At its meeting on April 4th I asked, not for the first time, for an explanation of Burnley Council’s dealings with Wood Top School in Accrington Road. This Grade II listed building was last used as a school 15 years ago. It has lain in a deteriorating state since the school closed. Many of us would lament its closure.
Be that as it may, there was a viable alternative use for the building. It was sold, after several years, to a small developer who obtained planning permission for an imaginative and attractive conversion into housing. At that point, with the recession starting, that developer sold the building to Burnley Council for £300,000. The decision to buy was taken when the Liberal Democrat party under Gordon Birtwistle ran the council. A good deal more money has been spent since in surveys and repairs to preserve the fabric – although why the property was bought defies explanation as the first thing the council did once it owned it was put it up for sale!
The Labour-run council now has to decide how to deal with the building, no buyers having come forward. Labour politicians are forever telling us that, instead of austerity, government should be kickstarting the economy by spending on infrastructure. From the answer to my question at its last meeting, it appears our local Labour Party hasn’t got the guts to apply its own logic and ensure the development for which planning permission was given is carried out – if need be at the council’s expense.
Sale of the resultant properties ought to recover most of the money spent – it might even show a profit and, even if it did not, the public subsidy to achieve the restoration of a listed building and a quality development is an arguably justifiable way to use public money.
No, as far as I could gather, the Labour Council’s intention is to go through the process of applying for permission – at yet more public expense – to demolish the building and no doubt afterwards sell the site at a loss. The only gain to be made will be by the developer who eventually buys the site and which, had it bought the site itself, would never have been allowed to demolish a listed building.
The whole point of the listing system is to protect historic buildings from being destroyed in the pursuit of profit. What we have here is Liberal and Labour local politicians wasting our money AND conniving at circumventing laws put in place to preserve our heritage. Under a better system they ought to be personally accountable for their bad decisions which cost public money.
Do any of them think they have done anything wrong? Not a bit of it. Next month you will see Labour and Liberal borough councillors responsible for this sorry affair seeking your votes to become county councillors where they will be paid quite nicely to achieve an even greater degree of incompetence and waste.