Article by Guy Bell: The blemish on Billericay High Street will have to wait a little longer for its makeover, after issues surrounding the building's structure were revealed.
Elizabeth Cottage has stood at the entrance to the High Street since 1903, but fell into disrepair following a botched attempt by its owners to remove the roof.
Now, Councillor Andrew Schrader and his colleagues must wait until contractors evaluate the cost of remedying the structural difficulties.
[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by Andrew Schrader"]Basildon Council's planning committee recently authorised officers to intervene to restore the roof of Elizabeth Cottage in Billericay High Street. According to the latest update I have had from officers, they were aiming to undertake immediate weatherproofing works as soon as possible after the committee meeting. But, unfortunately, they have to get the contractor back to re-price the job due to the identified structural problems.[/quote]
Elizabeth Cottage has now become so run down that Cllr Schrader believes it is beginning to have an adverse effect on the town's image.
[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by Cllr Schrader"]It is deeply unpleasant to have such a hideous eyesore dominating a very prominent position at the northern gateway into our picturesque High Street. It is extremely harmful to the visual appearance of the street scene and is not welcoming to visitors to our town. That is why the committee authorised officers to take action when the owners ignored court orders to restore the building.[/quote]
The building itself is not listed, but having been part of the High Street for more than 110 years, it is identified as a building of historical interest.
Repair costs and the means of repairing the building are yet to be decided, but Cllr Schrader is hopeful of getting the money from the owners.
[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by Cllr Schrader"]The committee was very concerned about the potential costs of restoring the building, and that weighed heavily upon members when deciding whether or not to act. In the end, it was agreed that we could not allow the building to fall into such disrepair, so we authorised officers to take action to weatherproof the building. We have been advised that we can recoup the cost to the taxpayer through a charge being placed on the land, so if and when the owners come to try and sell it, they will have to pay back the money to the council.[/quote]
Basildon Council has been unable to track down the owners of the building and Cllr Schrader admits it is a struggle, unless they acquire the help of professionals.
[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by Cllr Schrader"]Several names are listed with the Land Registry but their address is given as Elizabeth Cottage and, apart from that, we have no other address details for them. It makes legal action against them extremely difficult unless we go to the expense of hiring a private detective to try and track them down.[/quote]
Although the situation is less than ideal, Cllr Schrader is determined to find the elusive owners and make sure they pay the cost of the repairs.
[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by Cllr Schrader"]I shall continue to monitor the situation closely, as I'm sure will other members of the committee, and will seek updates from officers regarding progress. I anticipate that the committee will have to make further decisions on where we go next moving forward. Nothing has been decided but nothing is off the table either. The committee was unanimous in its determination that the owners could not be allowed to flout the law and that all necessary steps would be taken, both to secure the future of the building and to recoup the cost to the taxpayer from the owners.[/quote]
The Gazette was also unable to make contact with the owners of Elizabeth Cottage.
Article and image by Billericay Gazette, Guy BellGuy Bell