Graffiti, fires and squatters: Who will help Great Yarmouth's Star Hotel?
- Credit: James Weeds
Just weeks ago people lined the river and watched in horror as a landmark pub went up in flames.
The scale of the blaze and subsequent damage lead to the road at one of Great Yarmouth's busiest pinch points being closed for several days.
An investigation is under way and the future of the former Haven Bridge pub - which may yet have to be pulled down - remains uncertain.
Just across the way on the other side of the river stands the distinctive Star Hotel.
A shadow of its former self, lettering has appeared in its windows announcing the 'K9 Unit' and featuring a picture of a person smoking - a possible reference to illegal drug misuse.
Meanwhile rumours have circulated about rooms being trashed, and squatters living inside.
In the wake of the Haven pub fire this newspaper contacted Great Yarmouth Borough Council to see what could be done to protect the Grade II-listed Star - just a stone's throw from the Town Hall - from the same fate, having been vacant for almost two years and a target for vandals.
A spokesperson said: “The Star Hotel is a prominent and important building in the town, but the upkeep is primarily the responsibility of the owners.
"We monitor the condition of listed buildings across the borough and work with their owners on any repairs or alterations. Where a building is at significant risk we have powers to carry out works directly but this is a last resort.”
Following a blaze at the hotel this week it said its stance remained the same.
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But who are the owners, and would they take any action if a notice was served?
The hotel was bought for £700,000 on January 14, 2020, by a Cheshire-based owner - The Star GY Ltd - and carried on trading as normal until, along with all other hospitality, it was closed by the pandemic.
In September 2020 it emerged that while the hotel had not re-opened when it was allowed to its rooms were being advertised for sale as investments with prices starting at £44,950.
They were being sold on a 149-year lease, with generous returns of up to 10pc being offered as well as the option to sell it back for the price paid in five years.
It was billed as a way of raising money to complete a full refurbishment started by its previous owners.
All 41 rooms are registered as being privately owned by people from across the world from South Africa to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates on the Government's Land Registry site.
However, less than 18 months after it found a new buyer in 2020, it changed hands for just £1,000, the new owner being a company based in Malta called 36644 Ltd.
At the time the registration for the company showed Michael James McMahon as an "involved party". He was also listed as a director of the Cheshire-based company The Star GY Ltd, the previous owner.
Attempts have been made to contact 36644 Ltd and Mr McMahon has also been contacted for comment.
A spokesman for scam investigation company, Safe or Scam, which has closely followed the saga which involves several other hotels including Durker Roods in Huddersfield, described it as "an expensive legal mess".
"If nobody does anything it is going to be a derelict, boarded-up hotel," he said.
"If the metal work has not been taken, it soon will be.
"It is up to anyone who is owed a debt to take action and that could be room owners, trades people, or wedding couples."
Because all the rooms were privately owned it would be difficult to sell, he said.
Ultimately it was only worth £700,000 when it was up and running, and would be worth a lot less now it was derelict and fire-hit.
The conundrum was that room investors might be unwilling to give up their stake, leaving the whole thing in limbo as no-one would buy a hotel without rooms.
Former borough and county councillor and honorary alderman Mick Castle has called for urgent action to secure the important structure on Yarmouth’s Hall Quay "until the legal processes determine a viable new owner".
He said: "It would be a tragedy if there were a fire there on the scale of the Haven Bridge Pub.
"The borough and county councils also need to step up the security on the Palmers Department Store buildings as they are vulnerable while they remain empty.
"We have experience in recent years with the old Pontins site in Hemsby of the arsonists who are attracted to such empty buildings."
Meanwhile Norfolk Police said no issues had been flagged locally with its officers in relation to the hotel.
When a reporter visited on Tuesday there was a faint smell of smoke but no obvious sign of a break-in.
Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service confirmed it was called to a small fire on Monday (April 4) after a passer-by spotted smoke and that no further investigations would be taking place.