Conference plan ‘falls short’

An artists impression of the proposed conference centre.
An artists impression of the proposed conference centre.
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Plans for a new conference centre in Blackpool ‘fall short’ of what the town needs, the council’s opposition group leader warned today.

Conservative group leader Coun Tony Williams said the £25m plan to build a new conference onto the side of the Winter Gardens, revealed in The Gazette on Monday, did not go far enough.

Coun Tony Williams

Coun Tony Williams

He added the design was ‘out of keeping’ with the historic Grade II-listed venue.

Coun Williams said: “I welcome any enhancement to the town’s conference offering but feel this particular proposal falls very short of the ‘real deal’.

“I have been aware of the conference possibility for some time and have already introduced a high level representation of property developers to the council who are interested in working towards partnering the scheme with an adjacent site they own.

“However a venue with a capacity of just 1,500 delegates can hardly be classed as a conference centre.

“Several existing larger hotels can already accommodate more.

“I also hope a new designer can be found as the illustration shown in The Gazette looks nothing more than another concrete car park and not at all in keeping with the Winter Gardens.

“This needs to go back to the drawing board with a message ‘must try harder’ and a more adventurous and future proof, fit for purpose conference arena should be developed.”

Claire Smith, president of hoteliers group StayBlackpool, said the inclusion of additional exhibition space was key to the proposals.

She said: “It is not a huge facility but it is a good facility and I like the fact it is attached to the Winter Gardens, especially if we have the Blackpool Museum which will mean the loss of some of the existing exhibition space.

“The dance festivals are the lifeblood of Blackpool and they need every available piece of space, including exhibition areas.

“These are lucrative events which bring people who spend money.”

The council has unveiled plans for a 1,500 capacity conference centre which would cost between £18m and £25m.

It is proposed to make a bid for Government funding through the Lancashire Growth Deal.

The three-storey building would open onto Leopold Grove and be constructed on the site of a former multi-storey car park.

Storage and loading bays are proposed for the ground floor, while the first floor would be taken up with exhibition space.

Above this on the second floor would be a large uninterruped space capable of hosting conferences of up to 1,500 people.

Also proposed are new public areas outside.

Meanwhile work is now well under way for a £21m Lottery-funded Blackpool Museum inside the Pavilion Theatre, within the Winter Gardens.

The venue has been owned by Blackpool Council since 2010.