Council backed by ombudsman

The old Town Hall on King Street
The old Town Hall on King Street

PLANNERS have been cleared of malpractice over one of Wigan’s worst eyesores.

The Local Government Ombudsman has ruled that council officers have acted properly in their handling of their former building which was sold off to Channel Islands based developers more than 15 years ago.

Arsonists and attacks by vandals have left the former municipal centre at the bottom of King Street - some sections of which remain Government listed - in a truly embarrassing condition at the very heart of the town centre.

A major row over the condition of the buildings has been raging between the town hall and the owners since it was sold off when the council moved into the refurbished former Mining College building.

The complaint was brought before the watchdog by an angry resident who says the town hall dispute is an “absolute disgrace.”

Community activist Arthur Fairhurst, who lives a matter of hundreds of yards away from the old town hall in Hardybutts, Scholes, sees the crumbling structure “virtually every day of my life.”

The campaigner accused council planners of failing to take suitable enforcement legal action against the owners on behalf of all council tax payers.

He has already been through a stage one, two and three complaint procedure with the council.

Disabled Mr Fairhurst said: “For the people of Scholes who have this on their doorstep everyday it is just totally unacceptable, never mind the investment this must be putting off.

“My complaint was that the council are doing nothing while it crumbles away and they are not holding these people in Jersey to account.

“A lot of us think that they are hoping it falls down now under its own steam then there will be no building to argue about anymore.

“The council have an obligation to make sure that they who own it keep it up to scratch.

However, Director of Economy Steve Normington said today that the council have been in discussion with the Local Government Association about the legalities surrounding the ownership of the old town hall - as well as with Mr Fairhurst himself .

He said: “The Ombudsman has indicated that we have done as much as powers allow at present.

“The building and the land are in separate offshore ownerships which periodically change.

“We served notice last year on the land and the building to secure some improvement to their appearance.

“Since then the land has been cleared and fenced and boarding has also been installed to cover openings on the building.”

He pointed out that the site did have a planning application for apartments, but this hadn’t happened because of the state of the economy and current market needs.

The land has current planning permission for use as a temporary car park for two years to 2013.

He said: “We have told Mr Fairhurst we are as concerned as he is about the condition of the site and the council is doing all in its powers to act and has offered to work with the owners.

“We consider the state of the old town hall unacceptable and want to see it brought back into beneficial use, especially given its prominence to the town centre.”