Fury as £5.5m borrowed for Tower

Blackpool Tower
Blackpool Tower
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TOWN hall bosses were today slammed after agreeing to borrow an extra £5.5m to speed up regeneration work on the Tower.

The move comes as Blackpool Council chiefs have announced they must shed hundreds of jobs after having their budget slashed by the Government.

After agreeing the loan deal, councillors said the move was designed to protect jobs in the private sector by bringing more visitors into the resort. The money is expected to be repaid within 10 years using income generated from visits to the Tower.

But Coun Simon Blackburn, leader of the opposition on the council, said the scheme could not have come at a worse time for residents reeling from wide-scale cutbacks.

He said: “It’s absolutely scandalous. At a time when they are making people redundant and families and individuals all over Blackpool are suffering, for the council to borrow more money on top of the tens of millions of pounds they have already borrowed and then turn down more services is wrong.

“It’s completely unacceptable to say they have to close libraries, close a rehabilitation centre but have money to spend on a tourist attraction.

“I don’t think people will understand how they can spend £5.5m on the Tower and while at the same time closing down libraries.”

During a meeting of the council’s executive committee, members heard how the borrowing would not affect the current situation which has seen 700 posts slashed at the town hall, including up to 350 compulsory redundancies.

Coun Maxine Callow, cabinet member for tourism and regeneration, told the meeting: “This investment means the Tower Top Experience will be open in September 2011 and will remain open and we will be able to maximise the income council get from the Tower.”

Work has already started on the new observation deck by operator Merlin.

Originally the Tower Top Experience, which includes a new viewing platform and 4D cinema, was not due to open until April 2012.

But it would have been forced to close again intermittently between 2015 and 2016 to allow repainting and maintenance to go ahead on the Tower’s steelwork, part of an eight-year contract inherited from previous owner Leisure Parcs.

The work will now be re-phased so maintenance to the steelwork at the top of the Tower can be completed this year instead of later in the programme as originally planned.

This means the observation deck will not be forced to close once it is launched.

Coun Callow added: “This will protect jobs because if we keep having to close certain parts of the Tower, jobs will be lost.

“If we do not invest this money, parts of the Tower will have to close between 2015 and 2016 which would look very bad and would be sending out the wrong message.

“This will increase visitor numbers, increase economic spend and be a positive benefit to the town.”

The council is currently having to make £27m in savings and will close libraries at Marton and Grange Park as well as cutting back the Illumninations and slashing the resort’s events programme.

The top of the Tower is currently closed while work is carried out.

Iain Hawkins, head of Merlin’s resort attractions, said it made “huge financial sense” for the council to make the investment ahead of time.

He told The Gazette: “Everybody can see there is a lot of work going on at the Tower already and we want to accelerate that. It makes huge financial sense.

“The earlier we can open, the better. It provides jobs and allows money to starting coming in.

“It’s not just about us, it benefits the whole resort to have something to be excited about, to have visitors coming into the town and to the hotels and other attractions.”

Mr Hawkins said around 100 new jobs would be created as a result of all the new attractions going into the Tower, which also include the Blackpool Dungeon in the former aquarium.