Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Travelodge Is Coming....

Clarence Hotel
Clarence Hotel, Llandudno, in 2008 (Photo Credit)

This is an updated version of a piece that appeared on the Blog in 2010. 

The saga of the once proud Clarence Hotel has rumbled on in Llandudno for the last couple of years. It forms a substantial Victorian building, which contains 51 bedrooms and has five and a half storeys, including a basement. The building occupies the whole of Gloddaeth Street’s frontage, between Bodhyfryd Road and Arvon Avenue. The site is within the Llandudno Conservation Area and forms part of an almost continuous frontage of listed buildings along both sides of Gloddaeth Avenue, from Seilo Chapel to Mostyn Street. However, the Hotel itself is not listed. 

For many years a successful hotel, it formed part of a hotel chain until 2001. The building was then sold to a Mr. Ragheb, but did not operate as a hotel to any significant extent and ceased operation entirely in about 2007. Its usage since then has attracted a great deal of both controversy and criticism in Llandudno. 

In 2005, the owner applied to convert the Hotel into 19 apartments, with an arcade of 3 shops on the Ground Floor. It was at this time that the Owner claimed that the hotel had been operating at a Loss since 2002. This application was refused, as Conwy Council wished it to remain a hotel - it stands within the 'Primary Holiday Accommodation Zone' in Llandudno, which has a presumption against any hotel being granted permission for conversion for another use. 

The ground floor (formerly the Hotel's Reception/Public areas) was converted into three separate businesses - the Sakura Japanese restaurant (notorious for the raid by the UK Borders Agency which saw them find an illegal immigrant chef living in a chest freezer in the basement!), a bar/cafe called Rumourz (which allegedly operated without Planning Permission) and the Beijing Chinese Restaurant (which also allegedly had an illegal immigrant workforce). In 2009, all three businesses closed due to various problems and the entire building stood empty. The upper floors of the building cannot be used as the Fire Service has issued a Prohibition order.

Vandalism and theft of pipes etc became an increasing problem in 2010, as attempts to secure the large building were not particularly successful. A fire was started by intruders on the 25th February in a first floor bedroom but was fortunately spotted and dealt with by the Fire Service quickly. Ownership by then had passed to Receivers following the bankruptcy of the owner, who put the Hotel up for sale with a guide price of £1,000,000. 

Rumours of a a sale began circulating in mid 2011, with mention being made of Premier Travel Inn, Travelodge, J D Wetherspoon and Yates and being potential buyers. By this time, the building was in a very poor state both internally and externally. Metal sheeting was applied to the ground floor windows and doors to prevent further damage occurring. On August 4th, a friend spotted that workmen were busy emptying the hotel of anything combustible, so we asked one of them if we could take a look inside. To our surprise, he agreed! 

We went in though the side door and straight into the old Beijing Chinese Restaurant (originally the Royal Oak Bar). No furniture remained, but the old range in the kitchen was intact and still smelt of Chinese food! We then walked through into what had latterly been the Rumourz bar before closure. There were pools of water on the floor here and you could see where a large section of ceiling had collapsed over the bar. There was also an old Punchball coin-operated machine, that had been destroyed by vandals. The smell of damp was very strong. On the ceiling here was a massive plasterwork rose, must have been 10 foot across, still in good condition. There was a very nice tiled floor in this area, must have been original, very intricate design. 

Next up was the old main staircase area - another massive plasterwork ceiling rose and an ancient lift (the sort where you had to slide the metal folding door across) was slotted into the middle of the staircase. A quick peep through into the old Sakura Restaurant (still furnished), and we headed up the once very grand staircase to the First Floor. It was sad to see that some of the carved wooden tops of the staircase bannister had been smashed by vandals but the good news was that there were lovely stained glass windows on the staircase that were completely intact.

On the First Floor, we had a quick look in the Bedrooms, still furnished in some cases with wardrobes etc but everything combustible is currently being removed from the building. There were small items of debris strewn around the entire building and I noticed the electric sockets and switches had been ripped out by thieves. Up again to the second floor, lots more bedrooms with odd pieces of furniture in them and even the odd picture hanging on the wall. Floor was a bit ropey in places, perhaps as a result of thieves pinching copper pipes. Up once more to the top floor, lots of attic rooms that must once have accommodated the staff. Not tiny rooms but not much fun for a tall guy like myself, as headroom was very limited in the corners. The roof was leaking in quite a few places and the plaster had fallen away. A quick look into the room that held the winding gear for the Lift (all original) and we headed back down. 

Clearance work on the hotel continued for a few more days, along with asbestos removal. It certainly seemed clear that the building had been sold but to who? 

News eventually broke in September that the hotel had been sold to the Northold Group of Manchester, who planned to renovate the building and lease the upper floors to Travelodge, whilst intending to let the ground floor separately as two units, a bar and restaurant. 

This is probably the best outcome for a building which, without major investment, would have just continued its gentle decline into dereliction. The new development will being 60 jobs to Llandudno.


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