WORK to rebuild part of a trading estate ravaged by fire more than two years ago is finally set to begin.
A fire tore through offices and studios in the Tower Building at St Michael’s Trading Estate in Bridport in July 2018, displacing six tenants in the immediate aftermath, and 14 tenants in the longer term.
After a lengthy delay, extensive work to restore the site to its former glory is to begin next week – a move which has been welcomed by traders.
Haywards and Co, which owns the estate, stated the delay was due to dragged out negotiations between themselves, loss adjusters and contractors – with estate manager, Martin Ridley saying in July, ‘it seems we get over one hurdle and another comes along’.
In mid-October a deal was agreed for the Jones Building Group, which carried out the initial strip out and clearance works last year, to carry out the works on the estate.
Mr Ridley said in a letter sent to tenants: “The last few months has been spent working through a complex process of obtaining bids/tenders from 6 contractors to meet the requirements of the loss adjusters and our insurers.
“Representatives from Jones have already visited the site and a ‘pre-start’ meeting was held in Yeovil.”
He said some work has since taken place involving a ‘clean-up of bird debris and pigeon pollution,’ which was going to be followed up this week by setting up site compounds and office and welfare accommodation.”
Mr Ridley added: “We need to work with the contractors and help them deliver what is quite a complicated project but also to no lose sight of the objective – which is to get rid of that unsightly scaffolding and bring the Tower Building back to life.”
Clocktower Music has been hidden from the road by the scaffolding.
The shop’s owner, Roy Gregory, said: “It’s brilliant news for everyone on the site. Every business on the estate has suffered in the same way, it will have been nearly three years by the time the work is finished.
“When you consider that the coronavirus pandemic has happened in the midst of this it’s been a real struggle.
“We’ve had to spend a lot more on advertising as the shop is no longer as visible as it was before. We’ve been forced to spend almost as much as our rent on advertising and we’ve had to employ people to get us more presence online and on social media.
Christine and Karl Dixon, owners of Dixon Memorials, had to leave their unit due to water damage and fortunately were able to find another.
Mrs Dixon said: “It’s very good news. We’ve waited a very long time for it to happen – we’d almost given up hope.
“We will all be very happy when the work is finished but we won’t be celebrating until it’s actually done as there’s still a bit of apprehension there.
“The plan is to go back to our previous unit once the work is complete but we’ll wait and see how the work goes first.”
The fire broke out on July 7 2018 and destroyed a number of art studios and offices. Twelve fire engines were called out to deal with the blaze, which was believed to have been accidental, with Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service saying at the time that the cause could have been ‘an electrical issue or through refracted light on combustible materials’.
The building work is scheduled to start on Monday, November 23. Contractors are expected to be on site over winter as the project has a targeted completion period of 26 weeks, which will result in the work being finished by spring.
Only half an acre of the eight acre estate will be directly impacted by the works so St Michael’s will remain open as usual when the lockdown period finishes – a number of tenants on the estate are remaining open during this period as they are exempt from the government’s lockdown guidelines.