A towering deal for Blackpool

CHAMPAGNE corks were popping after Blackpool Council became the proud owners of a tourism giant.

For the first time since it was opened in 1894 The Tower is in public ownership.

It brings to an end months of hard bargaining and tough negotiations between the Government the council and regeneration agencies.

And as the ink dried on the deal, which also sees the Winter Gardens rescued from an uncertain future, there was much celebration.

"The multi-million deal will secure the long term future of the area by rejuvenating tourism and ensuring that Blackpool maintains its status as the UK's leading resort," was how the Government's Department of Communities and Local Government announced the deal to The Gazette.

Council leader Peter Callow, whose own grandfather worked at The Tower during its 20th century heyday, described it as "my happiest day as a councillor" and "a proud one for the people of Blackpool".

He also made it clear political divisions had been put to one side to make it happen.

Coun Callow said: "My thanks go to the Government, the many council officers, agencies and Blackpool's two MPs Gordon Marsden and Joan Humble for the work they did in helping the town realise its dreams.

"This is a massive boost for Blackpool and its citizens.

It shows this council is more than willing to make the big decisions which are going to take this town forward."

Mr Marsden added: "This is great news and the deal has been achieved by a great deal of lobbying and hard work.

"The public ownership of The Tower and Winter Gardens is very important not only from a practical point of view but a symbolic one too.

"This is a major opportunity, linked in with the many other investments made by the Government, to forge a bright future for these attractions and Blackpool."

Sir Trevor Hemmings spent an estimated 74m on buying The Tower, Winter Gardens and resort's three piers in 1998. He will retain ownership of the piers under his company Cuerden Leisure.

A report, last year, warned 20m was needed to be spent on the aging Winter Gardens alone. There were doubts about whether parts of the Grade II listed building were viable.

The last major political conference at the venue was back in the autumn of 2007, and the Empress Ballroom was seen as the only element of the four-and-a-half acre site still making a profit.

The 3,000-seat Opera House - which hosted last year's Royal Variety Performance - made losses of 1m-plus in 2008.

Public ownership, and the investment grants it could attract, was seen as the only way to save the Winter Gardens from a certain death.

Both the Northwest Development Agency (NWDA) and Blackpool's regeneration company ReBlackpool were crucial players in securing the deal.

Sir Howard Bernstein, Chairman of ReBlackpool, said: "This is a bold initiative. I am confident this will result in a significant increase in jobs and visitor numbers.

"This will weld together all the other valuable projects and programmes which are designed to make Blackpool an attractive place to live, visit and invest."

Steve Broomhead, NWDA Chief Executive, added: "Both Blackpool Tower and the Winter Gardens are internationally recognised landmarks.

"Bringing these two prime attractions into public ownership will drive a major redevelopment and restoration programme on a scale that would otherwise not have been possible, generating significant economic benefits."