Fakenham's Crown Hotel to close

Fakenham has been dealt another massive body blow with the announcement that the centuries-old Crown Hotel in the town centre is to close down next month.

Fakenham has been dealt another massive body blow with the announcement that the centuries-old Crown Hotel in the town centre is to close down next month.

The news that the town's prominent 17th century 11-bedroom hotel in the market place is to shut follows soon after the loss of the town's Woolworth store and means that two large properties within yards of each other will be standing empty.

Mayor Jayne Cubitt said the closure was a 'devastating blow' to the town and posed the question: 'What is going to happen to Fakenham?'

'The way things are going in the retail sector in Fakenham the town is going to become a ghost town soon. Something has got to be done to halt this trend of closures,' she said.

The Crown, owned by London-based property developers Wildmoor Properties, only underwent an extensive �100,000 interior make-over about two years ago.

It is currently managed by its previous owners, Hugh and Sandra Garnish, and its is understood Mr Garnish broke the news to his 15 full and part-time staff on Monday. They are to be made redundant.

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Mr Garnish told The Times that the split with his landlords Wildmoor had been 'amicable' and he would now concentrate on his other business interests connected to the hotel business. The couple are to continue living in Norfolk.

He said that current trading conditions were tough but he was fortunate that there was a break clause in his lease with Wildmoor and he had decided to take that option up. He wished the new tenant, when they were found, every success with the business.

Mr Garnish also paid tribute to the support of his 'wonderful' staff.

A short statement issued to The Times by Will Bowers, of Wildmoor, said the closure was a result of poor trading conditions but it was hoped that a new operator could soon be found for the business. It is due to close for the final time on Saturday, March 7 but Wildmoor's intention was for it to continue to be operated as a hotel.

News of the closure was described by the town's civic leader as 'devastating' for the town, particularly so soon after Woolworths closed.

Mrs Cubitt pointed out that there are other large premises in the town the largest being the old Godfrey's DIY store at the top of Norwich Street and the old College building, also on Norwich Street. There were also currently a number of empty premises in the Miller's Walk shopping arcade, also owned by Wildmoor.

Mrs Cubitt was also concerned about the knock-on effect if the Crown Hotel stands empty for any length of time.

'It is such a shame because in the summer people liked to sit outside in the hotel courtyard where an area of decking had been created and there used to be a really nice atmosphere there,' said Mrs Cubitt.

Fakenham Chamber of Trade president Stuart Cutler said the closure announcement was 'dreadful' news.

He was concerned that the building might stand empty for a long time, particularly in the current economic climate. 'Who is going to take it on in the difficult economic climate,' he said.

He felt that the whole issue of the decline in the town centre should be debated by the town council to see what steps could be taken to reserve the trend.

'This is a major issue that needs tackling straight away and far more fundamental than issues like the Christmas lights scheme,' said Mr Cutler.