Council bosses have agreed to compulsory purchase a derelict listed building and ‘major heritage asset’ in Oldham town centre which has been ‘left to rot’.

The cabinet has approved plans to bring the Prudential Assurance Building on Union Street back into use as part of the Future High Street Fund programme.

It is aimed to repair the inside and outside to create a ’21st century incubator facility’ for businesses, focusing on the creative, digital, and media sectors.

The Victorian building was designed by legendary architect Alfred Waterhouse, the master of the Victorian Gothic revival style who is best known for designing Manchester Town Hall and the Natural History Museum.

But after almost 12 years of standing empty, in 2020 the Grade Two-listed building, known as ‘The Pru’, was placed on the Victorian Society’s list of most endangered buildings.

Officers say that there has been evidence of break-ins and drug use in the building and alleyway behind it, with incidents of falling roof slates and glass into the street.

This has led to formal notices being served to secure the property, and notices under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

A cabinet report states that the building is in a ‘significant state of disrepair, attracting anti-social behaviour, presenting health and safety risks, and posing aesthetic issues as a gateway building for those arriving in to or leaving Oldham town centre’.

Comedian and actor Griff Rhys Jones, who is also President of the Victorian Society, had urged the council take steps to reuse the Prudential Building – and to consider using compulsory purchase powers.

Now, at a meeting on Monday night, the cabinet have ordered a repairs notice on the owner to secure the preservation of the building, to be followed by the compulsory purchase of the premises by the local authority.

While the cost of the compulsory purchase order (CPO) was not discussed in the public section of the meeting, the report states that the building is being marketed at £800k which was deemed ‘unrealistic’.

Officers state that despite ‘sustained efforts’ over a number of years to work with the owner to bring it back into use, there is ‘no reasonable prospect of the owner bringing the building into an adequate state of repair to ensure its long-term protection’.

Under the plans for the future of the building it is aimed to create 71 new businesses and more than 156 jobs over a ten period, as well as helping emerging businesses grow.

The council wants it to kick-start more than £2m of growth in the borough in the creative and digital sectors.

“The vision for the Prudential Building will be a revitalised landmark destination for Oldham,” the report states.

“Its grand, imposing façade will be reinforced within the townscape, and stand as a catalyst for regeneration of the wider town centre.”

It forms the latest stage of the ‘Creating a Better Place’ masterplan for the borough, and council leader Arooj Shah described the move as ‘fantastic news’.

“This is a momentous stage in our regeneration of Oldham town centre while we’re building a new future for Oldham town centre while respecting our heritage,” she said.

“Whilst it’s great news that we’re looking to acquire this building and preserve it for future generations, the reality is that we shouldn’t have had to.

“Owners of heritage buildings have a moral duty to look after them, to understand their importance to the towns.

“They shouldn’t be seen as simply an investment to hold onto and let rot, which is quite frankly what happened with the Prudential Building,

“So the council should absolutely step in where people do not live up to their duties and I’m glad we’re taking this step to maintain this asset for our town. “