Fortfield fire was no surprise
SIR - The serious fire at the derelict Fortfield Hotel on December 30th should have surprised no one!
Councillors, police, fire service and members of the public had predicted that a fire was highly likely, given the dangerous state of the building, and its easy accessibility to trespassers including children and vagrants.
The fire service and police gave repeated warnings that the building posed an extreme health and safety risk in a central district of Sidmouth close to numerous dwellings and to a particularly vulnerable thatched cricket pavilion. The presence of asbestos in the building also represented an environmental threat.
Large sums of council tax payers’ money have been spent over several years in frequent police attendance and fire service involvement because of security concerns.
The fire service had designed a detailed contingency plan, such was the perceived fire hazard. The cost of fighting the fire and subsequent disruption to Sidmouth will amount to further tens of thousands of pounds.
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Officials served several notices on the owner to improve security but an article in the Sidmouth Herald of December 17 contained photographs showing gaps in the security fence and an open door and window
Given these facts it’s unfortunate that the Council decided not to proceed with a plan, agreed in August 2010, to make the building as secure as possible, to the ultimate charge of the owner.
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It now looks a false economy to have attempted to spare taxpayers the initial cost of about �30000 which must be dwarfed by the cost of the fire.
The Fortfield Hotel, in a prominent position next to a conservation area, has been left to deteriorate into a shameful eyesore, damaging the image of Sidmouth.
The owner said last week that the fire could have been worse and that he would like to ‘move on’. Before we do, however, the council taxpayers of East Devon need to know how much this five-year saga, has cost them, and who, in fact, is legally liable.
It is essential that EDDC should now hold an enquiry into this sad affair.