Almost £800k set aside for Blackpool conference centre dream

Town hall chiefs are set to spend £780,000 on hiring architects to design a proposed new conference centre for the town.

Monday, 5th September 2016, 7:56 am
Updated Monday, 5th September 2016, 9:11 am
An artists impression of how the conference centre may look

Blackpool Council unveiled plans in July to build an exhibition centre onto the side of the Winter Gardens.

Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn has now allocated £225,000 to enable a firm of architects to be engaged.

Members of the executive will be asked to earmark a further £555,000 towards the design stage, when they meet on September 12.

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The council is bidding for £18m from the Government’s Growth Deal fund and the Coastal Communities Fund.

Coun Simon Blackburn, leader of Blackpool Council, said: “We are 100 per cent committed to creating large-scale business, tourism and conferencing facilities for the town.

“In order to successfully bid for funding our plans need to be well-developed, and any funders will be looking for us to have detailed designs, and planning permission in place, so it is vitally important that we put ourselves in the best possible position to secure external funding.

“I am confident that our bid to the Growth Deal Fund will be successful, as I have worked very hard to ensure that this scheme is rightly seen as a high priority for the Lancashire Economic 
Partnership, and Lancashire as a whole.

“In the event that this optimism is misplaced, we will still need to be ready to apply for other funding opportunities that arise.

“Being timid at this stage would be to fail to recognise that you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.”

It is hoped the £225,000 already earmarked will be repaid to the council out of capital grants if the application for funding succeeds.

Otherwise it will have to come out of reserves.

A firm of architects is already in the pipeline to draw up detailed plans following a tendering process.

It is proposed to construct a contemporary structure to link directly into the existing buildings which make up the Victorian Grade II listed Winter Gardens.

The land, which opens onto Leopold Grove, was previously occupied by a multi-storey car park which was demolished earlier this year.

The council expects to find out in the autumn if its bid has been successful, but the way funding is allocated means work could not begin before 2018 and the new conference centre could not open until late 2019.

Initial proposals show a double height entrance foyer opening onto Leopold Grove, with exhibition space on the first floor.

Above this on the second floor would be a large uninterrupted space capable of hosting major conferences of up to 2,000 people.

Also proposed are new public areas outside which would be created by setting back the entrance from the road and angling the first two storeys inward.

The ground floor would link through to the Empress Ballroom, and also accommodate loading bays and storage areas.

It is hoped the project would secure the return of sought-after conference business to the resort including the large political party conferences.