BRITAIN'S favourite free tourist attraction is to break with a century of tradition by introducing a charge for admission.
From 2009,punters will have to pay a minimum 5 charge to enter Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
But the move has attracted criticism in some quarters amid fears the pricing policy could deter visitors.
The new entry system will mean that from the beginning of the 2009 season, visitors will have to either purchase an Unlimited Ride Wristband or a 5 Freedom Pass. Only under-threes will get in free.
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The Freedom Pass gives free access to the Chinese puzzle maze, the Pleasure Beach Express, the monorail, Noah's Ark and the stage show at Planet Rock,which would cost 10 in total in individual tickets. If visitors use any other attractions they will pay extra.
Pleasure Beach managing director Amanda Thompson said: "At Pleasure Beach we are always looking to add value to our customers' experiences, the introduction of the Freedom Pass will allow us to do this and ensure that we can continue to improve the overall visitor experience at the park."
The park refused to comment further but said it was telling customers about the change this year so that they had time to get used to it.
Coun Maxine Callow, cabinet member for regeneration and tourism on Blackpool Council, said she was suprised by the move.
She said: "I'm sure they have done their research but it could be off-putting to some people if they have to pay 5 to go in. They used to promote it as the best free attraction in the country and some people just go in for a stroll round.
"I think they are very brave to change their charging policy and it's a big leap in the dark but they have to take a fresh look at everything like all businesses do."
The Pleasure Beach experimented with admission fees before Christmas when it charged people 15 each to enter the Winter Wonderland, whether or not they used the rides.
At the time, the park said the charges would not be re-introduced in 2008.
The Pleasure Beach was named the most visited free attraction in the UK once more last year after welcoming 5.7 million people through its gates in 2006.
The company introduced charges at its Southport theme park during the latter years of that attraction's operation, but the park later closed.
Comments submitted to The Gazette's website are critical of the move.
Peter Chadwick wrote: "This is surely madness. They tried introducing an entry fee to Southport and then they said it was no longer viable."
By comparison, adults are charged 34 to get into Alton Towers (24 for children) and up to 14.95 at Lightwater Valley with all attractions inside free. Blackpool Tower charges 12 (6 for children) while Blackpool Zoo charges 12.95, with all attractions inside free.