A borough councillor has called for action on a derelict building in the heart of town after allegations it is ‘leaking oil into the water’.

Babbage House, located on Anton Mill Road, was formerly a computing hub for Lloyds TSB, but has been vacant for some time. Councillor Richard Rowles claims the tank is leaking oil into streams feeding the Rooksbury Mill nature reserve, and wants the building to be brought back into use.

“The current landowners have owned it for a very long time so the pollution should be stopped, and then it should be brought back into use,” he told the Advertiser. “If necessary, the Environment Agency should get involved.”

A spokesperson for the building’s owners, Robert Cort & Son (Properties) Ltd, said that the oil “is not conclusively” from their site, but that it had paid for absorbent pads to be put into place to mop it up, blaming vandals for damage to the site.

For many years, the site was used as a computing suite for Lloyds TSB, but after falling into disuse, it was sold, with the current owners buying the property to £1.89 million in 2005. Attempts have been made to convert the site into housing and overturn covenants restricting it to business use, but are yet to be successful.

Cllr Rowles was alerted to the pollution by a member of the public, and visited the site, taking pictures which appear to show a slick on the water. He subsequently got in touch with the Environment Agency, TARCA and Test Valley Borough Council over the alleged issue.

“There is pollution going into the river which feeds into the nature reserve at Rooksbury Mill,” he said. “Surely at the point of decommissioning the site it should have been made safe?

“You can’t just continually leak diesel into the water.”

He said the alleged incident highlighted a need for more testing of water in the area, and has floated the idea of forming a water testing group with volunteers.

“There are lots of small culverts we could be testing on a regular basis so the Environment Agency can take action as soon as it is noticed,” he said. “We’re a lot further up the stream so wherever you put pollution in, it’s always going to go downstream.

“Given the number one method of tourism further downstream is fishing, which brings in a huge amount of money, we should be doing whatever we can to protect the river.”

To prevent further “pollution” from the site, he said that the building should be brought back into use, as a large area in the heart of town.

“You could use it as a community centre,” Cllr Rowles said. “It doesn’t necessarily need to be in public hands, but there must be people out there who see it as a business opportunity. There’s got to be something there of use for a business who needs it.”

Robert Cort Ltd, however, told the Advertiser that it was ‘hopeful’ its plans to demolish the site would soon go ahead, so that it can “put an end to what has been a nightmare for all concerned.”

They blamed “travellers and youths” for damaging the site, following on from previous reports of vandalism in the high street, allegedly by young people.

A spokesperson said: “We have been pursuing a planning application to convert Babbage House to a residential development now for some time. In fact, we have a meeting with the councillors next week to discuss the third iteration of the design which we have every hope will be approved by the council and then we can proceed as quickly as possible to demolish the site.

“As you may have seen, the site has been subject to relentless vandalism which we have been constantly repairing. Travellers and local kids break down the barriers and into the building almost immediately after we repair the damage.

“The oil in the local stream is not conclusively from our site but we have been paying for absorbent pads regardless to rectify the issue.

“We sincerely hope that we can take the building down as soon as possible so that we can put an end to what has been a nightmare for all concerned.”

The Environment Agency were contacted for comment.