THE PURCHASE of 29 properties used to house drug addicts and former convicts has brought to an end an "utterly scandalous" situation which has cost Cornwall Council millions of pounds.
The council has bought the homes, the vast majority of them in Penzance and many in a dilapidated state, from Charles Terence Estates (CTE), a move which will save the council £27 million in rent over the next 25 years.
The council had been unwillingly tied into a long-term contract with CTE, paying an annual rental bill of more than £1 million.
It now intends to release around seven of the properties for social housing with the remainder being rented privately or sold on the open market.
However, covenants on all the properties will prevent them being used as bedsits.
The day before the council's Cabinet approved the purchase, 60 Penzance residents met with the portfolio holder for homes and communities, Geoff Brown, senior council housing officers and Penzance East Cornwall councillor Tim Dwelly.
Mr Dwelly said that residents were "still very sore about what had happened".
"They've been left with blighted streets – a man was killed in one Penare Road property – and Cornwall Council has had to take a multimillion-pound loss as well as paying astronomical sums in legal fees," he said.
"The council has taken a huge hit on its reserve and the whole situation is utterly scandalous. What is good, though, is that the properties will be returned to normal residential use – there will be no bedsits or DIY hostels."
Mr Dwelly, one of whose election platforms was to resolve the situation, said it had taken an "awful lot of very hard work" to reach this stage.
Speaking about the deal with CTE, Mr Brown admitted: "We paid more than they are worth, but significantly less than if we had stayed with the lease for the next 25 to 30 years.
"It's no secret that we've been paying £90,000 a month in rental charges. We've cut our losses."
Former deputy mayor of Penzance Phil Peters, who has been campaigning about the issue for six years, said: "This is the best result Penzance could have had and I'm very grateful to Tim Dwelly for taking this up.
"However taxpayers, not just in Penzance but across the whole of Cornwall, have had to pay millions of pounds due to the incompetence of Penwith District Council."
The move marks the end of years of legal wrangling, which began in 2007 when two now-defunct councils, Penwith and Restormel, entered into a multimillion-pound deal with CTE to provide refuges for homeless people, drug addicts and former convicts in properties in Penzance, Newquay, Hayle and St Ives.
Locals protested about the location of the sites and, in 2009, the newly-formed Cornwall Council agreed to scrap the plans and stopped paying rent to CTE.
It went to the High Court and Cornwall Council won the case but, in November 2012, CTE emerged victorious from a Court of Appeal hearing with Cornwall Council facing a combined bill of around £4.5 million.
Mr Brown added: "After the court case, CTE held all the cards. Our officers have done a brilliant job in negotiating a deal."