New owner’s ambitious plans for SES ‘tied in red tape’

The former SES stationery shop of Sidmouth. Ref shs 7143-42-14AW. Picture: Alex Walton

The former SES stationery shop of Sidmouth. Ref shs 7143-42-14AW. Picture: Alex Walton - Credit: Archant

The new owner of Sidmouth’s SES building has revealed how his ambitious plans to renovate the ‘eyesore’ have been tied in red tape for six months – with no end in sight.

Breaking his silence on the condition he can remain anonymous, the businessman has opened the doors of the High Street premises to the Herald.

After a decade unoccupied, walls, floors, windows and the roof on the 140-year-old building – once dubbed a public health hazard – all need to be replaced.

The owner is eager to get to work, but said even a formal complaint made more than a month ago was not enough to get East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) planning department to resume its discussions with him.

“They [EDDC] are supposed to be accountable to you and I,” he said. “They aren’t moving forward on anything. I think it’s time we really got some change at EDDC.

“The damage that shop must be doing to Sidmouth - it’s disgraceful. If you don’t have progress, Sidmouth will die.”

The businessman bought the building last August with ambitions of restoring the shop front to its former glory and developing the floors above into two apartments.

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Sidmouth Town Council welcomed the ‘long overdue’ facelift for the property but EDDC planning bosses are yet to consider the application.

A major sticking point is that its officers asked him to use wooden, rather than plastic, windows – despite a reported 1,400 plastic windows in the conservation area.

The businessman said he had tried to meet with officers to approve a sample material for the windows but, weeks later, progress on that simple matter is still not forthcoming.

He made a formal complaint about the lack of progress a month ago – and said it was ‘beyond belief’ the email has not even been acknowledged.

“The amount of work required to restore the building to its former glory is vast, and instead of being encouraged, we’re hitting all these ridiculous stumbling blocks,” the businessman said.

“I’m willing to bend over backwards to ensure the works are carried out to the highest possible standards and all I am getting is red tape.

“If this is what’s going on nationally, then something is seriously wrong.”

Sidmouth councillors Christine Drew and Frances Newth have made appeals on the owner’s behalf.

Councillor Drew, EDDC’s vice chairman, said: “We’ve been desperate for years to get something done about it, but we haven’t been able to because it was privately owned.

“Now the new owner has bought it, and I thought at last something will be done.

“I’m very cross he has been held up for so long – it’s ridiculous.”

Cllr Newth said Richard Cohen, EDDC’s deputy chief executive, would look into the matter, but it needed cooperation from both sides.

“If certain things can be resolved, I’m sure that building could be a great credit to the town,” she added.

An EDDC spokesman said the planning team faces exceptionally high levels of applications and is currently processing the plans for SES.

He said senior officers have been in touch with the businessman and need him to submit amended plans so it can consult with residents and make a decision.

The spokesman added that the planning team is happy to meet him to assess the windows’ suitability for the ‘prominent conservation area’ location.