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Oakleigh House in Watercress Lane, South Ashford, vandalised daily as two fires started


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A derelict building in South Ashford is being vandalised daily with two fires started deliberately on the same night.

Oakleigh House, in Watercress Lane, has been abandoned for more than two years and residents say they are becoming increasingly frustrated about antisocial behaviour at the site.

When making these plans, Ashford Borough Council (ABC) said it was looking to undertake the work as part of its efforts to "prepare for the needs of an ageing population"
When making these plans, Ashford Borough Council (ABC) said it was looking to undertake the work as part of its efforts to "prepare for the needs of an ageing population"

The building is next to a block of flats, known locally as the 'Star Block', which has also been barricaded off.

But it is believed those vandalising Oakleigh House – which previously provided sheltered housing but has been empty since 2019 – have made a hole in the fence to get onto the premises.

On Monday, just after 7pm, the fire service was called to reports of a fire at the property. One fire engine attended and crews put out a small amount of paper alight.

Then just after 9pm, they were called to the property again, with two fire engines attending.

No injuries were reported on both occasions and it is believed that the fires were started deliberately.

Many windows to the building have been smashed and left open
Many windows to the building have been smashed and left open
Some fire damage can be seen to the back of the building on the white panels
Some fire damage can be seen to the back of the building on the white panels

One resident told KentOnline that it appears to be the same group of youths vandalising the property.

"They have catapulted stones through the windows, there have been many occasions where they've climbed over the fence or broken it to get inside and vandalised stuff that's been left in there," she said.

"On Monday they set fire twice to the place. They were throwing plastic chairs off the roof and they set light to one of the chairs on the roof.

"Luckily it didn't spread as the fire brigade got there quite quickly."

The resident says it's not fair on people in the area as they are on edge all the time.

There is a noticeable hole in the fence which one resident said that the group have created to be able to access the premises
There is a noticeable hole in the fence which one resident said that the group have created to be able to access the premises

"There's lots of children who live in the area as well as elderly people," she said.

"We're constantly looking out the window at the slightest noise because we think they're there again.

"I don't feel as safe as I did, it's hard. What's to say if I confront them or they see me call the police they're not then going to attack my home or me?

"It's not fair, it's not a nice way to live."

The resident added that she feels the vandalism has been getting worse over the past six months.

The block of old flats next door to Oakleigh House has also been barricaded due to vandalism
The block of old flats next door to Oakleigh House has also been barricaded due to vandalism
There are no windows to the old flats which has also been fenced off
There are no windows to the old flats which has also been fenced off

"I'm having to contact the police everyday and it's the same group of kids doing it," she said.

In a statement, Ashford Borough Council said it is aware of the 'vulnerability to vandalism' and has applied for planning permission to have the premises demolished.

In 2020, the council revealed plans for Oakleigh House and the adjacent flats to be demolished as part of a project to build 70 homes on the plot.

It is planned the homes will include 54 independent apartments for elderly people, 13 for adults with learning disabilities, and three independent cottages.

How the Watercress Lane development could look
How the Watercress Lane development could look

The spokesman said: "We are keeping the site as secure as we can but it is very difficult to deter every person who is intent on breaking in.

“We hope that our application will be heard by the council’s planning committee soon.

"If and when we get consent we are ready to move swiftly with the demolition.”

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