rticle by Amy Ray: The elusive owners of Billericay High Street's iconic Elizabeth Cottage have been tracked down and owe the council £20,000.
The landmark 1903 building, one of the first many see when driving into the town centre, has been in disrepair for 40 years.
In April, the Gazette reported how Basildon Council was working to preserve it after its owners, whom councillors found it impossible to contact, attempted a repair on the roof.
As there was no planning permission, the council stopped the work and put up scaffolding in a bid to protect the historic site from the elements.
This week, Councillor Phil Turner, the council's leader, confirmed contact has been made with the owners, who it is believed had moved to America.
He said they owed the council £20,000 for the work it has done.
[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by Cllr Turner"]They will have to come out and find us now. They have been irresponsible with the roof and the building is in the conservation area and there are just some things that you can't do. But the council are taking steps to protect it and is talking to the developers. Looking at the architecture and the development of Billericay, Elizabeth Cottage is like an open sore. We are happy to work with the owners and they will have to contact us. Hopefully they can make improvements. The owner is only thinking of the developer's profit, whereas we think about the community we live in.[/quote]
Cllr Turner says there is little more the council can do to the building, which is not listed, as it is privately owned.
[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by"]Anything else the owner wants to do, he'll have to pay the cost so far. Who knows if they will do so and come back? The bureaucracy is not easy but we have a secured process and a team looking at it. Some people thought the council hadn't moved quickly enough, but we moved as fast as we could.[/quote]
Warren Woodward, of Woodward's Carpets, which is near Elizabeth Cottage on the High Street, says he has spoken to the owner.
[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by"]What he wants is different from what the council want but I have to be honest, I do sympathise with both sides. I think the house is on such a borderline with its state of repair. For him, the building is not viable. It would cost so much to make it liveable, he still thinks it would be best to knock it down and start again and I can't see why not. I wouldn't want to take on that project.[/quote]
Councillor Richard Moore, Basildon Council's cabinet member for regeneration and planning, said all communication with the owners has so far been via letters sent to the cottage.
[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by"]I just do not understand the owners or their strategy. We know they still pay council tax on it every year and they visit it to pick up their mail. We constantly enforced notices on the building yet they still do nothing. It's privately owned and it is the owner's responsibility.[/quote]
The Gazette was unable to contact the owners.
Article by Amy Ray, Billericay Gazette