TAXPAYERS have been left with a £500,000 bill for the upkeep of the empty former North Yorkshire Police headquarters, it has emerged.

A Freedom of Information Act request by campaigners against commissioner Julia Mulligan’s decision to sell Newby Wiske Hall to children’s holidays firm PGL has revealed between the force vacating the building in November 2017 and October 31 last year it spent £346,143 on non-domestic rates for the premises alone.

In addition, £39,942 has been spent on electricity, £23,293 on heating, £23,742 on grounds maintenance and vermin control, £31,069 on repairs and maintenance of buildings and an estimated £5,000 on security visits. The commissioner’s office said it was unable to state how much it had spent on insurance.

The figures have been revealed almost three years after the force announced it had sold the hall to children’s holidays firm PGL, but as a cloud of uncertainty remained over whether the sale will be completed.

Papers appealing against a Hambleton District Council’s decision to grant PGL planning permission to create a 550-bed activity centre at the hall remain lodged at the Court of Appeal and there is no timescale for a decision.

Meanwhile, a meeting of the North Yorkshire and York Police, Fire and Crime Panel heard Newby Wiske Action Group accuse the force’s commissioner of failing to make PGL honour a deal to pay for its upkeep.

Campaigner Donna James told members the building’s sale particulars stated if the force left for its new headquarters in Northallerton before PGL was granted planning permission, it would be “required to assume responsibility for the property and ensure appropriate insurance is in place at the purchaser’s expense and that the site is made and kept secure at the purchaser’s expense and risk pending completion”.

Miss James said the spiralling cost to taxpayers of maintaining the empty hall was “a sad reflection of the way in which the sale was handled” by the commissioner.

She added lengthy delays in answering her Freedom of Information request appeared to be “a means of causing deliberate delay” as when she had complained about it, the commissioner’s chief executive Simon Dennis had provided a response within 24 hours.

Mr Dennis said the handling of the Freedom of Information Act request had been “sub-optimal in the extreme” and that he would offer no excuses.

He added some aspects of the responses related to the latest Court of Appeal challenge over the planning decision and offered to meet Miss James “to work through details”.

In response to the questions over why PGL was not paying for the hall’s upkeep, Mr Dennis said the sale particulars stated until contracts are exchanged, PGL would not be responsible for insurance and security of the building as they do not yet own it.

The meeting heard the commissioner’s office appeared to indicate that, despite a deposit for the building being paid by PGL, no contracts had been exchanged, which campaigners described as “unusual”.

Panel member Councillor Peter Wilkinson called for assurances that the commissioner’s office would not fail to meet its legal duties to respond to information requests.

He said: “This isn’t the first time that this panel has seen issues around the commissioner’s office in terms of delays in responding to complaints and correspondence.”

Mr Dennis said an inquiry into the mishandling had been launched and he would oversee such correspondence in future.