UPDATE: Dorset County Council has confirmed it is planning to demolish St Martin’s House as soon as possible in the New Year – see below
The tenants at St Martin’s House in Gillingham have been told by Dorset County Council they have to vacate the premises by midday on 8 January 2019 at the latest, in an apparent sign that demolition of the iconic building could be imminent.
There was immediate condemnation of the move, which will see the Queen Street tenants – who are on special short-term guardian contracts – made homeless at one of the worst times of the year to find new accommodation.
‘I find it appalling that the county council would do this at this time of year when there is so much concern about homelessness,’ said town and district councillor Val Pothecary.
Town councillor Barry Von Clemens said: ‘Although these are very short leases, in my view DCC has acted with a total disregard for these people.’
One of the tenants involved told Gillingham & Shaftesbury News: ‘It’s a difficult time of year, trying to find somewhere will be very difficult.’
The presence of these ‘guardian’ tenants has proved popular with many other people living in the neighbourhood as it has helped prevent vandalism and stopped that building from becoming derelict.
‘We like having people living there,’ says Councillor Pothecary, who lives nearby.
As well as the human and social issue of an elected authority making people homeless just after Christmas, the surprise move by the county council to give notice to the tenants suggests that work to demolish the iconic red-brick building will begin early in the new year.
This is despite the fact that housing association Magna Housing, who will take over the site to build 59 extra care homes, have not yet been granted planning permission on a project which faces objections from the Environment Agency.
And it is despite the fact that only last month the county council said it would allow a ‘pause’ on the project following the strong objections from local residents and councillors in Gillingham.
UPDATE: 5 December
When asked whether the notices to quit meant that the council intended to ‘demolish the building as soon as possible in the New Year’ a spokesperson for Dorset County Council replied: ‘Yes.’
The spokesperson said that they had already provided for a ‘pause’ in the planned work and that this had ‘allowed Magna time to speak to stakeholders’.
The spokesperson pointed out that the people in the house, which they own, were not their tenants. ‘They are licencees of a guardian provider and were made aware of the requirement to leave with 28 days’ notice.’
The spokesperson added: ‘We are contractually obliged to press ahead with works asap.’