The eight year fight for No 222 High Street

222 High Street, Leslie. Pic: FPA
222 High Street, Leslie. Pic: FPA

Fife Council has won its eight-year legal fight with a Leslie pensioner over the future of a derelict house in the town.

The C-listed property at 222 High Street, Leslie, in the heart of the town’s conservation area, has been the subject of a compulsory purchase order (CPO) originally applied for by the local authority back in 2006.

But following an objection and unsuccessful negotiations between the Council and the property’s owner, John Mowbray, Scottish Ministers finally appointed a reporter to carry out an inquiry into the case, which was deliberated over five days between February and December 2012.

Following a lengthy period of reflection, the reporter eventually ruled in favour of the CPO last September, but the owner lodged a statutory appeal against the decision to allow the Fife authority to buy the property without his permission.

The eight year legal wrangle was finally brought to an end on Wednesday when, at the Court of Session, Lord Menzies concluded “the appellant’s (Mr Mowbray) grounds of appeal disclose nothing more than a dissatisfaction with the reporter’s conclusion, and a desire for a complete re-hearing before this court. We do not consider that there is any merit in this appeal, and we refuse it”.

Mr Mowbray purchased the 19th century two storey property in 1981.

It is understood to have lain empty for at least the last 20 years with the rear of the building now strewn with builders debris and a scrap motor vehicle.

In a damning four page ruling Lord Menzies said that the owner had ‘‘showed a clear disregard for the proper upkeep of the building, as well as for the situation having to be endured by neighbours’’ and commended Fife Council for its attempts to bring about improvements.

He added that Mr and Mrs Mowbray had “shown no real intent to do anything to maintain the property and make it habitable” and that their intentions to resolve the matter “lacking in conviction”.

While Mr Mowbray had legal representation at the inquiry stage, he acted on his own behalf throughout the subsequent appeal.

Lord Menzies went on to criticise Mr Mowbray for his “inspecific innuendo of a hidden agenda” on the part of Fife Council’s pursuit case and for his conduct during the appeal hearing.

Despite attempts to contact Mr Mowbray, he was unavailable for comment.

Every day passed was missed opportunity

Following the verdict Councillor Fiona Grant told the Gazette: “I’ve been well aware of the state of the building since I was elected in 1992.

“While I regret how long it has taken to get the CPO, every day that has passed has been a missed opportunity for the owner to renovate or sell.

“For the sake of the town I really hope the decision brings the day that the house is occupied again much nearer.

“Unfortunately this is not the only empty house in Leslie and I will work with Fife Council’s empty homes officer to see what can be done to encourage owners to get as many empty houses back into use as possible.”

Fife Council has already confirmed it will seek the recovery of all costs associated with the case

Iain Matheson, head of legal services, commented: “We’ve taken positive action to improve the appearance of Leslie High Street by securing ownership of this building which had been seriously neglected over many years.

“We’ll need to fully investigate the structural condition of the building before making any final decision on the future of the site. We anticipate that the building will be advertised for sale with the objective of bringing the site back into productive use.

“The Council was represented in the recent proceedings in the Court of Session and we’ll be seeking to recover all the costs we incurred in that connection.“

A value is yet to be set for the property which is expected to be then offered to the highest bidder sometime in Spring 2015.