Preston’s infamous China House restaurant is still refusing to shut its doors – with police, fire and council chiefs powerless to intervene.
The notorious eatery, branded only two months ago as a potential death trap and the “most problematic” of all the city’s 450 licensed premises, is defiantly trading on despite being stripped of its licence.
“As long as they don’t sell alcohol, provide entertainment or serve food after 11pm there’s very little we can do,” confessed a spokesman for Preston Council.
China House, formerly the Lime Kiln pub in Aqueduct Street, became a ticking time bomb last summer after safety experts found an explosive cocktail of leaking bottled gas and botched electrical wiring in its cellar.
One spark could have caused an explosion powerful enough to wipe out the restaurant, flatten dozens of neighbouring houses and force the closure of the nearby West Coast mainline, costing millions in rail disruption. Experts said lives would almost certainly have been lost. A marathon nine-hour meeting of Preston’s licensing sub-committee decided the building, which was also suspected of being used as a brothel and a lap dancing den, should have its licence revoked.
Husband and wife management pair, Wen Qiang Cai and Yun Qin Weng, who also ran the Shanghai Restaurant in Chorley, were allowed to continue trading pending an appeal to the city’s magistrates court. But the council spokesman has now told the Evening Post the couple failed to lodge their appeal within the statutory 21-day period and so the licence had now been revoked.
“The appeal was out of time, so that means they no longer have a premises licence,” he said. “They are not allowed to sell alcohol at all and they can’t sell any hot food between 11pm and 5am.
“But they will still be able to operate as a restaurant. And there is nothing to stop customers taking their own alcohol in to eat with their meal.”
At the licensing meeting in January, councillors heard police, fire and environmental health officers had battled for five years to get the owners of China House to tackle a catalogue of safety issues.
Sgt John Lovick said: “In the five full years we have been working with China House, no premises in the city has caused us as many concerns and been such a threat to public safety.”
Fire safety officer Michael Walker added: “This is only the second time in 10 years that the fire authority has supported the revocation of a licence, but these premises have created an inordinate amount of problems for us since 2009.
“This has been a rollercoaster ride of mismanagement of fire safety. It is one of the worst examples I have ever seen of flagrant disregard of legislation, bordering on extremely dangerous. We believe that this company has been putting profit before safety.”
And Preston’s senior environmental health officer Ian Massey said: “Who knows what could potentially have happened, what carnage and mayhem there could have been? Workers and residents of the immediate neighbourhood were at serious risk.”
China House was unavailable to comment.