Pledge on under-fire MJB hotels as investigation reveals string of complaints
- Credit: copyright Archant 2007
The manager of a number of budget hotels today pledged to either close or upgrade the properties, as an investigation revealed a string of complaints about them.
MJB Group describes itself as a family-owned and operated group of hotels mainly in Norwich, offering a low-cost stay 'whose clientele return again and again.'
An investigation can reveal wide-spread dissatisfaction among some customers, as well as concerns from people living nearby about the behaviour of some tenants in hotels managed by Tony Burlingham.
Our investigation has found:
regular call-outs to the properties by police regarding criminal complaints
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widespread unhappiness among customers, with several properties ranked amongst the lowest on review website Trip Advisor
repeated complaints about poor standards of cleanliness, broken equipment and smashed windows inside and out
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late-night parties at some of the properties, disturbing people living nearby
a failure to respond or even acknowledge complaints
over-zealous parking rules
formal action against one hotel for fly-tipping.
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 owned by Maxine and Tony Burlingham.
Most of the complaints received centre on those in Norwich and Dereham. In 2014 two of their properties in Norwich hit the headlines after he admitted they were being used by prostitutes.
Today, Tony Burlingham, who manages the hotels, admitted some of the properties had suffered issues around crime, prostitution and late-night parties.
However, when presented with our findings he was unapologetic about the impact on people living nearby saying: 'if you live close to a commercial entity then you are aware of it. The hotels have been there longer than the people.'
On the negative feedback, he said he was 'happy at the level' the hotels were pitched at, adding that 'if it's as bad as people make out, how do I get 10,000 a month?'
Mr Burlingham also outlined plans that would see all of the properties in Earlham Road redeveloped and sold, with the properties on Unthank Road redeveloped and turned into apartments to be let on a weekly basis.
He promised they would be among 'the poshest buildings in Norwich' and have 'the wow factor'.
However, he urged people living in the area to back his ambitious plans, even saying he would 'send the hotel market downhill' if they didn't. He said: 'I either go down (in standards) – but I know the residents aren't going to want that – or you have to go up. I would like to go up.'
Commenting on her stay at The Beeches Hotel, in Earlham Road, author Sue Barnard, from Cheshire, said: 'We love the city, but if someone was going there for the first time and stayed at this hotel I think they wouldn't come back.'
Norfolk Police declined to comment, but figures obtained as a result of a Freedom of Information request show that five of the biggest properties have seen 69 call-outs since January 2014.
A spokesperson for Norwich City Council added: 'There is no legal action currently pending or proposed by us in relation to MJB hotels in Norwich. Previous legal action that we have taken against this business has been complied with.
'Where issues are raised, we will always seek to enforce any applicable legislation accordingly.'
A spokesman for the website booking.com, which advertises many of the properties, said checks and terms and conditions were in place to maintain high standards of its hotels.
Tomorrow: Mr Burlingham outlines the vision for properties in Norwich, Dereham and Wymondham.
The hotel website promises 'a level of service and comfort, as well as convenience, unrivalled in the region'.
But, according to those customers we spoke to, the reality is anything but.
Author Sue Barnard, 59, who stayed with her husband Robert at The Beeches Hotel in Earlham Road in June for one night, costing £55, said: 'We stayed there a few years ago, thought it was a nice hotel in a nice spot so on a trip back to see family decided to stay there again. It could not have been more different.
'When we first arrived, we wondered if we'd come to the right place. The exterior looked drab and derelict, and all the windows appeared to be whitewashed.
'Once inside the room, it becomes apparent why the windows appear to be whitewashed - they are all covered with white plastic film, making them impossible to see out of. Two of the panes were visibly cracked. The room itself was sparsely furnished and looked little more than a cell.
'The whole complex looked run-down and badly treated. We stayed just one night and left as soon as we could the next day, we just wanted to get out of there.'
John Atkins, 32, from Barnard Castle, near Darlington, stayed at the property on 2 Earlham Road, in May for the Radio One's Big Weekend with his partner, paying £200.
He said: 'We went to the room (there is no reception at this hotel and a code is sent via email for the door) to find that there was what looked like blood stains and other stains on the carpet.
'The bed sheets looked unwashed. My partner and I slept on our own towels and there were fleas hopping in the carpet.
'I can't describe how upset we both are with this place and has left a sour taste of what was meant to be a great weekend.'
He said they had complained to the company but received no reply, a complaint had also been lodged with booking.com.
Vicky Jaap, a supervisor at JetWash Aircraft Cleaning Ltd, based at Farnborough Airport, had arranged for six members of staff to spend three nights at The Beeches while carrying out a contract to clean aircraft at Norwich Airport earlier this month. They left after the second night.
She said: 'We paid about £400 and booked at the last minute and while we knew not tom expect The Ritz, the least we expected was basic hygiene standards.
