Councillors will be asked to support a local MP’s plan for unlimited fines for ‘rogue’ building owners who allow their properties to fall into disrepair.
Stoke-on-Trent North MP Jonathan Gullis says his Proper Maintenance of Land Bill was inspired by the sorry state of Price and Kensington Teaport Works in Longport, which has been targeted by arsonists and had to be partially demolished last year.
Elected members at Stoke-on-Trent City Council will debate a motion calling on the authority to support the bill, which would remove the £1,000 limit on fines for landowners who fail to comply with improvement notices.
But Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons, has declined to support Mr Gullis’s efforts – suggesting that his private members’ bill will not receive parliamentary time.
Mr Gullis raised the issue in the Commons during business questions to the Leader of the House.
He said: “Price and Kensington Teapot Works in Longport, outside the Mother Town of Burslem could be a catalyst for economic growth and regeneration. But sadly an absentee and rogue landowner is allowing it to rot.
“My Ten Minute Rule bill, the Proper Maintenance of Land Bill, was inspired by this case and seeks to achieve more forceful action against those who seek to damage local communities in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, and across the UK.
“So will my right honourable friend be willing to commit parliamentary time for debating what further legal action could be taken against absentee and rogue landowners?”
But Mr Rees-Mogg suggested that it would better to engage with the building owner rather than seek ‘legislative measures’.
He said: “I think this is a very difficult issue. Property ownership is a fundamental part of our constitution and the rights of property are of great importance, and that landowners do not have to change their properties if they do not want to. On the other hand seeking regeneration is an important objective policy.
“So what I would encourage my honourable friend to do is try and work with the business instead of thinking there are necessarily legislative measures that would work.”
The grade-II* listed Price and Kensington building has been deteriorating for many years and is described as ‘highly vulnerable’ by Historic England.
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Last year the city council had to bulldoze part of the site after surveys revealed the structure was unsafe, and the building was deliberately set alight in August.
The council took Middlesex-based owner Charles Lewis and Co to court after it failed to comply with an improvement notice, and this resulted in the maximum £1,000 fine being imposed.
Dan Jellyman, cabinet member for regeneration and heritage, and councillor James Smith have submitted the motion on Mr Gullis’s bill, which will be debated at next week’s full council meeting.
The motion states: “The city of Stoke-on-Trent has over 193 listed buildings and sites. All are culturally and historically important, not only important to the residents of our city, but nationally and internationally.
“The majority of these listed buildings, and buildings in the 20 conservation areas across the six towns, are in private ownership.
“Some of these private owners, such as the owners of Price and Kensington Teapot Works, have actively allowed these crucial sites to fall into disrepair.
“Due to national legislation, which the city council operates within, there is no significant punishment to dissuade such owners from allowing sites of importance and historical value to fall into disrepair and disappear.
“This council therefore resolves to fully support the Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent North, Jonathan Gullis’s private members bill.”
Any MP can introduce a private members’ bill, but the vast majority do not get past a first reading as they are not given parliamentary time.