Morecambe shopping park now '˜urgent' after pub fire

Calls for work to start on a new Morecambe shopping park have intensified after a major fire wrecked an empty seafront pub.

Damage to the Ranch House after Friday's fire. Photo by Neil Cross.
Damage to the Ranch House after Friday's fire. Photo by Neil Cross.

As an arson enquiry was launched at the Ranch House, the deputy leader of Lancaster City Council and the pub’s former boss have called for developers to get on with the “long overdue” £17m Bay Shopping Park.

Coun Janice Hanson, deputy leader of Lancaster City Council, said “urgent action” was needed to demolish the pub after Friday’s fire and to confirm a start date for the long-delayed retail park.

“It is vital that this work takes place as soon as possible and the building is not allowed to deteriorate further,” said Coun Hanson.

The Ranch House fire. Photo by Nigel Wright.

“The council granted permission to develop the land nearly 18 months ago. I know that (developers) Opus have been working towards setting a start date, but it is important they now deliver on the promises they have made to the people of Morecambe.

“This prime site has been left to linger for too long.”

Publican Robert Ellershaw, who was forced to leave the Ranch in January to make way for the shopping park, said: “Since the day we went there have been kids going in there and it surprises me that it has been as long as five months for something like this to happen.

“Now this has happened, there is an opportunity for Morrisons to say that it’s long overdue, we’re going to announce the timescale (for the shopping park) and who’s coming, because there doesn’t seem to be any movement.”

The Ranch House fire. Photo by Nigel Wright.

Mr Ellershaw took over the Exchange pub on Regent Road with his wife Debbie after being given notice to vacate the Ranch in January.

“It’s upsetting, a lot of customers have said it’s a sad end to the Ranch House,” he said.

“Although I am happy with the choice I made (to take over the Exchange), we could have still been there now instead of leaving in a crazy rush.”

Opus North, would-be developers, said they remain “100% committed” to the new shopping park and “conversations with operators continue to go well”.

A large team of firefighters from Morecambe, Lancaster, Carnforth, Silverdale, Milnthorpe and Fulwood were called to the fire at around 6.10pm on Friday.

Crews fought for around three hours to bring the blaze under control.

Nearby businesses including Morrisons and DW gym were evacuated as smoke spread and the road was closed temporarily between Central Drive and Albert Road.

Lancashire Fire and Rescue said it is possible the blaze was started deliberately.

Anyone with any information can contact police on 101 quoting log 1114 of July 1.

A Morrisons spokesman said they were reviewing security around the site after the fire.

Work on the former Frontierland fairground site was originally due to start in September 2015 but was delayed.

The developers said “practical hurdles” had slowed down talks with retailers.

Telecoms giant EE (formerly Orange) were also using the 168ft Polo tube as a mast but the licence was due to expire at the end of January 2016.

In February 2016, Opus North announced it had finished a tendering process and would appoint a building firm to start work on the former Frontierland fairground site shortly.

But a spokesman said while there “has been movement with retailers behind the scenes” he was unable to give any names.

The only confirmed tenants so far are Premier Inn and Brewers Fayre.

The new 60-bedroom hotel and pub-restaurant is due to replace the Ranch, a popular Wild West-themed pub during its heyday.

The Polo Tower is also due to be demolished once a contractor is appointed.