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Council wins costs recovery order for remedial work to historic Brunel building

6 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 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 expenses incurred 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 and therefore no need for urgent action.

“The roof in this case was dangerous and […] the council properly concluded that it was necessary for immediate action to be taken to remove the danger,” Ramsey J said.

In the circumstances the fees paid by Swindon were recoverable “as part of the work necessary to remove the danger”.

The judge found Forefront liable to pay the £393,271.16 remedial work bill, subject to minor downwards adjustments yet to be finalised.

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. These however are not covered by the section 107 charge. Forefront did not appear and wasn’t represented.

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

Swindon’s plans to redevelop the site, drawn up with the assistance of The Prince’s Regeneration Trust, the prince of Wales’ charity specialising in rescuing and helping redevelop heritage buildings, would see the building turned into a retirement complex.

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Local government