A LANDMARK building is being torn down by its owners without permission.

Court action is being taken against developers illegally demolishing Elizabeth Cottage, in High Street, Billericay.

The owners of the 100-year-old building have ripped off its roof without planning permission – leaving it open to the elements.

Basildon Council has stepped in and issued a stop notice against unauthorised demolition of the site.

It could result in a conviction and £20,000 fine if breached.

As the temporary order only lasts for one month, the council has also secured a civil injunction with Chelmsford County Court on Thursday to prevent any more work.

Elizabeth Cottage is in a conservation area.

It has been empty since it was last used as a family home almost 40 years ago.

A planning application to regenerate the site was given the thumbs up in 2011, but this was just for a rear extension and internal work.

Billericay businessman Trevor Drape, owner of Cook Shop and Emporium, is worried about lasting damage.

He said: "The council should take every step possible.

“The roof needs to be reinstated immediately to stop the building being completely ruined by rain.

“The best thing that could be done is to take Elizabeth Cottage from the current owners and sell it at a rock-bottom price and have it completely restored.

“I believe the town as a whole thinks what these people are doing is flouting all the rules and regulations which most honourable people have to adhere to.”

Ian Davie, chairman of the planning committee at Billericay Town Council, shared his concerns.

He said: “We are very conscious of the conservation area which Elizabeth Cottage is part of, and we do our best to preserve it.

“It seems there are two possibilities.

One is forthe owners restore the building to its original condition or they go down the planning permission route.

“The roof may well be rotting, but any replacement needs to conform to the original design.

“The building was already deteriorating gradually anyway, but now it is going to deteriorate rapidly with all this wet weather.”

The enforcement notice was issued on January 29.

A spokesman for Basildon Council said: “Planning permission has been granted to convert and extend this building, not to demolish it completely, because it is considered to add to the special character and appearance of the Billericay conservation area.

“It is an offence to carry out unauthorised demolition in the conservation area where consent is required.

“The cottage is over 100 years old and, although not listed, is of an age and character that makes a positive contribution to the appearance of the area.”

The Echo attempted to contact the four owners of Elizabeth Cottage, but was unable to speak with them.