'The bedding looked like it hadn't been changed, and was filthy, the showers didn't work properly, no remotes for TV, the latches on the window were broken so they didn't shut properly and the felt unsafe staying there. 'That is just the start, the worst part was having people trying to climb in through the windows, throwing food through the window and people shouting, kicking the doors and being sick outside their rooms.'
These were sentiments echoed by David Cheal, from London, who stayed at The Beeches Hotel in July with his wife, paying £75 for a night, and said: 'Norwich is a lovely city, we have friends there and have stayed many times, I think this hotel is a stain on the city's reputation.'
There were also complaints about the hotel's parking system, which sees them being warned of fines for parking before the 4pm check-in time and after 10am on the day of departure.
Kim Quillen, 23, from Saffron Walden, who travelled with her sister to pay £75 for one night at Plantation House, in Earlham Road, said: 'I got a ticket even though I was staying there.
'I've not paid that ticket and I'm not going to. I've tried to get in touch with them but no-one answers.'
This was also a problem at the firm's property the Hill House Hotel, in Dereham, according to Paul Burroughs, 42, from Watford, who travelled in June for a wedding.
He said: 'We knew about the rules but had a wedding so tried numerous times to contact them beforehand to see if we could arrive two hours early.
'We had no reply and repeated attempts on the day brought no luck either and ended up driving around Dereham for an hour and half before eventually a pub landlord let us get changed in his toilet.'
At the same hotel, Lynne Blowers, 67, who stayed for three nights, with her husband Eric, 72, for their grandson's 18th birthday in June, had complaints about the standards.
She said: 'The hotel advertised a hairdryer, flat screen TV and tea/coffee making facilities. There was no hairdryer, no remote for the TV so we couldn't work it and a kettle and two cups but no coffee and teabags sugar or milks.
'It felt like a cell, no furniture except a table for drink facilities and a bed that had a cheap mattress on that you can feel every spring.
'The wash hand basin had no plug, the toilet bowl was filthy and the shower head was held up with a piece of string and you had to dance around the shower to find some water coming from it. This was the most depressing room that we have ever stayed in and we felt we would have been better off sleeping in our car.
'We know it was cheap, but we've stayed at much cheaper places and it has at least been clean. It certainly spoilt what would have been a lovely weekend.'
She has since complained to MJB, and says she has received no reply.
EARLHAM ROAD, NORWICH
Plantation House at number 4 in Earlham Road saw 22 police call-outs between January, 2014 and June 2015, including anti-social behaviour, burglary and criminal damage.
At Beeches Hotel there have been a further nine call-outs, four for anti-social behaviour, but also criminal damage and theft.
Documents obtained using the Freedom of Information Act show Norwich City Council received several complaints about standards at Beeches and an environmental health officer wrote to the hotel for an explanation of the duties of their maintenance contractors.
Claims include damp, poor hygiene in the rooms, broken electrical sockets, glass and windows and the condition of the building and walls.
In November last year its environmental health team investigated Beeches amid allegations mattresses and furniture were being dumped into Plantation Gardens. Action was taken to force the company to remove the items. Four properties on Earlham Road are the lowest ranked out of 44 for Norwich on Trip Advisor. Of the 251 reviews for The Beeches Hotel, 143 rated it 'terrible'. Customer ratings on booking.com range from 4.2 to 4.8 out of 10 – all of them the lowest for the city on the website.
UNTHANK ROAD, NORWICH
The three properties along Unthank Road are the Unthank Apartments at number 9, the Bristol Hotel, at 78-80 and The Lodge at 82. Police have been called out to Bristol Hotel 18 times in as many months and The Lodge 20.
At MJB Hill House Hotel, 26 Market Place, in Dereham there have been 12 police call-outs in 18 months for a variety of offences including anti-social behaviour, concern for safety and criminal damage. In April 2013 Norfolk Police confirmed to this paper it had received 'numerous complaints concerning anti-social behaviour and criminal activities' there and was working with the company.
Of the five hotels in Dereham this is ranked the lowest on Trip Advisor and the third lowest for 159 hotels in Norfolk. There have been seven call-outs, six for anti-social behaviour at MJB The Abbey Hotel, in Church Street, Wymondham. Some 106 people have reviewed this hotel on Trip Advisor, 76 rating it terrible. It has a 4.4 customer rating on booking.com, from 216 reviews.
Of the complaints Mr Burlingham said: 'The hotels are doing 400,000 people in four years and there are just 250 bad reviews on Trip Advisor.'
He accepted there had been late-night parties but that porters would 'throw them out' if discovered, adding: 'How are you going to stop people from wanting to have a party in the room?'
He denied unclean and damp rooms, saying cleaners took photos of each room after it was cleaned and were sent back if standards were unacceptable.
On crime at the properties he said they had 'a very close relationship' with the police and would often be the ones putting the calls in to report issues.
The parking situation was necessary because the properties only had 30 spaces.
On the subject of ignoring people's complaints he said people should go through the booking company and would receive a refund if they had a valid argument.