Fenland Council considers using a compulsory purchase order to finally resolve future of crumbling shops at 11-12 High Street, Wisbech
PUBLISHED: 15:27 07 September 2018 | UPDATED: 15:27 07 September 2018
Those Conservative councillors in favour of Fenland Council spending upwards of £1 million on a vital element to the regeneration of Wisbech town centre appear to have won the day.
It could mean pursuing a compulsory purchase order (CPO) on dilapidated shops at 11-12 High Street, Wisbech; whose purchase and redevelopment say council officers is deemed essential.
Fenland Council will only use the CPO as a fall-back position if the London based private owner – who bought the site 23 years ago – fails to reach agreement on its future.
The council has challenged councillors over whether there is “a compelling case in the public interest” to use a CPO to improve the economic, social or environmental well-being of the district.
A seminar was held earlier this week to explain to councillors what is involved and last night the ruling Tory group agreed – by a narrow margin – to support officers and allow recommendations to go next Thursday’s cabinet meeting.
Councillors have been warned that unless something is done – quickly – to resolve the derelict and decaying site, lottery funding being drawn down to assist with the town’s economic revival could be at jeopardy.
11-12 High Street comprises two separate Grade II listed buildings dating back to the 18th century although little of historic value is left.
The proposals being considered include new shops on the ground floor with flats above – major structural issues surround the properties which can only be surveyed currently by drone and an elevated platform for safety reasons.
“Both properties are under the ownership and control of one person who is not locally based,” says a cabinet report. “The owner acquired both 23 years ago for an undisclosed sum.”
Documents on Fenland planning files show that a Mr D Lakhani of Harrow was given permission 12 years ago to re-develop the site but nothing came of it.
“The owner was unable to fund such repairs which meant that FDC had to intervene,” says the report which reveals that a charge exists against the properties to pay for urgent repairs.
The report says the owner is unable to work with the heritage lottery fund and so the only option is for the council to acquire it so as not to risk funding options.
Councillors invited to vote on the CPO will be told that providing fit for purpose shops and modern town centre flats “will encourage people to use and enjoy the town centre. It will also improve investor confidence and property values.”
In 1971 when Wisbech Conservation Area was first designated, 11 High Street was Turner’s shoe shop whilst 12 High Street was home to Foster Brothers.
In 2014 Historic England stepped in to add the conservation area to their heritage at risk register – two years later Heritage Lottery funding was secured to begin to address those issues.
Drawing down of the £1.9m lottery funding is partially dependent on getting 11-12 High Street sorted, councillors will be told, and there is limited time- the deadline for completing the works and obtain funding is January 2021.
A recent structural survey of 11-12 High Street assessed it a ‘ruinous fabric’ and the council says it has an open view as to whether the existing facades can be retained.