A businessman planning to redevelop the site of an eyesore that has scarred Wells seafront for more than seven years has postponed his plans “indefinitely” due to a legal dispute with a home-owner.

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Chris Wells, owner of Novus Homes (Norfolk) , has planning permission to build nine apartments and three shop units on the site of the former, fire-ruined Gray’s Arcade on the Quayside. He had announced that building work was to start this autumn and be completed within 15 months.

But Mr Wells told the Times this week there was unlikely to be any building on the site for at least a year.

Trudy Howson, who owns a home in Star Yard, behind the proposed development, has registered a right of way through the site. The land is owned by Novus, but Miss Howson wants to be compensated because she says the development will result in her losing direct access from her home to the Quay. The matter is being dealt with by the adjudicator to the Land Registry.

Mr Wells has been told the case will go before it in autumn or winter this year and could go on for an indeterminate period after that.

He added: “Bearing in mind the level of public interest in the necessary redevelopment of this site and the general expectation that construction work should start this autumn, we regret to advise that the project has had to be postponed.

“Whilst we have resolved all of the main obstacles, including the obtaining of planning permission, demolition of the damaged buildings, reinstatement of the listed building adjoining, obtaining agreement from Anglian Water to divert a public sewer, the completion of the archaeological investigation and the opening up of amicable discussions with most neighbours, an obstacle has arisen.

“A neighbouring owner has registered a supposed right of way through the site and we have been presented with no alternative but to resolve this matter through legal process.

“There is no possibility of our commencing any element of the construction work until this matter has been resolved and therefore we have been obliged to inform our selected main contractor that the commencement of work is postponed indefinitely.”

Miss Howson, a professional poet, told The Times she is eager to see the site redeveloped but is just trying to claim what she believes she is entitled to.

She said: “I had direct access to the Quay from my home when I bought the property and I paid a premium rate to have that.

“I just want to be compensated for losing that access and I don’t think that I’m being unreasonable.

“I love Wells and I want to see that site sorted out as much as anyone - it has been a rat-infested stinking mess for far too long. But that doesn’t mean that I should just be trampled on.

“I want to sort this out amicably and I think this could be dealt with quickly and easily so they could get on with the building work.”

The Gray’s Arcade building was severely damaged by fire in January 2005 and remained a derelict burned out eyesore for years.

Councillors gathered in February this year to watch the building be demolished in preparation for the redevelopment.

Mr Wells said: “We appreciate that this will be a source of disappointment and frustration to residents and visitors to the town but regrettably we are forced to the conclusion that the position should be clarified, not least to remove the uncertainty for other neighbours who have been anticipating a start this autumn.

“We will report further if there is any change to the position but as matters stand we consider this most unlikely.”

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