had been left in its current state to retain planning permission, rather than avoid tax.

In Shoebury, bulldozers have finally moved in to deal with the Turpins Tyres building after it was left to crumble for two years.

Mr Cox, who lives near the site, said: “The Government should never have changed the law in the first place, and then we would not have this problem.

“However, given that the responsibility for business rates is being transferred into councils’ hands, it seems only reasonable that control over how to apply them is as well.”

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