This hotel is actually just a wall propped up by girders
PUBLISHED: 09:24 02 February 2019 | UPDATED: 13:46 02 February 2019
A historic hotel remains just a wall propped up by girders almost 10 years after it was set alight by an arsonist. So will the Phoenix in Wisbech ever rise from the ashes like its mythical namesake?
It was once known for its fine chinese cuisine and oriental interior, which included huge vases and koi carp swirling across lacquered screens, before a deliberate fire reduced it to an eyesore.
Flames tore through the Phoenix Hotel, on the North Brink at Wisbech on April 19, 2010.
More than 50 firefighters battled the blaze after the alarm was raised around 1.15am. Guests at the Hare and Hounds Hotel next door were evacuated.
Staff at nearby National Trust property Peckover House began removing paintings from its walls and taking them away for safety.
While crews from across Cambridgeshire managed to stop the fire spreading to neighbouring buildings, it was a different story for the 16-bed Phoenix.
Floors collapsed and the building was left completely gutted. All that was left standing was its Georgian frontage, which needed to be shored up to stop it collapsing.
First scaffolding was put up, blocking off the street.
Fenland council then spent £100,000 making the building safe with structural steel work. It tried to trace its owner, Nancy Wong, to reclaim its costs.
But Ms Wong had left the country. So the council painted dummy windows and cleaned up the exterior, to make it look - at least from across the River Nene - as if nothing was amiss.
One of the dummy windows on its first floor has blown out, revealing the void inside. And the building remains just a facade to this day, blighting what is considered one of the finest 17th Century street frontages in the country.
It stands on the North Brink, overlooking the River Nene, which German scholar Nikolaus Pevsner described in his book the Buildings of England as the finest Georgian street in Britain and had been standing for more than 300 years.
Its neighbours include National Trust property Peckover House. Merchants built their homes and warehouses along the river, as Wisbech became a flourishing port in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Most properties in the street are listed.
Fenland council is ultimately responsible for ensuring people look after their buildings.
When asked whether there had been any developments regarding the Phoenix, it said: “The council has made considerable efforts, along with the police and search agencies, to trace the owner – to no avail. In the absence of the owner, the council is unable to undertake enforcement action against the owner to repair the property as it has successfully elsewhere.”
Last year MP Steve Barclay urged the council to compulsorily purchase the site and restore the building. But officials said the numbers did not stack up.
“The fundamental issue affecting the redevelopment of the property is the development deficit, where the existing value of the property, together with the cost of bringing it back into use, is greater than the value of the property after development has been completed,” a council spokesman said.
“Unfortunately, in this case the deficit is very significant and when developers come forward they quickly establish that the development of the property is not viable.
“Whilst compulsory purchase remains an option, the greatest barrier remains the development deficit, which indicates that the repair costs are significantly greater than the market value of the completed property.”
While the situation appears to have reached an impasse, Fenland said it had not given up on the Phoenix.
The spokesman added: “The council has and continues to pro-actively engage with a number of interested parties and developers, but has so far been unable to identify a funding stream that would fund the deficit gap and until that is closed the redevelopment of the former Phoenix Hotel and Restaurant remains unlikely.
“The council continues to remain alert to potential funding opportunities which may unlock development, but our focus remains on ensuring public safety and prudent management and application of public funds.
“At present, the building does not present a safety concern and our regular inspection regime will continue.”