St Peters in Gainford
St Peters in Gainford

COUNCIL  chiefs are being urged to carry out a compulsory purchase of an eyesore after the landowner was accused of being “greedy” by asking for too much money from a developer.

After years of wrangling, St Peter’s in Gainford remains undeveloped. It suffered extensive damage in a blaze in the early hours of Monday morning (see story right).

The overall site is jointly owned by Kebbell Homes and Ruttle Plant Hire – last year both parties united to draw up plans for 57 homes. The scheme was approved, but they have not been able to reach an agreement.

This month Kebbell Homes put in fresh plans to go it alone and build 37 homes on its land at the rear of St Peter’s, a former school and borstal. But this plan would mean the frontage, owned by Ruttle, remains derelict.

Gainford Parish Council met remotely last week to discuss the matter. Parish clerk Martin Clark said: “Ruttle Plant Hire owns the front of the building and has been difficult to negotiate with over the sale of the land to Kebbell, which would allow Kebbell to build the houses. They [Ruttle] are asking above the market price.”

Cllr Sarah Hannan said: “Ruttle has held the village hostage for more than 20 years. They are now holding another developer hostage, as well as the village. We should write to Durham County Council and ask that they move towards a compulsory purchase so that the land can be developed. Kebbell is offering the market price but Ruttle want more.” She added: “Ruttle is blocking everything purely out of greed.”

It was agreed that Mr Clark ask county planning officials to intervene with a compulsory purchase. Durham Police are being asked to support the proposal because of St Peter’s long-standing problem with anti-social behaviour.

Compulsory purchase orders can be made by an authority to force landowners to sell up if their property obstructs a regeneration project or it’s for the “greater public good”.

Parish chairwoman Lisa Johnstone was unable to attend last week’s parish meeting. But in a note read out, she suggested the parish council object to Kebbell’s refreshed plans because it would be better to see the whole of St Peter’s site developed. She said there was still no “cohesive plan” and the decline of the main building would continue, attracting more anti-social behaviour.

But Cllr Simon Platten said the proposals for the rear of St Peter’s hadn’t changed. He said the council didn’t raise any objections last year and had no reason to this time.

Mr Clark said he had been in contact with Kebbell Homes, which said no objections had been received so far from residents living nearby.

In the new application, Kebbell Homes has applied to build a new entrance to avoid land owned by Ruttle.

Cllr John Grundy said the revised access was an improvement because cars would have a better view when exiting on to the A67. Councillors agreed to support the revised scheme.