Herald Express (Torbay, Brixham & South Hams Edition)

Where there’s smoke there’s fire, particular­ly with bay hotels


✒ TORBAY Council’s planning committee decision on the Virginia Hotel is just so depressing.

Just what we need: yet another derelict hotel.


Because this might cause the neighbours plus blue and red watches at local fire stations to worry about the building’s fate.

If there is one sort of property that is highly flammable in Torquay, it’s derelict hotels. In a chemical process of catastroph­ic spontaneou­s combustion, leave a hotel empty for long enough and someone will be calling 999.

In recent times a fiery finale for our unloved and unwanted hotels occurred at the Dorchester Hotel on Daddyhole Plain in March 2009. The next charred victim was the Palm Court Hotel on Torquay sea front in December 2010.

This was quickly followed by the Conway Court Hotel in Warren Road in December 2011. Things cooled down for a few years but a revival of Torquay’s unique fireworks display was sparked when the Shedden Hall Hotel on Shedden Hill Road ignited in April 2019.

While that hotel was still smoulderin­g, we then had the blaze at the Coppice Hotel on the Babbacombe Road in February this year. I also recall the Foxlands Hotel on Babbacombe Road went up in smoke a few years ago but couldn’t pin down the date.

Of course, it’s not just derelict hotels that are flammable. It’s happened recently at working hotels like the Trecarn, the Headland and the Grand.

Presumably though, the owners there thought it was a lot less trouble and expense to repair the damage than end up on the planning committee’s naughty step with a flea in their ear for wanting to replace the old with the new.

The exception here was the Bancourt Hotel on Avenue Road. This closed after a fire in April 2017 which started while it was occupied by a Young Farmers group enjoying a quiet, peaceful weekend in Torquay.

Rumour has it that the Bancourt Hotel was built out of Teflon – or was it Kevlar – as, remarkably for an empty hotel, after seven years it has survived intact, to date...

So what’s going on?

Is there a pattern?

In reading again of these blazes at derelict hotels, mysterious, but unidentifi­ed, arsonists appear to be the culprits. These have either been members of the Squatter Gang, the Anti-Social Elements Gang, the Tramps Gang or even in the case of the Coppice Hotel, the Playing Children’s Gang.

There are suspicions the Squatter Gang are already at work at the Virginia Hotel and blue watch are standing by.

As I don’t recall seeing anyone charged in connection with these fires, I presume inquires are continuing. How’re you getting on, Miss Marple? Any leads?

I have of course heard uninformed, cynical conspiracy theorists speculatin­g about the causes of these fires. Suspicion is rife. But of course, that is just gossip, tittle tattle. Who in their right minds would deliberate­ly set fire to a shabby, run-down building that is riddled with damp and dry rot in order to redevelop the site with flats and houses worth half a million each?

Of course not. How ridiculous to suggest such a thing. It’s illegal. It’s just a great big coincidenc­e and we should really be grateful that mother nature has dispensed with buildings that everyone – apart from the planning committee – regarded as eyesores.

All the same, if I lived in the vicinity of the Virginia Hotel, I would be preparing my evacuation plan and for a sleepless night just in case – or when? – fire engines from all over Devon suddenly arrive in the middle of the night.

Stand by, Miss Marple! Can I smell smoke...?

Alan Payling


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Kingswear taken from Dartmouth Send your pictures to letters@ heraldexpr­ess.co.uk

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