Owners of redundant pubs could face forced sales under council plans

Last orders: The Sir George pub in Hough Lane, Wombwell, is among the pubs to go without intervention from Barnsley Council.
Last orders: The Sir George pub in Hough Lane, Wombwell, is among the pubs to go without intervention from Barnsley Council.
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Action could be taken against the owners of empty pubs in Barnsley to force them to put the buildings back into use, potentially to provide additional housing.

Redundant pub buildings have sometimes stood for years in the town, causing what Barnsley Council describe as “blight and disamenity” for the surrounding area.

A proposed new crackdown is being proposed as part of a wider plan to get empty homes back into use and that could see the council using legal powers to force change – even if that meant a change of ownership.

Many pubs have become victims of social change, with fewer people following traditional drinking patterns, leaving some larger pubs hard to sustain as viable businesses and that has led to many closures.

Because they frequently have large car parks, pubs can be attractive targets for property developers with housing schemes, but others have been left empty.

A report to the council’s ruling cabinet states “properties such as these could potentially be converted into housing and brought back into use” with the council “making use of enforcement powers to change ownership if need be to achieve this end.”

Throughout Barnsley there are currently 1,615 empty homes, with most of those in the private sector. There are 72 which have been unoccupied for more than a decade and 191 unused for between five and ten years.

The new moves would be an increase on the work already done to reduce numbers of empty homes, which is down from four per cent to 2.8 per cent of the borough’s total housing.

However, housing officials accept enforcement will not be an answer in all cases, with the report stating: “In many instances, and particularly if the property is not causing disamentity, it would be wholly inappropriate to use enforcement powers.

“Enforcement action will only be taken where property owners have failed to respond in a positive manner to offers of support from the council and where it is proportionate and reasonable to do so.

“A greater use of the Enforced Sales procedure is proposed to bring about the change in ownership that will be required to bring back into use some of the problematic long-term empty properties in the Borough.”

However, many of the homes which might qualify for legal action to force their sale also have debts to the council attached to them and a sale would allow that money to be recovered from the cash raised.

While homes involved would be expected to be sold through estate agents or auction, it is also possible the council could compulsorily purchase such properties, something it has not done before for that purpose, though local authorities elsewhere in the country have.