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Fresh calls for action at Norwich’s controversial MJB hotels

PUBLISHED: 07:24 24 August 2016 | UPDATED: 15:52 24 August 2016

Tony Burlingham who runs the MJB Hotels. Photo: EDP library

Tony Burlingham who runs the MJB Hotels. Photo: EDP library

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Fresh calls were made today for action to be taken against a string of controversial Norwich hotels which have had some of the worst reviews in Norfolk from its guests.

My night at MJB’s The Lodge Hotel

My expectations of staying at MJB’s The Lodge Hotel on Unthank Road in Norwich were zero and they lived up to that.

In my opinion this is a grotty bedsit rather than a hotel.

Number 82 sticks out on well-kept Unthank Road with stones from its wall falling down onto the pavement.

My room’s carpet is covered in large stains ranging in colour from orange to many different shades of brown.

The window is screwed shut and covered in tape and cracks.

There are no curtains and you hear every squeak and scream from the street.

It seems to me that the walls are not much thicker than the windows and each time a fellow guest leaves or enters their room there is a slam and a shudder.

I try the TV but there is no remote and it doesn’t switch on. I try the thin mattress and itchy sheets.

Everything smells vaguely of cigarettes and different levels of must.

I wake up at 2am to the sounds of a guest shouting that the key code for his room doesn’t work.

Unthank Road has quietened down and I take out my ear plugs but my sleep’s next enemy is the heat.

Only the bathroom window opens and the windows to the bedroom are screwed shut. I drift off and I’m woken up by the light coming through the windows at 6am. It’s time to go home and have a shower.

A councillor for the area claimed that no matter how many times she and residents complain about activities at MJB Hotels on Unthank Road they can’t get police to take action.

An EDP and Evening News investigation has found:

•Neighbours of one MJB hotel on Unthank Road have complained to the police about prostitution and drug taking

•The Winelodge Hotel in Lowestoft received such bad complaints it’s now the lowest rated in the town on TripAdvisor.

A room at MJB's The Lodge Hotel on Unthank Road. A room at MJB's The Lodge Hotel on Unthank Road.

Seven properties along Norwich’s Unthank Road and Dereham Road, as well as a further six in Dereham, Wymondham, and elsewhere in the county are run by businessman Tony Burlingham. Another hotel in Lowestoft, the Winelodge, is also listed on the MJB website. Mr Burlingham did not wish to comment on this article.

But he has previously admitted that some of the properties had suffered issues around crime, prostitution and late-night parties.

Meanwhile a case is now going through Norfolk Constabulary’s disciplinary process about allegations linked to activities at one of the hotels. MJB is not under scrutiny, but a police spokesperson said: “A serving police officer is the subject of discipline proceedings for matters relating to the handling of intelligence and associated matters involving off-street sex workers.

“He has not been suspended and his association with Tony Burlingham does not form part of the case. We do not wish to comment further on this.”

MJB Group hotels, Norwich.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY MJB Group hotels, Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

One resident, who lives near The Lodge Hotel and Bristol House on Unthank Road, said: “There is rarely a weekend that goes by when there isn’t some form of disturbance.”

The resident said it was clear to him there was evidence of prostitutes working from the building and “hanging out smoking in their dressing gowns during the day and men turning up, parking for half an hour, nipping into the building then going off.”

He added: “I’ve recently called the police about one of them assaulting one of the women.”

A resident also claimed they had seen a woman walking up and down the road near The Lodge Hotel screaming, extremely distressed and barefoot at about midnight.

The Lodge Hotel, part of the MJB group, on Unthank Road, Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY The Lodge Hotel, part of the MJB group, on Unthank Road, Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

They claimed there was also regularly noise in the early hours of the morning and littering.

Norfolk Police said they had asked residents in February to keep diaries about anti social behaviour (ASB) at the Unthank Road properties.

“To date we have received one response,” a police spokesperson said. “This has been reviewed and no criminal offences were identified.

