According to South Holland and the Deepings MP John Hayes, “Long Sutton is a Lincolnshire jewel; neither too big, nor too small; not too grand, nor too humble”.
Mr Hayes’ introduction to the Long Sutton Community-Led Plan of 2011 was full of admiration for the town’s market place, auction, independent businesses and “communal heartbeat which is strong and healthy”.
But a fire at the derelict, Grade II listed Bull Hotel at the junction of Market Place and High Street shortly before 5pm on Friday reopened sores associated with Long Sutton’s main civic embarrassment.
Tim Machin, chairman of Long Sutton and District Civic Society, said: “I wrote to South Holland District Council members for the town, and others, back in September 2016 calling for action to be taken at the derelict site.
“Nothing has happened since then, other than for the site to deteriorate further, and part of the building suffered a partial collapse before the minor fire last Friday.
“Clearly no one is currently taking any responsibility for managing and protecting the site, while both the district council and Long Sutton Parish Council seem powerless to do anything.
No one is currently taking any responsibility for managing and protecting the site, while both the district council and Long Sutton Parish Council seem powerless to do anythingTim Machin, chairman of Long Sutton and District Civic Society
“Local people have taken to social media to vent their frustration and concern about the state of this grade II listed building which is an important, historic and prominent anchor in Market Place.
“Fires don’t start themselves generally and fresh graffiti has appeared in the room immediately next to Bull Lane.
“Therefore, we are fearful for what may come next – a major collapse, a serious injury or a much bigger fire?”
In its prime, the Bull Hotel was a magnet for traders, tourists and even enthusiasts for the country sport of wildfowling or the hunting of wild geese and ducks by marksmen with guns.
But for nearly 25 years, the 18th century building has stood empty as “successive past owners have promised the earth and delivered next to nothing”, as said by Mr Hayes in his introduction to the Long Sutton Community-Led Plan.
Mr Hayes added: “The Bull Hotel’s history is long and colourful, as anyone who remembers its admirable late landlady Mrs Glendenning Mitchell will testify.
“But its sad demise is now history too and so the Bull deserves a sympathetic renovation as soon as possible.”
No less than three separate planning applications, either to refurbish, extend or redevelop the Bull Hotel, were considered by South Holland District Council’s planning committee over a seven-year period between 2006 and 2013.
The most recent of these, put forward by London-based Korvin Developments in February 2013, would have seen the former coaching inn renovated alongside the construction of 39 two and three-storey apartments.
A statement from the developers at the time said: “In our opinion, the proposals allow for bringing the Bull Hotel back into public use and utilising empty and derelict back land to provide high quality homes.
“The scheme will provide a development that restores a fundamental social and historic element at the heart of Long Sutton which will enhance the economic area of the town.”
Hopes were high that the development would take place when King’s Lynn developer Brian Cobb joined forces with Korvin Developments to start building work last spring, with the Bull Hotel’s refurbishment to come two years later.
But in an email to district councillors last September, Mr Machin said: “I am writing to request urgent council intervention to safeguard the Bull Hotel, pedestrians, children and townsfolk in general.
“Clearance of the site and some ground works started in the early spring of this year (2016), much to the relief of residents.
“However, work ground to a halt by June and no progress has been made on-site for several months now.
“The spoil from demolition and site clearance operations was only partly removed and it has now been added to by fly-tipping.
“Parts of the building have been demolished, leaving internal doors exposed and unsecured allowing anyone access to parts of the structure.
“As a result of the continuing deterioration of the building, as well as community concerns about its security and appearance, the Bull Hotel site is now little short of a dangerous refuse tip.”
The Bull Hotel is one of more than 400 empty properties in South Holland, based on figures released in September 2013.
The figures were published in a report called South Holland Empty Homes Strategy 2014-16 which “sets out a clear direction and action plan to reduce the numnber of empty properties in the district”.
It also sets out the options at South Holland District Council’s disposal to tackle any property owners who, according to the report, “have no intention of bringing their vacant property back into use”.
Options include an Empty Dwelling Management Order which allows the council to run the property for seven years.
A district council spokesman said: “Officers have visited the site since the fire and contacted the prospective new owner requesting that work is carried out to make a section of the rear extension secure.
“The site has planning permission and listed building consent to restore and reuse the hotel and build new apartments, which remains in place.
“We look forward to working with the new owners to positively move the development of the Bull Hotel forward.”