Two weeks ago Blackpool’s Golden Mile was battered by storms which left a terrible trail of destruction.
But before the 90mph winds did their worst there was already a sorry sight to behold – that of boarded up hotels and guest houses.
The area around New South Promenade, in particular, is clearly one in need of a lift.
Parts of it have been left looking increasingly derelict following the closures of businesses including the Palm Beach and Warwick hotels.
Plans for an 11-storey, 120-bed hotel at the site of the Palm Beach, which closed in 2011, were not popular with everyone, but some say would at least have brought some life back to the area.
They were renewed by Blackpool Council 18 months ago, but there is still no sign of work starting on the £14m scheme, which had sparked objections from some nearby residents who claimed the building would be too high.
The nearby Warwick Hotel was closed by owner the UK Holiday Group in March 2012, leaving 50 staff out of work. At the time, bosses said they were not getting a big enough return on the operation.
Two years on, the building remains boarded up.
It is not just accommodation which is affected. Other boarded up buildings include Rafferty’s Bar and the Abbeydale and Glen Marie care homes.
And Prom businesses are worried.
Not just by the number of closed down premises there are now – nine hotels shut between Starr Gate and Gynn Square – but by what might happen if action is not taken to stop further deterioration.
Irfan Mahmood, owner of By the Beach on New South Promenade said he felt the council should be doing more and said he had been told he could not turn another empty hotel into a convenience store.
The present owner of the empty Ruana, next door to By the Beach, bought the building at auction three years ago.
He did not wish to be named, but said he felt like he had wasted his money.
“It had already been empty for five years when I bought it,” he said. “I wasn’t commercially prepared to put my money into running it as a hotel when others in the area have been losing money.
“I wanted to spend £250,000 on turning it into nine luxury apartments but the council then told me I would be wasting my time even putting in a planning application because they would not grant a change of use.
“They need to be a bit more flexible otherwise there will end up being a lot more boarded up hotels which is a great shame.
“I agree it’s not pretty for my neighbours as it is but I’m not going to make it pretty until the council give me an incentive to spend some money.
“The only offer I’ve had is to lease it to a charity for use as a drug rehabilitation hostel but that would be the last straw for me because Blackpool already has a reputation for being the country’s DSS centre.”
Claire Smith, president of the Stay Blackpool hoteliers association, said the closures of buildings like the Glen Marie care home and sister property the Glen Shee hotel were part of a general decline around the Crescents.
“When we bought our property this stretch of the Prom had been done up,” she said. “It was looking fabulous and the investment injected new energy and confidence into the area.
“That wasn’t long ago but things now look appalling, it happened so quickly.
“Something needs to be done about it but if the owners were to do these places up now it would cost such a lot of money. Maybe they think it is cheaper to leave them as they are and then hope to sell them when property prices go back up again.
“In the meantime all the good places and guest houses are being dragged down.”
Mrs Smith said she couldn’t understand why the council could not force the owners to tidy up the appearance of hotels they had closed and remove the unsightly boards.
“If the owners refused the council could do the work itself and then send them the bill,” she said.
It is not just hotels which are suffering, but other businesses which rely on the tourist trade.
Taxi driver Steve Kay, said he had noticed the number of visitors to Blackpool had fallen in recent years, affecting his trade, and added that he felt tourism chiefs were not doing enough to turn the situation around.
“There aren’t enough shows on and there are still Illuminations lights which have not been replaced since the storms a couple of years ago,” he said.
“The part of the Prom around New South Prom is a disgrace – who wants to see boarded up buildings? ”
Coun Graham Cain, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for tourism, said the authority was doing what it could in a challenging financial climate.
“We have worked with hotels over the last few years to help them improve standards and work towards gaining national accreditation,” he said.
“We will continue to do this wherever possible albeit against a backdrop of limited funding and we have to bear in mind that buying up disused hotel stock is an expensive process.
“We have taken over some unused properties and converted them into family homes. Crystal Road is an example of this as is the work we are also currently underway with around the new Foxhall Village.
“In terms of outward appearance of closed hotels, we will continue to work with owners to ensure the appearance is in-keeping with a holiday resort and is as aesthetically pleasing as possible.”
Hotels boarded up or closed when the Gazette took a stroll along the Prom were . . .
Palm Beach Hotel
The Royal Carlton
The New Lords
Unknown former hotel (no signage)
Holiday apartments on the Prom