Squatter risk threatens half of Sidmouth

A blaze in an unoccupied building in Sidmouth targeted by squatters could ‘burn down half the town,’ civic leaders were warned on Monday.

Town councillors discussed various measures to deal with SES, which makes High Street ‘look like a slum’, including forcing the owner to sell it, getting the building listed, and having fire crews declare it unsafe.

Chairman Stuart Hughes, who had barriers erected to protect passersby from falling debris, said he was frustrated that no more was being done.

He added: “The building is suffering from lack of maintenance – where there are hazards to the public we must take action.

“There are squatters going in that building – if it catches fire we are going to lose half the town.”

The meeting heard that the owner, a former chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, was given 24 hours to deal with some loose glass that threatened pedestrians, and did so.

East Devon District Council was unable to make the owner do any more to preserve the building than is in the Building Control Act, as it is privately owned.

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Town clerk Christopher Holland said: “He has no intention to do anything with the building other than what he absolutely has to.”

Councillors said that as well as posing a risk, it is damaging the town’s reputation and ‘making it look like a slum’.

“It’s letting the whole place down,” said Councillor Graham Liverton, who has spoken to the owner on numerous occasions.

“It’s a conservation area for god’s sake.”

Cllr John Dyson: “I’m getting more flak on this than any other issue.”

Members agreed to investigate a number of avenues to deal with the property.

Cllr Hughes intends to speak with Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue to have an independent survey of the building done, which he hopes will allow more action to be taken.

The council agreed to pursue a Compulsory Purchase Order to remove the building from the owner’s control.

They will also revisit the idea of having the building listed, as this will require it to be kept to a certain standard.