TOWN hall bosses today defended Blackpool’s new multi-million pound open air arena – boldly claiming it will rival anything the rest of the UK has to offer.
With some critics questioning why an indoor venue had not been built, instead of the £17m Tower Festival Headland, council bosses said the unique seafront location had been chosen to help the resort pull in big name stars.
The tough talk came after Sir Elton John’s concert on the Promenade was abandoned on Saturday night – just six songs from the end – due to atrocious weather.
But Blackpool Council’s assistant chief executive for regeneration and tourism Alan Cavill said he believed the Headland – complete with its iconic Promenade and Tower backdrop – would eventually prove a massive success as it hosted more events.
He told The Gazette: “It was an unusual set of circumstances on Saturday. I think the concert went well and that seems to be the general response. The issue will be what happens next.
“If this was a one-off we were just unlucky.
“The venue worked well for a long time in particularly inclement weather and Elton John managed to play two hours in these conditions when all sorts of other events were cancelled along the coast.”
Sir Elton blasted out many of his hits including Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, Rocket Man and Candle In The Wind before having to close the show due to safety reasons.
And with the arena hosting three more events this weekend with the Olympic Torch party on Friday night followed by John Barrowman and McFly and The Wanted on Saturday and Sunday, bosses are hoping the space will have the chance to shine before the Illuminations Switch On is held on the headland on August 31.
And Mr Cavill added: “Other people have built indoor venues in better financial times but the general trend is for them not to stack up financially.
“They need massive sponsorship and the don’t necessarily break even on the back of the events they put on. What we wanted was a very large scale, standing, open air venue which can hold 23,000 people.
“This is an arena to compete with festival sites and football stadiums, and the hope is that entertainers want to perform at an iconic venue.
“You cannot compare the venue with something like the MEN Arena in Manchester, and we do not want to be in direct competition with arenas in Manchester and Liverpool.
“And this is why Elton John chose to perform here. He was looking for more unusual venues.
“I understand people’s frustration, and if it rains and blows a gale it’s not a great venue but it doesn’t do that all the time.
“I’m surprised people were shocked by the conditions. It is what it is, and I think generally speaking the concert went very well and it certainly tested all elements of the venue including safety.”
See Tickets, the company which booked seats at the concert, said there had been “quite a few” people calling to request refunds over Saturday’s cancelled concert.
They added the promoter Marshall Arts would contact people directly through the email address they had used to book tickets
Marshall Arts declined to comment other than to issue a joint statement with Marketing Blackpool, the council’s events team, saying the decision to call off the concert had “not been taken lightly.”
The headland, which is part of the £100m upgrade of the sea defences, was funded with cash including £4m from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s Sea Change programme which was matched by cash from the Northwest Development Agency.
Meanwhile, taxi drivers have complained after road closures – set up for Saturday’s concert – were supposed to end at 6am on Sunday.
However, they were still in place 12 hours later.
High winds meant stage crews were not able to dismantle the structure on the night and had to resume work in the early hours of Sunday.
Taxi driver Steve Kay said: “Opening the Prom should have been a priority, people need to make a living.
“I understand it was windy on Saturday night, but on Sunday, every effort should have been made to get the road opened as quickly as possible, it’s common sense.
“There are shops on that stretch affected, it causes a nightmare for cab drivers, it’s like the council doesn’t care as long as we pay our license fees.”
But Andy Cheeseman, production director for ACP Productions – which built the temporary infrastructure on the headland, said: “There was a delay in opening the Promenade because there was a delay in clearing the site after Saturday’s concert. High winds continued throughout the night from Saturday into Sunday and therefore it was not safe for our team to clear the area.”