Construction work began earlier today, to make the roof of the former NatWest bank safe after last Monday’s fire at the Grade 2* listed building in Crewkerne. The safety operation started at around 9.30 am and Market Street will remain closed to traffic until the work has been completed. South Somerset District Council confirmed that the road is expected to be closed for “approximately four hours in the interest of public safety due to work being carried out on a damaged roof.”
The three storey building which has legally remained unoccupied since the bank closed in June 2018, received 80 per cent damage by fire and heat on the roof and third floor and 100 per cent smoke damage to the rest of the building in last week’s blaze, attended by fire crews from across Devon, Somerset and Dorset. A forensic examination carried out by Scenes of Crime Officers and a Fire Investigation Officer found “suspected cannabis plants growing in the premises.”
According to many local residents, the Police had previously been alerted to a strong smell of cannabis in Market Street, dating back to at least June of last year. However, the empty building which was purchased at auction in October 2019 by the director of a construction company in London, had been overlooked when investigating these reports.
Crewkerne Town Council does not currently have a remit on empty properties in the town but the recent fire and findings of illegal activities have caused great concern among the local community. Councillor Charles Aslett, chairman of the Planning and Highways Committee will raise the issue in Matters of Report at the next town council meeting on March 8th, when he will put forward a proposal that Crewkerne Town Council put together a list of empty buildings in the town and then on a regular basis write to the property owners, to help safeguard any vacant premises from suffering from similar incidents in the future. Our feature photo was taken by Jeff Hutson.