Wisbech's historic Ely House is closed off ahead of court order - here is how it has got to this point
PUBLISHED: 12:21 31 July 2019 | UPDATED: 12:21 31 July 2019
Vandal-stricken Ely House is set to be legally closed by council bosses to help preserve its future and protect nearby residents from persistent criminal activity.
The Grade-II listed property in Lynn Road, Wisbech, had one of its outbuildings destroyed by yet another blaze on Sunday night.
The property is expected be closed for a period of up to three months, after Fenland District Council made an application for a closure order at Cambridge Magistrates' Court yesterday (August 1).
It means no one will be allowed to enter the house except authorised persons, and anyone caught in breach will be committing a criminal offence.
Official notices and shutters have now been put up warning against going into the grounds along with rat traps to catch vermin.
Tape has also been put round the property warning anyone off if they are tempted to enter.
The privately owned house is currently empty, but access has been gained and various criminal acts committed, resulting in serious nuisance to the local community.
There have been months of criminal activity with fires being set alight, fly-tipping, drug and alcohol abuse and vermin infestation, with frequent attendance by the emergency services to deal with disorder and crime.
Fire chiefs said Sunday night's (July 28) blaze was an accident after crews from Wisbech, Outwell and West Walton attended just before 11pm.
A month earlier fire crews tackled a more severe shed fire at the former farmhouse, which was built in the early 1700s.
Councillor Susan Wallwork, Fenland District Council's portfolio holder for communities, said: "It is the property owners' responsibility to ensure that Ely House is kept in a safe and secure condition.
"However, we will not tolerate the persistent nuisance and anti-social behaviour that neighbours have suffered from over a number of months.
"We also have an active interest in protecting this historic property, which is reputed to be one of the oldest buildings in Wisbech.
"We have received many complaints from multiple Wisbech councillors and members of the public and are responding in full to their concerns.
"We have done everything within our legal power to address the complex issues on the site, and worked hard to gather all the necessary evidence to support our application to court.
"I hope the closure order will not only provide immediate respite to local residents but to help preserve the building for years to come."
The application for the closure order was made under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
Wisbech councillor Steve Tierney posted on Facebook that he had spoken to one of the owners of Ely House a couple of weeks ago.
"It's just a messy legal situation they are trying to deal with," he said.
"There's no easy method to deal with the situation. The council has worked to secure it and charged them and are in the process of closing the land and it will all make its way through the courts, but despite all of that it's on fire again."
He added: "The situation is a very difficult legal dispute after a divorce; both of them live elsewhere now."
Cllr Tierney added: "Yes, there does appear to be one or more arsonists and it is a big problem.
"And yes its frustrating what these idiots have done and yes its dangerous - which is why the place was boarded up at taxpayer's expense and a closure order issued.
"There's no easy solution when nutcases seem to want to sneak around setting fire to stuff - let's hope they are caught soon."
Neighbours spoke of their disgust as squatters destroyed period features inside the property earlier this year - which is now a stark contrast to what it looked like when it was put up for sale in 2017.
Cllr Dave Patrick believes that securing the future of the historic building must be a priority.
"We really should be doing more to secure it, it's the oldest property in Wisbech," he said.
Cllr Patrick fears the two-storey property's interior has been damaged and drug taking has been going on in the house.
He added: "If we don't act very soon we will lose it."
Resident Toby Nichols told the Wisbech Standard last month that in recent weeks he had witnessed "drug taking, nudity, flytipping and brawls from the squatters who have destroyed the building".
Shocking pictures taken by his grandfather, Bernie Smith, showed the extent of the damage inside - with period features ripped off the walls among needles, empty beer cans and human waste.