North-south divide a huge chasm

Hotelier David Evans is finding it difficult to sell his business. Below: Gordon Marsden MP, Claire Smith and George Osbourne.
Hotelier David Evans is finding it difficult to sell his business. Below: Gordon Marsden MP, Claire Smith and George Osbourne.
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The contrast between Blackpool and south coast seaside town Brighton could not be starker.

According to figures on a top property website, more than 165 hotels are currently up for sale in Blackpool, compared to just four in Brighton.

MP Gordon Marsden

MP Gordon Marsden

And while hoteliers here are bracing themselves for a tough season, in Brighton hotels are already reporting record figures for 2013.

The statistics are imprecise but indicative and make for grim reading. Both Blackpool and Brighton share similar sized populations - 151,100 up here, 155,000 down there.

Both rely on the tourist trade for a huge chunk of their annual revenue (though Blackpool’s hotel market is significantly bigger offering about 23,000 bedrooms to Brighton’s 6,000). However according to the most recent figures available Blackpool grosses around £550m per year from tourism while Brighton cleans up with a massive £994 m.

Perhaps more tellingly while 87 per cent of Blackpool’s revenue relies on the tourism-heavy ‘service sector’, in Brighton it is less than 20 per cent.

Claire Smith

Claire Smith

A north-south gulf between Blackpool and Brighton is further reflected in the price tags on the hotels.

One of the cheapest freehold hotels for sale in Blackpool is the eight-bedroom Comberford Lodge, on South Shore – on the market at £50,000. The cheapest Brighton counterpart is the £695,000 Sandalwood Hotel.

And the difference at the top end of the market is even more pronounced.

The priciest Blackpool hotel up for grabs is currently the £725,000 Calypso, in Albert Road. The most expensive Brighton property is The Lanes Hotel which carries an eye-watering £3.5m price tag.

Chancellor George Osbourne

Chancellor George Osbourne

Gordon Marsden, Labour MP for Blackpool South, who is also the Shadow Minister for Regional Growth, said comparing resorts was ‘slightly invidious’ because the issues involved were so complex.

But he added: “It’s always challenging and we’ve not had a great start to the year, particularly with the weather, but people are always slightly trepidatious, that’s the history of Blackpool.

“The businesses are going to have to work extra hard to get their message across and deliver value for money, but we’ve always had to do that. I’m not shoving my head in the sand but there’s a lot to shout about here in Blackpool.

“I get fed-up with TV crews coming in with clichéd agendas then making cheap programmes which end up giving the town a bad name.”

Mr Marsden added that in simple terms the issues facing Blackpool were getting people to use the town as a ‘base’ to visit other parts of the region to increase both the length of stay and holiday cash spent.

Meanwhile, down south Garry Clarke of the Brighton & Hove Hotels Association said his own guest house The Cavalaire had just chalked-up record figures for March.

He added: “Most people I speak to are optimistic about the season.

“My figures were 26 per cent up last month.”

And, while many Blackpool hoteliers might look on a 26 per cent increase enviously, most remain upbeat.

Claire Smith, of Stay Blackpool, said: “Economy aside, many things are so much improved. We are definitely getting more families because we are looking better. Five years ago shops on the front had fake boobs hanging outside and it was totally inappropriate, but now they’ve been cleaned up.

“We have come on massively in the last 10 years. We’ve still got lots to do but we are a quality destination.”

Information: Zoopla.co.uk

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What is Government doing?

The Bank of England and Treasury, this week, announced a widening of their £80bn Funding for Lending scheme.

The FLS, launched last year, was designed to boost lending to small businesses and households by providing banks with cheap loans on the proviso they pass them on to customers.

Chancellor George Osbourne insists his plans would give “a big boost for the small and medium-sized businesses that are at the heart of the British economy”.

Official figures show net lending to businesses shrank by £2.8bn in February putting pressure on the Bank of England and Treasury to revamp the FLS.

Along with a one-year extension, until January 2015, the initiative will look to encourage banks to direct more lending towards small firms by offering access to additional discounted funds.

John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, welcomed the extension, but warned: “Much will depend on lenders’ appetite for risk, and we will have to wait and see whether these new measures help get credit flowing to growing businesses – and not just ‘safe bets’.”

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The hotelier who can’t sell

David Evans needs to get out of the hotel business for health reasons. Arthritis has spurred him into seeking retirement after about 15 years spent in the holiday accommodation business.

But because his property – The All Seasons Hotel in St Chad’s Road, South Shore – is in a council designated holiday area, he has to put it on the market for use as a B&B only. And he reckons that makes it much more difficult to sell.

The All Seasons is on the market for around £140,000.

Mr Evans says: “We are selling the property as a going concern due to ill health.

“We had a good year last year and the bookings are coming in for this year, although it does get more difficult each year.

“I think it is definitely good to still be in the holiday area, but it does mean we cannot convert the property or sell it for residential use.

“That makes it difficult, because the price of hotels in Blackpool has plummeted.

“There are so many for sale. I know people who paid £300,000 in the mid 1980s and they have let them go for between £120,000 and £150,000.

“One or two in this street have tried to convert to residential flats, but all they get in is down and outs, and we don’t want that.”

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