THE future of a historic building once the ‘heart of the community’ remains uncertain after it was gutted in a blaze.

Councillors and senior police expressed their sadness and worry about the cost of regeneration of the council-owned Griffin Lodge and coach house.

Police are investigating a suspected arson attack on the building in the Mill Hill area of Blackburn.

The grade two listed structure was in the process of being sold to a private buyer as part of a £33m council savings plan. Now it has no roof and the doors are boarded up.

Andy Kay, executive member for resources at Blackburn with Darwen Council, said talks were taking place with insurers to assess the damage.

Mill Hill councillor Carol Walsh has raised concerns that the property could be too costly to repair.

The fire, which started at around 4.15am last Saturday, was the third in a week at the property, known locally as ‘red doors’.

Coun Walsh said the building, formerly owned by cotton magnate Thomas Dugdale, was an integral part of the area’s industrial heritage.

She added: “The whole community has been left absolutely gutted and heartbroken.

“No-one can believe that someone would do this to something so well-loved.

“I am worried it will cost too much to repair but when the damage has been assessed I will start a fundraising campaign if money is not found elsewhere to ensure that it can be restored and not torn down.”

Coun Kay said: “We are currently in talks with our insurers to assess the damage but our main focus at the moment is ensuring that the building is safe and secure.”

Detective Sergeant Ian Proctor said: “It is quite clear the fire has been started deliberately.

“The area in which it took place was a popular drinking spot for young people and it is a tragedy that such an impressive building should be damaged in this way.”