Plan unveiled to rid town of its ‘unfriendly image’

Unwanted image: Closed down shops and untidy streets in Blackpool town centre.
Unwanted image: Closed down shops and untidy streets in Blackpool town centre.
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Blackpool town centre after dark was today branded untidy, unwelcoming and in desperate need of more family attractions.

The damning judgement was made in a new report, which sets out a raft of plans to improve it.

The first interim report of the Nighttime Economy Working Group – set up following the rejection of plans for an Early Morning Restriction Order (EMRO) in February – reveals residents across the town believe Blackpool by night needs major improvement.

The group, consisting of representatives from the council, police, health organisations and the pub and club industry, undertook two surveys – one with residents on the phone and another open to all residents in libraries and online.

Both asked people what their perceptions of the resort at night are.

Hundreds replied to the open survey and, while the full responses are yet to be analysed, an early review has uncovered a catalogue of concerns.

Respondents said the town was untidy and with a large number of vacant shops and low rent retailers, the early evening was uninviting and late nights were a haven of drunken rowdiness and criminality.

One town hall leader today said the responses were “not unexpected.”

The interim report, due to be discussed at a licensing meeting today, goes on to set out a raft of potential plans to improve things, including:

Zoning, separating family areas from adult areas

First aiders on standby in pubs and clubs

Taxi marshals

A return to manned CCTV

A bid to entice more high quality eating, drinking and entertainment venues aimed at families

A new standards scheme to drag up the quality of pubs and clubs across the resort

More street cleaning

Making it easier to review the licences of ‘trouble’ premises

The report stresses more work needs to be done before the group presents its final report in the new year.

But it added: “During the course of the EMRO hearing it became apparent Blackpool town centre did suffer from significant levels of violent crime and disorder which need addressing to improve people’s perceptions of the town.”

Coun Adrian Hutton, chairman of the licensing committee, said: “I think (the responses) are more or less what we expected.

“We now need to take on board what is in the interim report, take the surveys and then come back with a set of firm proposals to try and do something about it.

“We certainly need to try and make the town more attractive for the early evening economy and we need to work in conjunction with hotels, restaurants and bars.”

Some of the ideas discussed are already being put in place.

Community first responders – to help those who have been victims of crime or need health help – are set to be trained by the North West Ambulance Service and are set to be deployed in Flamingo, Club Domain and on Market Street.

They will administer first aid where required and guide people who need it to a safe 
haven in the town centre.

Street lighting in some areas, including Clifton Street, has also been improved.

But other ideas, the report admits, need more consideration.

It adds that the funds to return to CCTV 24 hours a day are not currently in place.

A late night ‘levy’ in other areas, such as Newcastle, Southampton and Nottingham, has helped pay for taxi marshals and 24-hour CCTV as well as street cleaning.

This, the report says, could be a “long term answer”.

On the idea of zoning, the report says: “Blackpool aims to have a mixed and vibrant nightlife.

For this to work effectively there needs to be a quieter zone where families and other groups can eat and socialise separate from a more lively, adult orientated area.”

And it adds licensees believe the introduction of a Best Bar None scheme, or similar, requiring bars and clubs to hit certain standards should be considered to “reward good operators and encourage improvements in others”.

And the report adds: “One of the areas of feedback from the EMRO hearing was there had not been enough use of current legislation to deal with alcohol-related problems in the (town).”

It said a review of good practice by other authorities had been undertaken and the working group has considered a number of changes.

“These included setting down a framework of what was expected from applicants and what was regarded as standard practice to be able to hold to account operators who had been called in for review.

“The group also supports plans to promote and make easier the process of asking for a review.”

Taxi marshalls in the town, especially at weekend, would help “deter bad behaviour”, the report says.

Coun Hutton added: “Whether we have a late night levy or we can do some sort of arrangement with the traders and licensees as to how we fund these things, that is still up in the air.

“The taxi marshals we are looking at in conjunction with the taxi trade and how that would be funded is still something we need to look into.

“At the moment it is a case of taking on board all the views that have been put forward and making a decision on what we can and can’t fund, and if we as a council can’t fund it, whether there is any other way we can fund it.”

The report was today welcomed by licensees.

Hagop Tchobanian, owner of the Beach House bistro which has won plaudits since opening on the Prom last year, said he believes establishments like his are more what people in the town want.

“At the end of the day for all the local people that is what the future is. People going out and enjoying themselves and having a drink with a bite to eat.

“We just tried to create something different in Blackpool. We are open for the families and for everyone else.

“But at the end of the day there is a clientele for every single business in Blackpool.”

The working group will meet in February to present a full report.

The group was formed after councillors threw out an application for an EMRO following a week-long hearing in February.

The controversial order – which would have seen a number of town centre clubs close at 3am and would have been the first of its kind in the UK – was rejected as Blackpool Council’s Licensing Committee deemed it was not appropriate for the resort.

Instead, the committee called for more police on the streets at key times and recommended a working party was formed to consider alternative ways of tackling the issues around late night boozing.

The main points being proposed...

A return to 24-hour CCTV for the town centre – but the funding is not yet in place, and how it would be financed is still “up in the air”.

Taxi marshals to discourage bad behaviour and make people feel safer at taxi ranks.

Qualified first aiders in the biggest bars and clubs.

Money ploughed into marketing the town to encourage more family friendly attractions and businesses to come.

A bespoke standards scheme to highlight good quality bars, pubs and clubs and pull up those not making the grade.

New powers for easier reviews of licences.

What you have been saying...

Town centre cafe worker Katy O’Neill, 29, said: “It can be a little unfriendly, but it’s because we get people from all over, not just locals they come here and think that because they’re not at home they can do what they want.

“I suppose when they’ve had a bit to much to drink it can lead to arguments and rows, but it’s just like anywhere else.

“I definitely agree with the idea of zones and just have two or three streets where the stag and hen parties go and the hotels around that area cater to that market and have another area where you can have family bars.

“I don’t think there’s anywhere in Blackpool where you can take your kids out really, so when people come on holiday they’ve got to stay in their hotels.”

Card shop worker Ashley Kouni, 45, said: “I’d say the town’s image is actually very friendly, there are totally different people here to Manchester which is where I’m from.

“The trouble with the zoning idea is that all the hotels around here will want the stag and hen parties, they want that custom, because it does actually make them money.”

Abingdon Street Market stall owner Andrew Hill, 32, said: “I don’t go out myself, I certainly wouldn’t walk through the town at night with my 13 year old son.

“I agree that Blackpool should move to a more family place again, I went to Scarborough and they’ve got a certain area where all the clubs are and then the promenade is just family oriented.”

Dawn Clarkson, 35, butcher at DMC Meats, said: “All that on the telly, like Benefit Street and 999 Emergency, it’s not fair on Blackpool and it shows us in a bad light, someone needs to stop advertising all the bad points.”

Resident Jo Barnet, 42, said: “The bad image the town has is about the people coming into the town, drunks for lack of a better word, they come in on the train and it’s all stag and hens.

“Who wants to go out on a Friday or Saturday night? It depends where you go but you can end up in a fight.

“There are people who go out with the intention of having a fight.”

I live near Central Drive and it’s becoming a red light district, you daren’t look up.