A NOTORIOUS derelict hotel in Boscombe was severely damaged in a blaze yesterday believed to be caused by lightning.
The roof and upper floor of the Cliff End Hotel in Manor Road were gutted in the fire, which began at around 6am and raged for two hours.
Around 30 firefighters were in attendance at the blaze, which closed off Christchurch Road and Manor Road during the morning.
The building has stood empty for a decade and has become a regular shelter for homeless people and drug addicts, although fire crews found no one inside when they arrived to tackle the blaze.
Neighbour John Elborn, 67, of Manor Road, saw the lightning strike from the window of his flat.
“I had just got up to make a drink and saw a bright flash out the kitchen window. There was no rain, just a big flash of lightning and then a huge burst of thunder. It was odd,” he said.
“But the fire didn’t break out straight away, I only came back to the window when my wife spotted the hotel roof was on fire, and I took a few pictures.
“To be honest I thought it was good news as the building is an eyesore and a blight on the neighbourhood.”
His comments were echoed by Tony Magol, 74, who lives further up the road and heard a loud bang at about 6.15am. “It was like a big explosion, and I think I heard a second one a bit later on,” he said.
“I couldn’t see any lightning around so I don’t know if that had anything to do with it.
“It is a nice building and it is a shame that it has been empty and derelict like this for so long.”
Fire incident manager Karen Adams confirmed that the cause of the blaze was believed to have been a lightning strike.
She said six fire crews used five hose reel jets and an aerial platform to extinguish the fire by about 8.15am.
“There was no one in the building when we arrived and there is quite a lot of damage.
“This building has been derelict for a number of years, so it is hard to say how it happened.
“When the main fire was put out using the platform, the crews went into the building using breathing apparatus. They are dealing with the remaining hot spots.”
Simon Ballard, whose girlfriend lives next door to the Cliff End hotel, said: “The lightning was incredible.
“It was the most amazing I have ever seen. This building is such an eyesore. I don’t think people will be upset but it is very dramatic.”
Resident Jenny White, who is also on the committee at Keverstone Court said: “I’ve lived here for three years and the committee has been trying for years to do something about that building.
“My daughter woke me up to tell me about it. It’s amazing. It must have been lightning.”
The part-listed hotel is owned by Meyrick Estate Management, but the company declined to comment.
Cllr Anne Filer of the East Cliff ward, who has been battling to have the building made safe for years, said: “This place is a deathtrap.”
Cllr Filer said she hoped the building would be torn down.
“The council has been trying to do something about this for a long time,” she said.
Plans afoot for site development
THE blaze at the Cliff End Hotel came just as Bournemouth council prepared to issue guidance to developers about what would be acceptable on the site.
Keen to see the site brought back into use, the council had prepared a draft development brief, which it was planning to publish on Monday, January 7.
Bournemouth council yesterday was unable to confirm whether this, and a subsequent period of public consultation, will still go ahead as planned.
A council report states: “The former Cliff End Hotel has been vacant and unused since the hotel closed 10 years ago.
“During this time, the site has been subjected to neglect, vandalism, occupation by squatters, unauthorised storage and fly tipping.
“The visual appearance of the site therefore has continually deteriorated since the closure of the hotel.
“Although planning permission was granted in 2005 for the redevelopment of the site this consent went unimplemented and has now lapsed.
“To help establish a long-term solution the council has produced a Site Development Brief for consultation.”
Building has been closed since 2002
THE 125-year-old Cliff End Hotel was created for the jeweller H Samuel, but has been decaying since it closed in 2002.
It is believed the main part of the building dates back to 1887, and the hotel was the first in Bournemouth to get colour television in 1968.
By the 1980s, it had 40 bedrooms and a restaurant that could seat 120 diners.
The Cliff End is in a conservation area and the core of the building is listed.
The Boscombe Partnership has been trying to get planning permission for a new build after buying the leasehold to the hotel in August 2010.
But the freeholder, the Meyrick Estate, has alleged that the building was not being well maintained, and has not given approval.
Councillors and residents said the hotel had become a “death trap” in the summer of 2011 after a teenage boy fell through the rotting floorboards, but was luckily unhurt.