Couple fined over their £1m Hoe home's disrepair
A MILLION pound mansion in one of Plymouth's most exclusive waterside locations has been branded "a slum with a sea view".
The once-spectacular seafront house has been allowed to crumble – despite its prominent position in the Hoe's plush Grand Parade.
But now, as its owners are again fined for failing to carry out repairs, the council is warning of a crackdown on similar eyesore properties.
The authority has a secret hitlist – and the power to force problem owners to repair their homes by law – in a bid to crack down on buildings that pose a danger to passers-by or bring down an area for its other residents.
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Nigel Healy and Karen Chan have been fined £2,200 each for failing to comply with a council order to do up their huge Grand Parade home, which is also in an official conservation area.
The couple have now been convicted for a second time at Plymouth Magistrates' Court – four years after the council first served a repairs notice.
The officer involved said he had only met the "completely non-responsive" pair once in his 16 years of working on the case.
Ms Chan told The Herald work had been carried out, and appeared surprised to learn of the fine.
The prominent four-storey property is one in a deluxe row that boasts stunning views of the Sound and price tags of up to £1million.
But broken glass, peeling paint and rotting windows have blighted the Hoe Conservation Area for years, say fed-up neighbours.
Local councillors have also complained about the building's grim state, while one West Hoe businessman described it as "a slum with a sea view".
Mr Healy and Ms Chan bought the house in 1996, according to Land Registry records, having previously lived in a smart-but-modest terraced house in Seaton Place, Ford.
Neighbours said the couple had planned to "do up" their Grand Parade home – but that it had instead suffered "years of neglect".
Ms Chan told The Herald she was reluctant to talk as she was "very tired" from working all night as a midwife.
But she said: "We've done work on it. We didn't know we were meant to be in court."
She said she and Mr Healy had had "problems" with the council, and claimed the authority would not let them work on the building.
She assured The Herald she or Mr Healy would be in touch to explain the condition of the property at a later date.
The Herald's subsequent attempts to speak to the couple have been unsuccessful.
In the latest hearing, magistrates were told how Mr Healy and Ms Chan were originally served with a notice to repair masonry, windows and repaint the exterior in July 2008. They were convicted in December 2010 of failing to comply with the order.
Council prosecutor Dylan Sadler said the couple were liable for a fine for each of the 441 days that they had failed to carry out repairs.
He added that the pair had failed to attend most court dates over the years.
The council's senior compliance officer, Christopher Watson, described them as "completely non-responsive", saying he had only met them face-to-face once in 16 years of working on the case.
Mr Watson estimated the house was worth about £1million but said the owners had only carried out 20-25 per cent of the repairs, describing a lick of paint as a "token effort".
The pair were not present to enter pleas to a charge of failing to comply with the notice between December 2010 and March this year.
But district judge William Tait found the case proved in their absence, fined them each £2,200 and ordered they pay £250 costs.
Neighbours, who did not wish to be named, estimate repair work could top £200,000.
They told The Herald how Mr Healy and Ms Chan had a Rolls Royce and lived at the property with their adult son, but rarely answered their phone or door.
One neighbour described the house as "an eyesore".
He said: "It's been neglected, it's as simple as that. It's so sad because the rest of the street looks lovely. It's an eyesore and it brings down the area."
Another said: "It's such a shame. In the summer two or three people a day stop and point at it."
One resident said he felt Plymouth City Council should bear some of the blame.
"They have statutory powers to force the work to be done and even to carry it out themselves, billing the owners," he said.
"It seems to me the council has not used those powers. They need to go down the route of proper enforcement."
Dean Singer, owner of the adjacent Waterfront Pub and Eating House, said: "It's dragging the whole area down. It can't be good for business.
"It needs sorting out. It looks like a slum, albeit a slum with a sea view."
According to documents seen by The Herald, Plymouth City Council was granted an equitable final charging order on the property at Plymouth County Court in December 2008.
A second final charging order was made by the court in November last year stating that any sale of the house would require council involvement, which is standard practice when a third party has a legally-registered interest in a property.
The authority said it would not be appropriate to comment on specific cases.
But charging orders can be set to ensure the council can recover an outstanding debt such as unpaid council tax or non-payment of fines or enforcement notices.
The couple's mortgage lender, Nationwide, declined to comment.
A Plymouth City Council spokesman said the authority would "be considering our next course of action" should the owners not comply.
More ‘slums’ are in the council’s sights
Homeowners are being warned that the council holds a secret hitlist of crumbling city properties it aims to target.
The local authority has the power to seek convictions against those who ignore its repair demands, in a bid to crack down on dangerous buildings and improve areas for their other residents.
It can even go as far as placing charges on people’s mortgages or buying properties outright.
And one Cabinet member last night warned: “We need to start using the powers we have.”
The council will not reveal which buildings may be next in line for action – but holds an ever-changing list of troublesome or neglected buildings, such as the decaying Grand Parade cornerhouse in West Hoe.
Plymouth City Council has issued 12 such notices under the Town & Country Planning Act in the last 18 months.
They included empty houses in Keyham, the former Stoke Damerel High School for Girls, an old snooker club in Devonport and parts of Southway Shopping Centre.
“Formal enforcement is the last resort,” said the council’s Cabinet member for planning, councillor Brian Vincent. “We try to solve problems without issuing notices.
“But some of these buildings not only bring down the area they are in, they are also dangerous in some cases.
“These powers exist for a reason – to protect the community and the quality of the environment.”
Most recent cases have been resolved through the planning process and negotiations with owners, the council says.
But Councillor Chris Penberthy, who represents the St Peter and the Waterfront ward which includes Grand Parade, said: “This particular property is a disgrace for one that is in a conservation area.
“It’s visible from the sea and in a part of the city that is important for our economy.
“Unfortunately there are a lot of buildings like this in the city – and we need to be taking action to ensure our heritage is respected and looked after.
“We need to start using the powers we have.”
A total of 24 listed buildings in the city are currently considered ‘at risk’ by English Heritage.
They include part of Drake’s Island, the former Dance Academy in Union Street, Efford Fort, Saltram House’s amphitheatre and Oddfellows Hall in Devonport.
Forty-three have fallen off the list in the last year – all but one, which was demolished, following refurbishment.