Residents of Alma Terrace in St Leonards are becoming frantic at the wall of silence that surrounds their attempts to have something done about the dilapidated house that is blighting their street.
The house at 39 Alma Terrace has been empty for a decade, neighbour Nick Kirkham told Hastings In Focus: “It’s in a very poor state of repair. The windows are nearly falling out with the frames either rotten or non existent, the outdoor plants are now growing through them. The roof above the first floor bay has collapsed and is letting in water, the lintel above the ground floor bay has broken. Local builder Roy Funnell wrote a report to the Hastings Borough Council several years ago expressing his concerns about the structural integrity of the front of this building.”
The couple who lived in the house died ten years ago and the property was bequeathed to their nieces who live in London and while neighbours have tried to keep lines of communications open with the current owners Mr Kirkham says letters, emails and phone calls all now go unanswered.
He says: “Scaffolding has now been erected for two years to the front of the building but even the scaffolders have said that if the bay were to collapse the scaffolding would have no integrity to support it.
“At one point the owners even tied up the gate and put a notice up saying ‘do not enter dangerous’ so they know there are safety issues.
“The two women who now own the house have absolutely no sense of respect for either the house, its neighbours or their late relatives’ legacy, and fail to understand the stress, worry and expense their apathy towards us has caused.”
Mr Kirkham says he has tried many times to get Hastings Borough Council (HBC) to take some kind of action: “Over the years I’ve filled out many online forms expressing our concerns to many different departments and have never received any feedback from any of them.”
When Hastings In Focus approached the council this week we were told: “Enforcement are investigating the matter and we will provide you with updates when we can.”
But for Mr Kirkham and the other neighbours of the derelict house that’s not enough and now he has written again to Silverhill councillors Nigel Sinden and Margi O’Callaghan and several other members of HBC; in his email he says: “I’m writing to you all collectively because quite frankly I’m fed up of repeating myself. This issue has been reported to numerous HBC departments, including Environmental, Grotbusters and Planning and local councillors have been made aware via email and Facebook and here we are ten years on and still nothing, a total lack of communication and action from all.”
In late 2017 Mr Kirkham did think he was making progress when an official from the council’s Empty Homes section got in touch.
“We had a very constructive conversation. He explained that he was going to demand an internal inspection and if the owners didn’t comply then he would get a court order to gain access and the inspection took place in January 2018. Unfortunately that was the last time I heard from the gentleman who I knew as Mr Smith. I tried to email him in September 2018 but didn’t receive a reply and later learned in May 2019 that he no longer worked for HBC and none of his reports regarding this issue could be found.”
Mr Kirkham’s frustration was not over however and in May he had an email from Ms Mewburn from planning enforcement saying she was handling the case and if he had not heard anything by the June 25th he was to get back in touch to see how the case was progressing.
When he tried to make contact he says his calls were met by continuous voicemail messages and none of of his calls were every returned.
Eventually he heard that the owners of the property had told the council that work would take place ‘in the near future’ and that a schedule of works with timescales had been requested but once again it’s all gone quiet.
Mr Kirkham says: “The neighbours at number 40 were in contact with both the sisters regarding a collapsing party wall to the rear of the property. The wall was propped up for many months making it near impossible for the neighbours to get into their own garden so they had to have the wall removed. Several months later the people at number 40 had to rebuild the wall at their own expense.
“Both the front and rear gardens are impassable and severely overgrown. We have to go to great lengths and expense on both sides to maintain the boundaries because of constantly encroaching brambles, trees and bushes. We also have had a family of foxes living next door for many years now. The bushes on the front of the property have been reported to the highways agency as the footpath is becoming hazardous.”
HBC, says Mr Kirkham, is turning a blind eye to the situation: “Their disregard for us, our street and our ward is just pitiful. It would be impossible for us to sell our homes if that were ever to be the case.
“Basically, there is no communication from the sisters who own the house, no communication from HBC and no communication from our local councillors.”
Neighbours of the property say they are ‘seriously concerned’ about what might be happening inside the house.
“We know the roof has partially collapsed so it’s only right to assume there are water issues and we are concerned about how this might affect neighbouring properties. There are also access points to the rear of the property where we believe birds might be getting in and I think there may be a bats nesting in the house as these are seen at night flying around the back of the house.
“Why does nobody seem interested in this at our council? It is just so confusing for those for us who actually care and contribute to the local economy and shameful of a council that does not,” Mr Kirkham says.
Hastings Borough Council is proud of its Grotbusters scheme which has an area all to itself on the council’s website.
“The Grotbusters scheme focuses on improving the appearance of unsightly land or buildings,” says the website.
The council also regularly sends out press releases when successful action has been taken under the Grotbusters scheme. However a quiet residential street in St Leonards is perhaps not sufficiently high profile for the Grotbusters to strike.
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