MJB budget hotel manager claims bid to demolish historic Norwich building offers people a choice

The Lodge on Unthank Road where plans have been submitted to pull it down. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Lodge on Unthank Road where plans have been submitted to pull it down. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

A city businessman claims he has lodged plans to demolish a historic building to offer residents a choice.

Tony Burlingham.

Tony Burlingham. - Credit: Archant © 2007

Tony Burlingham, who manages a number of budget hotels operated by MJB Group, has requested permission from Norwich City Council to demolish the Lodge Hotel in Unthank Road.

Planning documents state that houses of multiple occupation would be built in its place.

The council has received around 50 letters of objection from residents, arguing that the existing building needs improvements but should not be demolished.

But Mr Burlingham insisted that he had submitted the planning application to give residents a choice, after complaints about the budget hotels.

In 2014 two MJB properties in Norwich hit the headlines after Mr Burlingham admitted they were being used by prostitutes, and he also admitted some of the properties had suffered issues around crime, prostitution and late-night parties.

'I'm not fussed about whether it gets planning permission or not,' said Mr Burlingham. 'If they don't want it demolished then I will stay. Not a problem at all.

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'I was just doing it to see if the Green Party would like me to leave.

'I'm quite happy with the hotel as it is, and if they're happy for me to stay then fine.'

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.

Mr Burlingham previously 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'.

Asked whether houses of multiple occupation (HMO) fitted this description, he said he decided not to lodge plans for another hotel – 'what we've got but twice the size–- as he questioned what reaction the public would have.

'If you call it an HMO the council have more powers to control it,' he added.

But some residents were unconvinced, and have written to the council as part of the consultation stage of the application.

Sophie Frank wrote: 'The loss of such a landmark building would constitute an irrevocable loss to the architectural heritage of Unthank Road.'

Robert Plowright added that it was a 'beautiful' building but that he had concerns about the 'current record of the existing owner'.

Tim Jones, Green city councillor for Nelson ward, said there was nothing to stop Mr Burlingham from improving the existing building, and that there were more than two options.

The planning application was received by Norwich City Council in September with a consultation period running until December 2, before it is decided by planning councillors.

Background

An Evening News investigation this year revealed a string of complaints about a number of budget hotels managed by Mr Burlingham.

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'.

But an investigation revealed wide-spread dissatisfaction among some customers.

Among the issues were:

regular call-outs to the properties by police regarding criminal complaints

widespread unhappiness among customers, with several properties ranked among the lowest on review website Trip Advisor

repeated complaints about poor standards of cleanliness, broken equipment and smashed windows inside and out

late-night parties at some of the properties, disturbing people living nearby