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Costs recovery order to preserve listed Brunel site

12 March 2012

Swindon Borough Council has secured a costs recovery order against the owner of a historic Brunel building, paving the way for the preservation and redevelopment of the site.

The Mechanic’s Institute, a grade II* listed building, was constructed for the entertainment and education of railway workers who built the Great Western Railway in 1855, but has been unused and decaying since the 1980s.

In 2009 Swindon relied on section 78 of the Building Act 1984, which deals with dangerous buildings, to obtain a court order allowing it to carry out urgent remedial work.

This also allowed the council to claim the costs from the owner, local developer Forefront Estates Ltd.

Ruling in Swindon Borough Council v Forefront Estates Ltd [2012] EWHC 231 TCC, Mr Justice Ramsey said the council should be entitled to recover the costs of urgent remedial works.

The judge rejected the developer’s contention that the council should have asked them to carry out the work under section 77 of the Act instead, which covers situations where there is no immediate danger.

He found Forefront liable to pay the £393,271.16 remedial work bill, subject to minor downwards adjustments.

Ramsey J said the appropriate way of dealing with the enforcement of his ruling was to grant Swindon a local land charge over the building, as provided in section 107 of the Act.

The costs order includes Swindon’s own costs in bringing the proceedings. Forefront did not appear and wasn’t represented.

The Mechanic’s Institute, part of a broader railway village including cottages for GWR workers, was acquired by Forefront Estates in 2003 with the intention to convert some of it into flats.

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