“With limited information and witnesses, the proportionality around the use of ASB legislation is not sufficient to support the initial concerns that this was a significant community issue for local residents.”

Bristol House on Norwich's Unthank Road. Picture: ANTONY KELLY Bristol House on Norwich's Unthank Road. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

But Denise Carlo, Green Party councillor for Nelson ward said: “The MJB premises on Unthank Road have been a long standing source of complaints by residents. We have tried taking up issues with the Norwich police without success.” She said she would now write to Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner Lorne Green to take the issues up with him.

Police said they had met councillors in January to discuss problems at MJB hotels, including at The Lodge on Unthank Road.

“At that time a number of incidents were mentioned involving anti-social behaviour (ASB) and the view that properties were being used as brothels,” a police spokesperson said.

“Despite a lot of evidence being provided to councillors, there were no tangible witnesses they [the 
councillors] could pass onto the police.”

Stained carpets in a room at The Lodge Hotel. Stained carpets in a room at The Lodge Hotel.

Mr Burlingham pledged last year that he would either upgrade or shut the properties, following a previous EDP and Evening News investigation.
Earlier this year some of his hotels were put up for sale for £7m. They were The Lodge and Bristol House Hotel in Unthank Road, The Beeches, The Plantation House and The Governor’s Hotel in the city’s Earlham Road. A sixth property, The Abbey Hotel in Church Street, Wymondham, was also up for sale.

A hotel in Lowestoft called the Winelodge is also listed on the MJB website and it has quickly attracted a string of poor reviews on TripAdvisor. It has the lowest ranking of any hotel in Lowestoft on the site.

One guest said that when they got into the room it was dirty and what looked like blood appeared to be splattered up the walls.

They said there appeared to be hair and blood on the duvet cover, the sheet, the pillow cases, and on the pillows.

“The kettle was brimming full of limescale, and the milk left for us was out of date,” they said.

But another reviewer wrote: “I was prepared for an absolute horror story after booking and *then* reading the reviews, but over all, our experience was okay.”

Waveney District Council and Norwich City Council said they had not received any complaints about MJB Hotels.

When Mr Burlingham was contacted by this newspaper to put the complaints to him he said “Cheerio” before hanging up.

The latest TripAdvisor reviews

Some of the hotels on the MJB Group website are among the worst rated places in Norwich to spend the night on review site TripAdvisor and the bad ratings keep coming in. Here are some of the most recent.

•The Lodge on Unthank Road

“I have slept outside before in better conditions than this hotel. There is no windows (sic), the place stinks of everything.” (August 2016)

“As we opened the door, it was clear from the smell that this place wasn’t fit for a dog to sleep in.

“There were no curtains. The towels were stained. The supplied toiletries consisted of a single sachet of shower gel. There was excrement around and in the toilet. Three out of four bathroom lights were either missing or blown. The carpet had holes and tears and had not been vacuumed or cleaned in a long time. No way, would I have laid on the bed, let alone gone to sleep in it.” (August 2016)

•Beeches Apartments, Norwich

“Never seen anything like this before, nor do I ever want to see something like this again.” (July 2016)

“Upon arrival looked derelict! Beds covered in stains and was hardly cleaned, windows painted over, door was not too secure, windows broken! Was charged with a parking ticket for having my car in the car park (which was paid for) even though we were present and leaving at the time.”

(July 2016)

•The Winelodge, Lowestoft

“Opened the apartment door to an over whelming stink of human waste coming from the toilet. Carpets dirty…, cups dirty, hairs on the sheets, mould and damp around the door frames and no ceiling tiles just a big hole with wires hanging out.” (July 2016)

“Where do you start? No (visible) staff on site, with just a glass door with an easy to guess door code to prevent anyone walking in off the street. Filthy carpet as a greeting. Corridors showing plenty of damage to walls and ceilings, with automatic lights which only come on when you have walked the first half in darkness. It all feels very insecure, not helped by no chain or bolts on the inside of the room doors.” (June 2016)

•Do you have a story for the investigations unit? Email tom.bristow@archant.co.uk

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