Council ‘hopeful’ over Sidmouth blaze hotel security

ENVIRONMENTAL health chiefs are “hopeful of an early and permanent solution” to concerns over the security of Sidmouth’s Fortfield Hotel.

ENVIRONMENTAL health chiefs are “hopeful of an early and permanent solution” to concerns over the security of Sidmouth’s Fortfield Hotel.

The sight of the derelict building burning last week was one civic leader’s “worst nightmare.”

District councillors who represent the town ward have called for increased security at the premises after saying this week: “It’s another accident waiting to happen.”

Planning and environmental health authority East Devon District Council (EDDC) held behind closed doors talks over the site on Wednesday.

A spokesperson told the Herald yesterday: “Ward members and officers have done everything within their legal powers to get this site secured.

“We are currently in ongoing discussions with the owner and developer and are hopeful of an early and permanent solution.”

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The move comes months after the council’s executive board held more private talks where they discussed taking legal action to secure the building and prevent unauthorised access.

In October, the EDDC’s head of environmental health said the council had the power, not duty, to intervene in such situations.

Councillor Graham Liverton, chairman of EDDC, this week questioned why the authority hadn’t acted.

“As luck would have it nobody has been killed,” he said.

“It’s very frustrating for ward members that, over the years, this has been carrying on.”

On the future of the site he added: “I don’t want to be knee-jerked into something that is unacceptable because there has been a fire. It is a very sensitive area. We’ve got to get it right.”

“We can’t afford another fire,” said Cllr Chris Gibbings, who wants to see the building “bricked and boarded up” or demolished.

“We were warned and warned,” he added, “our concern was somebody was going to get hurt. It’s purely a safety matter.”

Cllr Frances Newth said: “It was my worst nightmare that this would happen because of the people who live nearby. The last thing you would want is to cause them alarm.”

Councillors Liverton, Gibbings and Newth met with fire and police chiefs in August to discuss concerns over the Fortfield.

Owner Andrew Torjussen has argued security is sufficient, but said he was looking at further measures.

Andrew Torjussen told the Herald: “If anybody wants to get in, I’m afraid they will… Someone even got into Buckingham Palace.

“All we want to do now is move on.”

Mr Torjussen said he and a development partner, intent on transforming the site into 48 apartments, are looking into improving security further.

He added talks with fire safety experts took place this week, fencing has been ‘doubled up’ in places, and a local building firm was hired to re-secure the blaze-hit property.

“I spoke to one of the fire officers just after the New Year,” said Mr Torjussen, “We’ve done what he wanted us to do.

“It’s exactly the same security we had before the fire. It was secure and it is secure now.

“Let’s be honest, if somebody wants to get into an empty building, they will do so.

“There’s very little to stop people getting in if they really want to. All you can do is make it as unwelcoming as possible. We have done that. It is quite obvious the site is not to be entered.

“We are looking at more security.”

Mr Torjussen, who was staying in Sidmouth with his family last week, thanked and praised “excellent” firefighters who tackled the blaze.

He rushed back from a trip to Exeter last Thursday when neighbours alerted him to the fire.

“We were expecting a nice couple of days in Sidmouth,” said Mr Torjussen. “Fortunately, the fire wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been.

“I was shocked when I heard, I didn’t quite know what to expect.

“I have an excellent relationship with local residents. They are very good neighbours who keep an eye open for anything that might be amiss.”