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What's the future for Blackpool's empty hotels?

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A blaze at the Ambassador Hotel has once more put the spotlight on derelict properties blighting Blackpool’s tourism offer.

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The once thriving hotel on the Promenade at North Shore has fallen into a spiral of disrepair since it closed around five years ago.

On Wednesday firefighters spent two-and-a-half hours tackling flames which broke out at the boarded up building.

But the Ambassador is just the latest in a line of failed hotels which have been allowed to fall into rack and ruin, subsequently becoming a magnet for vandals and arsonists.

The Palm Beach Hotel on South Promenade was finally demolished at the end of 2016, two years after it was wrecked by a devastating fire.

Its burnt out hulk had been a huge eyesore on the southern gateway into the resort.

The neighbouring Warwick Hotel was also bulldozed after it too had shut.

Both sites are now part of a redevelopment programme - the Warwick site is a car park, while the £20m 130-bedroom Hampton-by-Hilton is being built on the site of the Palm Beach and is due to open this spring.

The nearby Kimberley Hotel remains closed and boarded up, but that area also including the Waldorf and Henderson Hotels on Wimbourne Place, now has planning permission for a residential development.

However it took several attempts before planning approval was granted.

One problem is that rigid planning rules have prevented some failed hotels from being converted to other uses, such as apartments.

But town hall chiefs have now relaxed their policy to allow some properties to have a change of use, but at the same time protect them from becoming houses of multiple occupation (HMOs), which bring their own problems in the shape of unsuitable tenants.

Leading the way in converting failed hotels is the Blackpool Housing Company, which backed by government investment, has bought up a number of unviable properties.
These include the Malibu and Astoria on Albert Road.

The Malibu was shut down by the council in 2012 after a raft of complaints from neighbours about its rowdy guests, while the Astoria never recovered from a devastating fire in 2013.

Between them the hotels had boasted around 60 bedrooms which have been transformed into 14 two-bedroom flats, and six one-bedroom flats.

But private investment is also key to turning under-performing properties round.

Businessman Tony Banks, of Blackpool Promotions, has invested millions into his hotels including the Royal Carlton on the Promenade which had been closed for four years before he took it over.

It had been badly damaged when a neighbouring derelict hotel caught fire in February 2010.

Mr Banks invested half a million pounds in the building when he bought it in 2014. Recently its transformation saw it featured on national TV when it was part of the Channel 5 series Bargain Loving Brits in Blackpool.

Mr Banks said: “It can be done, but it’s a commercial decision.

“With the Royal Carlton, it was the best thing I ever did for that building and now it is an amazing success.

“But there are very few people putting in this kind of investment.”