Action is needed on the Grand Hotel and its potential to drag Scarborough down - Andrew Vine

IT is one of Yorkshire’s most iconic buildings, a coastal landmark admired for generations, overlooking the sea like a great ocean liner that as if by magic has berthed on the clifftop.

Yet the sorry state of Scarborough’s Grand Hotel has long belied its name. This once-magnificent monument to Victorian opulence and ambition that proclaimed the town to be Europe’s most fashionable resort has sunk into shabbiness and become the epitome of faded splendour.

Regrettably, there is not a more prominent eyesore in Yorkshire. To enter the Grand is to be saddened by its decline, and to walk round the outside is to witness its decay.

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Dismal guest reviews on websites such as Trip Advisor and a succession of attempts to push the Grand’s owner, Britannia Hotels, into giving it the care and investment that are so obviously needed have brought Scarborough nationwide recognition for all the wrong reasons.

The Grand Hotel and Foreshore Road. PIC: Richard PonterThe Grand Hotel and Foreshore Road. PIC: Richard Ponter
The Grand Hotel and Foreshore Road. PIC: Richard Ponter

Scarborough’s residents, its civic leaders and visitors have all been dismayed by the hotel’s condition in recent years. What was once an emblem of the town is instead an embarrassment.

So there will be many who were intrigued last week when the Conservative mayoral candidate for York and North Yorkshire, Keane Duncan, vowed to buy the Grand and return it to its glory days if he is elected next month.

Mr Duncan said it “stands tall above the seafront as the shame of Scarborough” and he would use “new mayoral powers and funding to wrestle the hotel from Britannia’s hands”.

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There won’t be a more eye-catching commitment from any Yorkshire mayoral candidate seeking office this year, even though it’s not clear how Mr Duncan would achieve his aim, especially if Britannia are disinclined to dispose of it.

Even if some sort of legal wrangle resulted in the Grand passing into the ownership of the good people of York and North Yorkshire, it could only be at a cost of many millions and Scarborough’s other hoteliers would have much to say about competing for guests with a publicly-funded rival.

And given the many claims on devolved funding for the area Mr Duncan seeks to represent, an expensive battle through the courts over a single building might not be universally supported.

But even though there are more questions than answers about how Mr Duncan would make good on his pledge, few would disagree with his assertion that action is needed on the Grand and its potential to drag Scarborough down. It is a measure of how fondly it is regarded that people are so downcast by the state into which it has fallen.

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This isn’t just about giving the Grand a lick of paint inside and out. It is about preserving and cherishing a unique part of our country’s heritage.

Only a few years ago, Historic England included the Grand in its top 10 places and buildings that tell the “remarkable story of England and its impact on the world”.

It deserved its place on the list. The Grand was a mighty roar of pride from the South Cliff of Britain’s original seaside resort about what one of the world’s great industrial powerhouses could accomplish.

When it opened in 1867, it was Europe’s biggest hotel, built in the shape of a letter V in homage to Victoria.

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London could only envy what Yorkshire had achieved and travellers from across the continent came to marvel. The Grand was as innovative in its day as any dizzying skyscraper is now, its 12 floors, 52 chimneys and 365 rooms declaring Scarborough to be a year-round place of luxury.

Hull-born architect Cuthbert Brodrick had already given his native county two great monuments to civic and commercial prosperity in Leeds Town Hall and the city’s Corn Exchange, but the Grand was his towering achievement.

It should be unthinkable to let it sink into decrepitude, but the verdict of hundreds of people who have stayed there and then posted online about the awfulness of their experience is that is what has happened.

Whether or not Mr Duncan is elected, he has done the Grand, Scarborough and anybody who cares about Yorkshire’s heritage a service by igniting a debate about the issue of protecting and preserving historic buildings in private ownership that seems indifferent to their fate.

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What is to be done in the face of owners who cannot or will not spend what is necessary? Years of pressure by the former Scarborough Council failed to make much headway in persuading Britannia to treat the Grand as the national treasure that it is.

Let us hope that an elected mayor with devolved powers and a direct line to ministers has greater clout.

There ought to be a requirement on owners of buildings as important as the Grand to look after them to the same standards as public bodies such as English Heritage or the National Trust.

And if they can’t or won’t, Mr Duncan may be onto something in advocating compulsion to put them into safer and more conscientious hands.

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