Land Registry documents show that St Mary’s, a 34-apartment block on Pontefract Road, Lundwood, was bought by Jersey-based Henley Property Investments last year and has not been occupied since.
Seven of the apartments - which were first sold for just £45,000 in 2015 - were purchased for £325,000 each by the firm, while two more were bought for £260,000.
The apartments’ total cost was £4,929,263, which makes the building one of the most expensive ever sold in the borough.
It has been home to workmen in recent weeks - who vacated the site last week - following the completion of what residents say they were told were ‘improvement works’.
Whistle-blowers told the Chronicle that they believed St Mary’s was one of three apartment blocks identified in Yorkshire which will open to house ex-offenders with ‘complex needs’, but bosses confirmed that it won’t be the case.
One nearby resident, who did not wish to be named, said: “It is my understanding that it is proposed to open these facilities in December following their refurbishment, which was completed this week.
“St Mary’s, which was recently sold for five or six times its true value, has not been subject to any planning permission. Facilities like this are used as they have a use classification of ‘C2 residential facility’, and that use can easily be changed to ‘C2A secure residential facility’.
“The building remains unoccupied. The manner of the refurbishment excludes any viable commercial use. Opposite St Mary’s is a medical centre and it is 100 yards from a school.
“Any scheme needs proper consideration and a full consultation, with adequate risk assessment, to ensure future residents don’t pose a risk to the wider community.”
Bosses behind the scheme - run by Leeds-based Encircle Housing Association - said that its future occupants will not have come from prison and that they will be liaising with Lundwood’s residents.
A spokesman added: “The scheme will provide supported living for adults with mental health needs - it is not for housing ex-offenders.
“It brings life back into a residential development that was left vacant for some time and will help address the chronic shortage of supported living accommodation in this part of the country.
“The scheme has been carefully planned to meet the needs of some of society’s most vulnerable people and will help them to lead independent lives with support when required.
“A stigma can sometimes exist around mental health and often views and rumours are based on fear. Homes like this where individuals can receive support are in place to help them make the transition back into their local community.”
Coun Victoria Felton said she is expecting residents’ complaints about the proposals at her surgeries tomorrow, and fielded questions about the scheme at a meeting last Thursday night.
She added: “Barnsley Council’s planning department has informed me that they haven’t received any change-of-use plans relating to what’s being said.
“If it is going to be a facility for those with mental health needs, it is something I support as we don’t have enough of those for Barnsley people. However, if it’s for people from Sheffield, London or wherever, I can’t back it.
“As a councillor, I also believe residents should be thoroughly consulted on the proposals because there hasn’t been enough information available about the plans.”