How do we tackle the issue of South Holland's worst eyesores?
What can be done to force the owners of some of South Holland’s worst eyesores to transform these empty buildings to their former glory?
The former Johnson Hospital, The Bridge Hotel in Sutton Bridge and Long Sutton’s The Bull are just some of the commercial buildings that appear to have been abandoned to falling into disrepair and blighting the area.
A Freedom of Information request submitted by the Spalding Guardian and Lincolnshire Free Press has revealed that only the Bull and Monkie in Spalding is subject to penalties for standing empty.
The owners of the derelict pub in Churchgate have been paid £2,309.64 for council tax, including a 100% empty premium, for the domestic element of the property and £5,796 business rates for the 2019/2020 financial year.
While the council tax bill will go up to £3,585 (£2,508 paid) and business rates charges will be £5,888 (£4,121 paid) for the 2020/2021 financial year.
Under the current rules, councils are able to impose empty property premiums on domestic properties but unfairly do not have the ability to charge these penalties on commercial properties that are contained on non domestic rating list or those that have been removed.
According to information contained within that list, the vast majority of South Holland’s grot spots are not contained within either list.
The Freedom of Information request also stated that The Bull in Long Sutton is exempt from empty property rates as it is valued at just £1,025.
Leader of South Holland District Council Gary Porter says the law would need to be changed in order to penalise the owners of long-term empty properties.
He said: “The only people who can change the rating system is the Government. If we are to be able to use the rating system to penalise deliberate long term rating, we need to have the law changed to do that.
“I would not be upset if a bill goes through Parliament to increase taxation on those who deliberately keep empty buildings.”
Coun Porter also said that if there was a strong community need for an empty building, the compulsory purchase route should be easier but added that funding for this would have to be met by the tax payer and that he was not a great believer in the state taking people’s property.
He said: “If there is a community use for a building and it’s derelict or abandoned or there is a need to use it, there should be an easier and cheaper route to compulsory purchase.I don’t understand how much money you have to have to leave a building doing nothing. Even if you are not paying any bills on it, you have to insure it as the risk is too great.”
Spalding Civic Society chairman John Bland said that UK Business ratings are frustrating as residential property owners can be charged up to 200% of standard council tax bills while owners of sizeable sites escape.
He said: “In the absence of real radical reforms to the taxation of commercial property and land, there needs to be increased transparency as to who ultimately owns a commercial property. This will make it easier for communities to approach them directly to see if ways can be found that will allow their premises to be used.
“When the medical action is delivered that will bring an end to the pandemic, there will be those who will want to play an active part in recovery by seeking to fill the spaces left by those failed business. It will require new and novel approaches with flexible thinking from owners, tenants, local authorities and citizens.”
He added: “As the current owners of the Bull and Monkie whoever, and wherever they are have constantly refused to do anything with it, they have clearly demonstrated a complete lack of interest or respect for our town. Whatever its future, the time has come for South Holland District Council to explore every option to arrive at a plan of development, re-development or improvement of the site which would enable it to consider a compulsory purchase of the site utilising the legal powers that it has available if the owners of the site refuse to sell.”
Chairman of Long Sutton Civic Society Tim Machin said the group remains extremely concerned for the future of this building.
He said: “The Bull Hotel in Long Sutton and Bridge Hotel in Sutton Bridge are both prime examples of a failed system that arguably encourages owners to keep property empty rather than bring forward innovative solutions for their redevelopment. The Bull gains exemption from empty business rates both as a listed building and because it’s rateable value is lower than the threshold.”
'Things should be evened up'
A woman who is transforming a derelict historical building into home has felt how unfair the current system is.
Pippa Clare is slowing transforming The Manor House in Gedney Broadgate from a pigeon infested, leaking property into a new home since purchasing the site last year.
But she was hit with a £1,000 council tax bill for the month of August due to the Long Term Empty Building Premium.
Miss Clare said: “There is one rule for one and another rule for someone else. It is appalling!
“I would like to see them even things up for domestic and commercial properties as I was stung for a month at a higher premium. It is totally out of order.”
The Manor House, which is reported to have been empty since 2008, is now weather tight thanks to Miss Clare’s passion for the building.
She says the plastering is now virtually done but the heating system is waiting to be connected and there is still not a toilet.
Miss Clare said: “If I knew then what I know now then I wouldn’t have bought the house. I love the property and don’t regret it but knowing what has gone on I wouldn’t have done it.”
Developers bring buildings back to their former glory
A locally-based developer has returned a number of the area’s eyesores to their former glory.
Jamie Sandford and business partner Robert Bridgewater, who run API Investments, have recently bought The Red Cow Hotel in Donington and are planning to breed new life into the building.
They have a solid track record in developing this historical buildings after vastly improving the look of Holbeach’s High Street with their transformations of The Bell Hotel and The Chequers.
Mr Sandford said that they like to bring old buildings, which would put a lot of developers off, back to life.
He said: “We have a vision of what we are able to do with the property and if the numbers work and we feel we can achieve residential conversion then we will go from there.”
The company is hoping to start work on creating quality housing in the New Year and expect the project to take between 12 and 18 months.
Mr Sandford said: “The biggest challenges faced on developments like these are being able to budget and price for the conversions. There are so many unknowns to allow for which put even the most experienced developers off.
“Its also very hard to work time frames as you don’t always know what to contend with until you start the strip out.
“We are certainly very proud of what we have been able to do with the Chequers and are very pleased with the finished product. We have also finished the pub to a very high standard for the new landlord when we have someone to take it on.”
Mr Sandford said that developers could be put off by a building being listed as this is slow down renovation works.
He added: “We cannot afford to sit and wait. As they say time is money. We are putting all plans in place prior to completion on all of our projects so that as soon as we receive the keys and complete we can get straight to work.”