A FIRE which broke out in a former bus depot is likely to have been caused by homeless people who are using the building for shelter, according to investigators.

Fire crews were called to the derelict building in Magdalen Street, Colchester, just after 7.30am yesterday.

The blaze was extinguished within half an hour and crew manager Gavin Ellis said his officers had recovered lots of drug paraphernalia from the bus depot, as well as a large knife.

He said: “There was bedding, bits of rubbish and clothes which have caught on fire.

“We can only assume it has been caused by homeless people or vagrants – I doubt it would have been kids.

“We saw drugs paraphernalia and recovered a very large knife which will now be deposited in the knife amnesty bin at the police station.

“There is no more structural damage than there was before – just a lot of smoke.”

The building was previously used by bus company First to store its fleet and was blighted by yobs breaking in and stealing the vehicles.

Since the firm moved out, Victoria Hall Management has applied to convert the site into a 230-bed student accommodation centre split across five blocks.

The plans which also included areas for bin stores, cycle racks, a management office and a gym, were eventually passed by Colchester Council’s planning committee in September despite a number of objections.

However, the conversion project is yet to begin while the developers and the council thrash out discussions regarding a legal agreement and other contributions.


Van hire company JD Robertson is based yards away from the bus depot and employees said homeless people had been living in the building.

A spokesman said: “At this time of year they light things up to try and keep themselves warm.

“People have been living in there for years and it is certainly not the first fire – we often see them hopping over the wall.

“Usually they just keep themselves to themselves and don’t cause us any trouble.

“The lights are on so there must be an electricity supply somewhere, and maybe water and toilets.

“We would not want to see student flats there because they would bring cars and there would be nowhere to park.

“Why can’t they knock it down in the mean time? It would mean people would not be able to congregate there anymore.”

Colchester Council still owns the depot. A spokesman said: “We are concerned to hear the blaze at the former bus depot in Magdalen Street is being treated as deliberate.

“The site is owned by Colchester Council and our estates team is currently reviewing security arrangements in order to protect the site from further unauthorised entry.”

Another disused Colchester building suffered fire damage last month.

Fire crews were called to the former Odeon cinema in Crouch Street, Colchester, last month after a blaze started.

The building was used by homeless people for shelter although it is not known who started the fire.