Action on eyesore buildings

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Significant progress is being made in tackling the problems posed by Constantine House and other dilapidated buildings in Wisbech and elsewhere in Fenland. But the issues are complex.

That is the key message contained in a progress report going to Fenland District Council’s Cabinet next Thursday (June 20). A more substantial report will be delivered next month (July).

Councillor Simon King, FDC’s portfolio holder responsible for renaissance and conservation, said this week that the council was exploring “every avenue and every option” to resolve the issue, which remains a top priority in Wisbech.

On Constantine House, the fire-ravaged eyesore in the town centre, the report says that the owner had acknowledged his obligation to restore the property but progress over the past few months had been delayed by his serious illness.

It says the owner has put FDC in contact with his architects/builder, who will be instructed to progress reinstatement works “as a matter of urgency”.

The owner is under a High Court order that obliges him to reinstate the property by January 2014 or face a severe financial penalty.

The report says the way forward in the short term is to ensure that he delivers on his pledge. But it says other options will be considered and a detailed evaluation has been commissioned from independent commercial property specialists to inform them.

Details are also given on the current situation regarding three other properties in Wisbech – 11/12 and 24 High Street and the Phoenix Hotel – and The Old School House in Tydd St Giles.

The report also outlines the general approach the council is taking on dangerous or dilapidated buildings across the district.

It says much has been achieved through the Fenland Renaissance programme since its launch in 2010. Grants totalling nearly £178,000 have been awarded through its buildings and shopfronts programmes and they had brought in extra private funding of at least £750,000.

The council’s Street Scene team has also been very proactive in tackling untidy properties, working with Street Pride groups and the Community Payback scheme.

Cllr King said this week that there were three main areas that he was looking to explore and develop: the options for enforcement through statutory powers, the opportunities for attracting external funding and the scope for building closer partnerships with other organisations such as the Wisbech Society and March Society.

Earlier intervention was also vital. “Prevention is better and cheaper than cure,” Cllr King said.

“Tackling the problems posed by some derelict buildings is not easy for all sorts of reasons. If it was, we would have solved them by now. Officers have been working very hard on them.

“People need to understand that these problems are not our fault, they are the owners’ fault. We’re trying to pick up the pieces. It is not fair that local taxpayers - people who are struggling in the current economic circumstances – should have to pay for owners’ failings.

“We don’t have an open cheque book but there is an absolute commitment to do all we can to improve the situation. We need to examine every option, work closely with other organisations and make full use of local expertise.”

The eyesore buildings have long been a bone of contention in the town and last month, Fenland MP Steve Barclay made his views known, campaigning for parliamentary pressure to be put on the council to get them to make better use of powers to deal with derelict buildings and force owners to take action.