Â£17m shopping park hits hitch with Inn pullout
The withdrawal of a major hotel chain from the Frontierland shopping park scheme has led to renewed fears over its future.
Premier Inn have only just announced they pulled out of the Bay Shopping Park project last September meaning a planned 60-bedroom hotel and pub-restaurant will not be built on the site of the former Ranch House.
The previous occupants were forced to vacate the Ranch House to make way for a Premier Inn and Brewers Fayre in January 2016.
The closed-down former pub has since been wrecked by arsonists and the former fairground site remains a vacant wasteland, more than two-and-a-half years after the shopping park was given planning permission.
Developers Opus North continue to pledge support for the £17m retail park and while declining to make an official comment, said major news is imminent.
But Rob Ellershaw, ex-landlord of the Ranch House, said this week: “It’s an absolute shame the Ranch House came to an end for something that hasn’t materialised.
“Morecambe has been let down again by the elected councillors that voted in favour of the development.
“What we really lost is a vision to create a good green space within the town.
“We could have looked at a far bolder vision for that area, ie green spaces with a mixture of businesses paying rent, eg restaurants, cafes and leisure businesses.
“I never saw the need for a retail and hotel development that fitted in with the needs of the town in that particular area.
“If the council had identified a need for shopping they could have looked to expand retail on the Matalan site.”
Rob and his wife Debbie, who leased the Ranch House for eight years and attracted scooter rallies and locals alike, took over the former Imperial pub after leaving the Ranch. After a major refurbishment they now run it as The Exchange.
Mr Ellershaw said: “It was very difficult for Debbie and I to continue at the Ranch House when there was always a clause that the landowners could take back the building with minimal notice.
“If there had been a long-term secure lease we would have taken it.
“We always suspected that this development was going to take a few twists and turns, it was never going to be straightforward.
“We have now moved on and secured licensed premises in the vicinity and that has given us the opportunity to bring those premises back to life.
“I think we will always have a soft spot for the Ranch House, as people who used to frequent it did. If there had been an opportunity for any sort of new site for the pub within the development we would have been interested and most probably still have been there.
“I think it’s a shame that the site is left as it is but I’m not for one minute surprised.”
Nick Johnston, Acquisitions Manager for Premier Inn said: “Due to unforeseen circumstances, in September 2016 we reached an amicable agreement with the developer to withdraw from this site and we understand the developer is in discussions with alternative leisure occupiers.
“Premier Inn will continue to consider locations in Morecambe as and when the right site becomes available.”
Marks and Spencer have shown an interest in opening a foodhall at the park and planning permission has been given. But the shopping giant has not confirmed it will open a store on the site. An M&S spokesman said: “We are always looking for new store locations and have an interest in strengthening our offer in the Morecambe area, however we have no further details to confirm at the moment.”
Work was originally due to begin in 2015 on the site, which has been vacant for 17 years since Frontierland shut in 2000,
But in September 2015, Opus North said “practical hurdles” had slowed down talks with retailers.
David Morris, then MP for Morecambe, met with Opus North in April and was assured that “exciting news” was due on the development and “work would start soon”.
Planning permission was granted for the new shopping park, to include shops, restaurants and more than 300 car parking spaces, in November 2014.