Council considers compulsory purchase of Mitcham pub ravaged by fire as owners branded uncooperative

The remains of the Burn Bullock pub
A fire tore through the Burn Bullock on April 19, severely damaging the rear of the building -Credit:Harrison Galliven

Merton Council has begun work assessing the extent of damage from a fire which ravaged a historic pub last month, while residents have labelled the building's owner uncooperative. On Friday, April 19 an inferno gripped the Burn Bullock pub in Mitcham, destroying most of the roof and severely damaging the inside of the Grade II listed building, which has been empty for a number of years.

Since then, locals claim efforts to secure the site, and the building's future, are being delayed due a 'lack of engagement' from the pub's owners. The current condition of the pub is too dangerous for officers to enter the site and properly begin the investigation.

However, Merton has reassured residents that 'officers from across all agencies are working round the clock to make sure the building is secure'. Fears around falling debris are another reason behind the pressing need to secure the site.

Read more: Merton residents devastated after fire ripped through historic Burn Bullock pub plead for it to be saved

Burn Bullock Pub damaged by fire
The Burn Bullock Pub in Mitcham was partially destroyed by the fire -Credit:Edward Foley

Hoardings will need to be installed around the premises to ensure the safety of those pedestrians walking along the pavement on Cricket Green and London Road. However, the responsibility to secure and install these hoardings rests with the building's owners, Phoenix Group Investments Limited.

At a meeting called by Mitcham Cricket Green Community and Heritage Group (MCGCH) at the local parish church, the group's treasurer Tony Burton expressed his concern over the lack of engagement from the owners.

One Mitcham resident told the LDRS this is making progress towards a solution 'slower than it needs to be'. Whilst an initial inspection was undertaken by specialists on Monday (April 29), the pub must be deemed secure before experts can fully determine the cause of the fire.

It is the legal obligation of the owner to make the building safe, however, the perceived lack of input so far from Phoenix has meant Merton Council has had to step in and take on this responsibility. Following the meeting Burton told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): "We can see no future for the Burn Bullock and cricket pavilion in the hands of the current owners.

The fire raging at the Burn Bullock on April 19
People as far away as Australia were devastated to hear the news of the fire, such is the profile of the building locally -Credit:LFB

"We have asked Merton Council to step up, demand the listed building is repaired and compulsorily purchase the site when nothing is done. These are powers they have and can use. Mitcham needs the Burn Bullock back at the heart of its community.

"We welcome the close attention being paid to the Burn Bullock by the authorities. Once the cause of the fire has been determined a long-term solution needs to be found."

In a statement published on Tuesday (April 30), Merton Council said: "This work is contingent on the ownership of the site. Because the site is privately owned, this severely restricts what the council is able, legally and practically, to do at this stage.

"Due to the building's Grade II listing, restoration will be extremely costly. All options need to be carefully examined in terms of who will lead on that work."

Alongside the Burn Bullock, Phoenix owns the neighbouring cricket pavilion and Windmill Pub. Merton said that in the nearly 15 years of Phoenix's ownership, 'the council has made repeated attempts, and issued legal orders, to compel the freeholders to act to repair it'.

However, at that time no action was taken by the freeholder, they said. The council also previously issued a notice to cease occupancy of the building and unauthorised activity taking place in the yard outside the pub.

After the fire, the MCGCH and others across the borough have urged the council to make a compulsory purchase of the site. Merton acknowledged this in their statement and gave residents hope by not ruling it out as a possibility.

They said: "The council knows residents and community groups have asked the council to consider a compulsory purchase order of the building.

"This is a legal act that compels the sale of a private building/site to a public body. This is a hugely complex action and is further complicated by the listing status. This is something that the council has considered and will continue to consider."

Merton Council is actively working with Historic England towards the future restoration of the pub. While the damage was extensive, it is understood that the building's most historic elements were least affected.

The MCGCH has also urged the council to make a similar order for the cricket pavilion, which sits behind the Burn Bullock. The MCGCH has insisted it must be 'put into community hands' to ensure it does not suffer the same fate as its neighbour.

When the LDRS contacted Phoenix for comment, their representative Kam Baig said: "We are currently working with Merton Council to secure the site."

Meanwhile, the site of the Burn Bullock remains an active crime scene and is under 24-hour surveillance from the Metropolitan Police. The council has asked that the public refrain from speculating publicly about the cause of the fire to ensure the fairness of the police investigation.

The MCGCH has also set up an appeal page to support the refurbishment of the historic pub. The appeal page can be found here.

The White Heart pub

The empty White Hart pub in Mitcham
The fire raging at the Burn Bullock on April 19

Merton Council also acknowledged the public's fears over the safety of the White Hart, another large and empty pub in the area. Merton said: "The council, along with the police and fire brigade, plans to carry out an inspection of the site on Thursday, 2 May to check the welfare of anyone living there and to make sure that the conditions are safe.

"However, as with Burn Bullock, the powers of the council, and its statutory partners, are limited due to its private ownership status."

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