Men behind makeover

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If you get a chance venture onto the building site that is central Blackpool’s promenade and take a look at the brand new carriageway taking shape there, thanks to George Cox, a leading North West (Bolton based) civil engineering company since 1947. There’s barely a town or city in the region which hasn’t had its centre paved or highway works undertaken by George Cox.

“Blackpool’s in safe hands,” says Colin Priest, contracts manager, from Wigan, knows the resort well. “I’ve been coming here since I was a kid so it’s always been a favourite of mine, and my nan’s too. Even at 83, she still comes for holidays here, a week at a time. I’ve got kids of my own, so it’s really nice to be able to say I’ve had a hand in rebuilding Blackpool, even though the 17 year old is a bit, well, teenagery over that kind of thing. My dad was a brickie and he used to say the same kind of thing to me – I built this!”

Colin reckons the town’s motto of Progress is being honoured by the works currently in progress. The new single lane (two-way traffic) layout for the carriageway is taking place alongside the final phase of work on the Promenade, including the construction of the wedding venue, the Comedy Carpet, new tramway and the creation on an outdoor events space. When all the work is finally signed off, more than £100m will have been spent on transforming Blackpool, through the regeneration of its historic promenade.

Colin admits: “My personal opinion is that it’s just what Blackpool needs, and has happened at just the right time.

“I can appreciate it’s a major upheaval for residents and the visitors see a lot of workers around, but it’s going to make a huge difference to Blackpool for years to come. We’re all proud to be playing our part in that.

“The attention to detail that has gone into the carriageway design is second-to-none. We think it looks fabulous, and the comment from passers-by has been really positive too.

“Since November, we’ve been on 8am starts, and working some nights till 10pm, seven days a week, through all sorts of weather.

“It was minus 14 some days, but we still managed to crack on with work, if not always what we had planned. High winds and heavy rain won’t stop us. Nothing will. Not now!”

Once the carriageway is complete, the team will move onto Blackpool’s Project 30, the name given to work to repair or replace over 40 miles of strategic (roads used as main routes) road network, at a cost of £30m, over the next four years. It’s the equivalent distance from Blackpool Tower to Morecambe Bay.

Blackpool’s Promenade makeover has been more than five years in the making, the last push now on for completion mid to late summer, with new trams arriving for testing next month, the Tower Festival Headland, Comedy Carpet, and new carriageway ready by mid-June. The last leg of the sea defences, between North and South Pier, should be finished by August. There’s light finally at the end of a very long tunnel.

The scale of the work is immense with more than six contract companies working on the seafront, each with responsibility for a project which could make all the difference between the resort thriving, or failing, in future.

There’s home grown talent out there, too, Blackpool’s own F Parkinson, established in 1934, building the wedding venue, which will incorporate cafe, register office with ceremony hall. It currently resembles a giant bird watching hide, but once unveiled will give the brides and grooms already in line for bookings a bird’s eye view of Blackpool Tower as the backdrop, and a verandah overlooking the Irish Sea.

There are local men working for other big name companies, the likes of Birse, and more, but if you want a Comedy Carpet installing, who better to ask than a scouser? Danny McLeod, 25, of Aintree, site engineer for national sustainable housing and construction company Galliford Try, is helping oversee the innovative “walk of fame” (designed by artist Gordon Young), a pavement featuring famous catch phrases by comedy performers. Just who or what’s included is under wraps but Danny reckons his own favourite, John Bishop, has some catching up to do with Liverpool legend Ken Dodd. Enough said?

Civil and structural engineer Danny says the challenge rests in aligning 100 or so varying size slabs, or units, some big enough to be read from the top of the Tower, so they become one seamless “almost flowing” footpath, or carpet, across the festival headland to the sea steps. “Lots of different levels involved, so it’s like working on a giant jigsaw, or mosaic,” concludes Danny. “It’s an over used term, I know, but I really do think this will be iconic.”