Concerns over Blackpool Central plans - critics say Arena would be better

The grand unveiling of plans for a £300m overhaul of Blackpool's most important development site has been branded 'disappointing' by a prominent councillor.

Wednesday, 12th December 2018, 10:10 am
Updated Wednesday, 12th December 2018, 11:15 am
A map of the Blackpool Central development

Leader of the Conservative opposition at the town hall Coun Tony Williams said he had been contacted by many ‘underwhelmed’ people after Friday’s revelation that the former Central Station site will be filled with a mixed use development anchored by the UK’s first “flying theatre”.

He said the Chariots of the Gods-themed ride, which will take visitors on a “fly-through” adventure ranging from ancient history to extra-terrestrial life, was nothing new.

Instead, he said he would have preferred to see the site used for an arena.

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An overview of how Blackpool Central could look

He said: Of course I welcome any investment into Blackpool and the figures being suggested here are quite impressive, however I’m not confident the council has made the right decision in regard to this simulator attraction being the major draw for the visitor numbers they are predicting.”

He also questioned whether the technology behind the flying theatre would be “out of date in a couple of years”.

“It’s not unique and I think the visuals and promotion materials are somewhat overstating the actual,” he added.

“I have spoken to lots of people since this was announced and most are under whelmed.

Nick Payne of Nikal one of the key firms involved in the development

“I think the council and the developers have oversold the potential of this attraction and everyone was expecting a much bigger announcement.

“I would have preferred to see a performance arena where all year round events, concerts could have been staged.

“You could have even stuck this simulator on to the side as an extra. Over all I’m disappointed.”

Former mayor Robert Wynne, who owns several Blackpool businesses including the West Coast Rock Cafe in Abingdon Street, said the proposals were disappointing considering the importance of the site.

He said: “No -one is more excited than me about investment in Blackpool but I have to say I am pretty disappointed in this.

“We had ben told something was coming but I was expecting something much more substantial, more strategic.

“It seems bitty, a mish-mash of ideas. I fear the only part of the plans we will end up with is the multi-storey car park.

“I would have thought that this site would have been ideal for an arena.

“That would have been more flexible and would have brought people in for the other businesses in town.

“What Blackpool really needs is the big events. The Winter Gardens and Tower are great but only up to a certain size of crowd. If we had an arena we could get more of the big names.

“I am not sure how popular this ride will be years down the line. I have been on the Back to the Future Ride which is now The Simpsons Ride I believe and while they can change the film it is still basically the same ride.”

Claire Smith, president of hoteliers group Stay Blackpool, praised plans to redevelop the key site – but voiced concern over the fact two new hotels, with a combined 400 beds, are included in the designs.

She said: “It is wonderful without a shadow of a doubt.

“The council has done a great job in pulling this together, with all the criteria this development needed to hit – something different to what we have now, something to attract people all year round, something that would use the whole area rather than being piecemeal, so it was difficult.

“But while it is an exciting time it is also a scary time for small hotels and B&Bs at the moment.

“It seems every development for the town comes with a big hotel, which is concerning.

“I understand the reports that say we need more global brands, more three four and five star rooms, but we must not forget the little hotels. We seem to be forgotten.”

WHO ARE THE FIRMS BEHIND THE £300m PLAN?

Nikal is a Manchester-based property development firm founded in 2003 by Nick Payne (pictured) and Alan Murphy.

It specialises in mixed-use regeneration schemes on city-centre sites which have had previous uses.

Its largest project is for part of the HS2 Curzon Birmingham masterplan where is it currently building the £500m Exchange Square project.

It also has Hillcrest Homes.

Nick Payne said: “We have also worked on Deansgate Lock in Manchester and in Hull and wherever these projects are built we have seen an associated rise in property prices in the area.

“In Hull, for example, we are selling properties there for £400,000.

“This is a particularly exciting project to be associated with.

“The flying theatre experience will be amazing. It will start off in Blackpool taking in a quick tour of the UK before disappearing down into Stonehenge and then on to the pyramids and Aztec cities and then forward in time.

“It will have continuous appeal as they can change the film every few years.

“We are delighted to be involved.”

He revealed that they and mastermind Norbert Reichart’s Media Invest Entertainment company, which has the intellectual rights for the Chariots of the Gods attraction, had been working on the project for some time and were looking for the best site in Europe before they met the Blackpool Council team at a major conference for theme parks and rides in the USA.

“It was obvious right away there was a real meeting of minds.

“£300m is a huge investment for any city in the world, so it was important that we had the support of the local people and that came across strongly.”

The architects who have come up with the initial designs for the 17 acre site are international firm Gensler – the same firm that put together designs for the Supercasino which was also earmarked for the plot before Gordon Brown refused permission for such gambling schemes.