A LEADING campaigner in the fight to rid Cradley of dilapidated buildings has accused Dudley Council of failing to use its powers to prevent years of dereliction.

Some of the Colley Gate shops have been empty for more than a decade and neighbouring residents could face another 18 months before a solution is found.

Of the five derelict premises, two were set on fire by arsonists last month, and have finally been boarded up and secured by the council.

But they belong to two absent landlords, Shakil Hussain and Edwin Goodman, who have failed to maintain them despite appeals from local people.

Cradley MP Margot James has been considering pressing for changes in the law to give local authorities increased powers to take action in such cases.

But in a bombshell response to the town’s action group she revealed: “There are powers that are at the disposal of local authorities that, if used, will ensure that such properties are maintained to a decent standard. Hence I don’t think we need new laws.”

Ms James highlighted current legislation contained in four sections of three Acts of Parliament which grant councils powers to maintain the standards of land and buildings.

Cradley Action Group co-founder Chris Legiewicz accused the council of “dragging its feet” in failing to use its powers more quickly.

She said: “This has been going on for years, but the council has had the power to act all along.

“It’s crazy, they keep telling me they are doing all they can, but action could have been take much earlier – we did not need to have this situation.”

The dereliction has led Cradley residents to liken Colley Gate to Beirut and Mrs Legiewicz said they were “embarrassed” by the rundown state of the area.

The council has put the site up for redevelopment and interested parties have until the end of the month to express and interest, after which if the owners refuse a reasonable offer for the purchase of their premises, the council will seek to compulsory purchase them.

But Councillor Rachel Harris, cabinet member for legal and property, said: “If we do have to go down the compulsory purchase order route there are certain processes that are prescribed which means that we are not in control of the timescales. If this happens it is conceivable that it could take anything up to around 18 months to complete.”

She added: “We are aware of the legislative routes open to us, but each Act is only applicable in certain circumstances. We are confident that we have used the powers that have been available to us that were applicable in these particular sets of circumstances.

“Ideally all of the property owners will act on the basis of what is good for the area and work with any new developer. If this happens then the developer could assemble the site quite quickly.”