Town hall bosses are to prosecute the owners of a derelict Blackpool hotel which has been left in tatters after a huge fire ripped through it.
Council leaders told The Gazette the owners of the premises had already been slapped with two legal notices for failing to keep the premises safe.
The authority said it was concerned about the state of the hotel before the huge blaze started in the early hours of Thursday.
Now the owners are set to be prosecuted over their failure to control the build of rubbish around the building and secure the building – and the council is currently working to acquire legal authority to carry out the necessary work itself.
Meanwhile, a police investigation into the blaze, which was being tackled by up to 70 firefighters at its height, is ongoing.
Three men, aged 38, 39 and 40 all from Blackpool, have been arrested on suspicion of arson, and were still being questioned today.
The Palm Beach went up in flames at around 1.30am yesterday. No one was inside at the time, but flames could be seen coming from the roof as the blaze ripped through the building.
Coun Gillian Campbell, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for public safety, said: “Two legal notices, one regarding the build-up of rubbish and another regarding the security of the building, have been served on the owners of the Palm Beach Hotel.
“Neither of those has been complied with and prosecutions are pending. Plans were also in progress to acquire legal authority to carry out the works ourselves.”
Although the flames were put out by firefighters at 5am, crews remained at the scene throughout yesterday to try to determine the exact cause of the fire.
Tom Goodwin, 27, of the nearby Waldorf Hotel, said he called police in the early hours to report a man acting suspiciously at the front of the hotel on New South Promenade, South Shore.
When police arrived they noticed what they thought was a light on in a second floor bedroom of the hotel, which has been empty for a number of years though still contains furniture including beds.
A spokesman for Lancashire Fire and Rescue said it was only as the light grew more intense, the officers realised the hotel was ablaze.
The spokesman said: “The fire began on the left hand side of the hotel, as you look at it from the Promenade.
“It spread and developed quickly. On top of that we had the wind coming in from the sea.”
At its height, there were 12 fire engines at the scene and 70 firefighters, including aerial ladder platforms to try and douse the flames from above.
Up to 30 people from Clifton Drive, which runs behind the hotel, were taken to Paletine Leisure Centre, on St Annes Road, after their homes were evacuated as a safety precaution.
The road was closed due to the smoke.
Rossalyn Tindall, of Clifton Drive, was told to leave her home at 1.45am as firefighters battled to get the blaze under control.
She went to the nearby Solaris Centre, where she works, and said she spent the morning waiting for the phone call to say it was safe to go home.
She said: “I think we are all very lucky the fire crew and police were on the scene so quickly.
“Hopefully nobody was hurt but we all felt there might have been somebody inside.
“To be honest, it’s something we were expecting to happen sooner or later. Most of the residents have complained about the state of the hotel. There’s been fly-tipping and people breaking in and living there.”
Mr Goodwin, 27, added: “I have been here long enough to know when something’s not right.
“When I saw this person at the front of the hotel, looking at the front doors, I knew something wasn’t right so I phoned the police.
“We have been asking for something to help make the hotel secure for the last three years, but nothing’s happened.”
Steve Pyatt, 57, owner of the Waldorf Hotel, said: “We know that building is unsafe, so we call the police every time we see people going in or acting suspiciously around it.
“We probably call two or three times every week.”
Planning permission was secured for a £14m redevelopment of the Palm Beach Hotel in 2009. But the scheme – to replace the existing building with a 120-bedroom new hotel rising to 11 storeys – has never gone ahead.
The scheme was designed by architect Ian Simpson who designed the 50-storey Hilton Hotel in Manchester, and backed by Peter Moore, a former consultant on the Blackpool Masterplan.
In the same year, outline planning permission was granted for a mixture of residential development at each end of Bourne Crescent, with two separate projects approved for the redevelopment of hotels including The Colwyn, The Skye, The Trafford, The Sandpiper and The Headlands.
A third scheme for 11 storey high residential development of the remainder of Bourne Crescent comprising the Kimberley, Waldorf and Henderson hotels failed to secure planning permission from the council.
It proposed a £40m investment in an 11 storey apartment block of 166 apartments.
But planners threw out the scheme saying it failed “to make any significant provision for holiday accommodation” which it was feared could set an “adverse precedent” on the Promenade.
Coun Campbell added: “In Blackpool we have major problems with landlords, mainly from outside the borough, who are failing to take responsibility for their properties. Their failure to ensure their properties are in a fit state is having a major impact on the town and fellow businesses.
“We have been working for years to try to tackle these issues affecting derelict hotels in this area through Selective Licensing, proactive planning enforcement and other methods.
“We have issued more planning enforcement notices in the last few years than any other unitary authority in the country. However, the legislation is such that there is no quick fix.”
Coun Campbell said the council would be striving to make the area, safe, secure and tackle the “visual problem” that the Palm Beach and other hotels in the area created.