Blackpool Council to invest more cash in £25m conference centre project - but how much?

Town hall chiefs are poised to plough more cash into the construction of Blackpool's £25m new conference centre due to a funding shortfall.

Monday, 21st May 2018, 8:20 am
Updated Monday, 21st May 2018, 8:26 am
Top: The proposed new conference centre for Blackpool

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First glimpse of Blackpool's £25m conference centre

The total amount of additional funding needed is being kept under wraps due to “commercial reasons.”

The figure will be revealed once the tendering process has been completed.

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A report to the council’s executive committee says “a number of significant issues have been uncovered” during initial work to prepare the site on Leopold Grove for the conference centre which will link into the existing Winter Gardens.

Substantial repairs to the existing building facades, where they will attach to the new building, need to be carried out.

Repairs are also needed to the existing roof and gutter system, and high volumes of waste have had to be removed.

The report says costs are higher than the estimates put in before work began.

While some savings on the project have been made, it is feared any further cost cutting would be detrimental to the quality of the overall scheme.

Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said: “The development of the conference centre is a crucial part of the future regeneration of the Winter Gardens and the town centre.

“We have already attracted nearly £18m in external funding for the conference centre which makes up the vast majority of the cost.

“The council contribution is through prudential borrowing which will be repaid through the profit that the centre makes.

“Any spend by the council has been carefully calculated to ensure there is no impact to the ta payers of Blackpool.”

But Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservative group, criticised the council for not being prepared for the overspend, and said the figure should be revealed.

He said: “They have yet again failed to undertake the correct level of building surveys which is the basic starting point for any build project and they now need even more money due to their incompetence.”

He also said it was wrong not to reveal the additional cost.Coun Williams added: “Why does this council continue to hide behind the excuse of “commercial sensitivity” each time they refuse to provide details on any loans they intend making or their further borrowing?

“It’s not their money they are playing with, it’s tax payers’ and that of hard working Blackpool residents who will no doubt have to suffer ongoing council tax rises to cover this council’s extravagant mistakes.

“Everyone in the town is a share holder of the council and as such deserve to know how their hard earned cash is being spent or squandered.”

But Coun Blackburn responded: “Coun Williams needs to realise there are some occasions where negotiations need to take place in private for commercial reasons.

“To publicise the amount we have available to pay contractors does not allow us to negotiate the best deal.

“The amount spent will become public knowledge in due course. There are no secrets here but on occasions we do need to operate like a business which means keeping some aspects confidential at the current time.”

Winter Gardens investment:

The £25m cost of the new conference centre is being met through £15m from the government’s Growth Deal, £7m from Blackpool Council, and £2.9m from the Coastal Communities Fund (also government funding).

Piling to support the foundations of the new building has now been completed and the frame will start to arrive next month.

The conference centre is due to be completed in spring next year and means the Winter Gardens will be able to hold up to 7,000 delegates.

Other repairs also currently underway at the Winter Gardens include the Victoria Street tiled frontage, or faience, and the Spanish Hall roof and glazing.

Funding is now in place from Historic England and preliminary work has begun.

The project will see one of the columns and pillar of the faience along the west elevation repaired and refurbished and the remaining area will be monitored.

The full glazing system to the Spanish Hall roof will be replaced to make the room watertight.

Internal scaffolding is being installed in the Spanish Hall and the works are scheduled to be completed by December 2018.

Repairs to the Empress Ballroom ceiling and the removal of the scaffolding are now underway. The preliminary work is due to be completed in May prior to the International Dance Festival.

Quotes are currently being sourced for the repainting of the ceiling.

Hoteliers reaction:

Claire Smith, president of hoteliers group StayBlackpool, said: “I would have hoped the council had a contingency fund because we all know projects like this are likely to run over budget.

“Especially when you are dealing with an old building like the Winter Gardens, you just don’t know what you will find.

“But the conference centre is important in order to regenerate that area and to bring in year-round business.

“Organisers of the conferences which left all said it was not the town that was the problem.

“The fact we have a range of accommodation to suit all budgets was an attraction.

“But we just did not have the right quality of conference facilities.

“So it is important to get this facility built and hopefully it will be a successful venue which will pay back the money which needs to be borrowed.”The executive report says inquiries from

organisations hoping to book the new conference centre have been strong with some bookings already confirmed.