Entry charge bid for Switch-On revellers

Crowds at this year's Illuminations Switch On 2011

Crowds at this year's Illuminations Switch On 2011

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Visitors will be charged to attend next year’s Illuminations big Switch-On in a break with tradition which could also see the star who flicks the switch paid for the first time in the Lights’ history.

But some Blackpool residents will still be able to attend the annual concert for free.

Tourism chiefs will hold a lottery-style draw to hand out 3,000 free wristbands to resort residents but the rest of the 20,000 tickets will be sold on.

Marketing Blackpool, Blackpool Council’s arms length company charged with promoting the town, says the Switch-On – which will be held on the Tower Festival Headland for the first time – must operate on a more commercial footing.

This year it cost the council £140,000 to hold the ceremony – but in 2012 it is hoped to break even so more cash can be ploughed into improving the lights displays.

Managing director Natalie Wyatt told The Gazette: “We have to put the Illuminations on a much more commercial basis because there is a lack of funds. Switching on them on used to be considered an honour. But times have changed – and we are in a world driven by money.

“If we charge, we may be able to pay the Switch-On artist and that means we can confirm who it is much earlier, and market that.

“But we didn’t want to charge for residents, which is why there will be 3,000 free wristbands for them.”

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A commercial partner, which is expected to be Real Radio once more, will be announced in the new year and will be responsible for providing the line-up of artists for the concert as usual.

But from 2012 the ceremony will cease to be a civic event with Marketing Blackpool taking over responsibility.

Ms Wyatt said: “We are delighted Marketing Blackpool has been handed ownership of the Illuminations Switch-On event.

“However, we appreciate there is much work to be done in relation to ensuring the resort’s biggest event is sustainable going forward and is an attractive proposition for an investor to support.

“By working with Blackpool Council and the Illuminations team on new initiatives we believe we can continue to make both the Illuminations and Switch-On events the biggest ever, especially in what will be the centenary year.

“Moving the Switch-On event specifically, to a new location, also means the format of the event can change. We expect to secure a media partner in the next few weeks and work with them to confirm acts sooner in order to help businesses market earlier.”

President of hoteliers group StayBlackpool Claire Smith welcomed the move.

She said: “As long as the ticket price is realistic, I think this is a brilliant idea. I would rather people paid and the Switch-On continued to be a fabulous, exciting show than for it to be a lesser event because there isn’t the money.

“People understand we’re in difficult times and Blackpool really needs the Illuminations, so we have to compromise.”