Tourism and council chiefs are celebrating the news that Blackpool Tower will be restored to its full glory in time for Easter - marking the end of a seven-year restoration project.
The resort landmark has been hidden under scaffolding since 2008 as part of what was previous-reported to be a £6m project to repair the steel structure.
The Tower’s paint has been stripped off and rusted metal underneath removed using high-pressure water jets.
An additional £1.8m loan was taken out by the council last summer, to be paid back from the Tower’s own income, when work was discovered which needed extra attention.
Metalwork has been replaced throughout the Tower, and the 122-year-old structure has been repainted in its own shade of red.
Now the final section is nearing completion, with the scaffolding starting to be removed, and an expected completion date in the early spring.
Provided that there are no delays due to the weather, we expect it to be completely removed in time for Easter.Coun Gillian Campbell
Coun Gillian Campbell, deputy leader of Blackpool Council, said: “I’m absolutely delighted that the steel work on Blackpool Tower is now completed and that the scaffolding is being taken down.
“Provided that there are no delays due to the weather, we expect it to be completely removed in time for Easter.”
The project began under the Tower’s previous ownership and continued when Blackpool Council bought the building in 2010, with funding coming from the pot the used to buy both the Tower and the Winter Gardens.
The cash came from the council, the European Regional Development Fund, the Government’s Homes And Communities Agency and the North West Development Agency.
The duration of the scheme has received criticism over the years, with Coun Campbell defending the time scale for the ‘vitally important’ work in preserving the landmark.
She added: “Like everybody, I’ve been looking forward to seeing the Tower return back to its original, slimline look, but we’ve had to be patient because the work that has been carried out was so vitally important to making sure that the Tower continues to stand tall for many, many years to come.
“Not only is the Tower a source of great pride for local residents, it also plays such a large role in our local economy that we simply have to make sure that it is looked after properly.
“Bringing the Tower under the council’s control has allowed us to do that and, as well as seeing it maintained properly, we’ve also been able to completely revamp the experience for visitors through our extremely good relationship with a world class operator in Merlin.
“That has resulted in a better experience for visitors to the Tower and reiterates our message to tourists that Blackpool really is back.
“A completed Blackpool Tower is yet another reason that 2016 is the year for people to come and visit Blackpool.”
Kate Shane, head of the Merlin cluster of attractions in Blackpool, said: “I can’t wait for that last scaffolding plank to leave the building.
“She looks beautiful underneath it all, with steel replaced and it repainted.
“When that happens, in time for Easter, it’ll be the start of a great summer season for us – we all can’t wait.”
Claire Smith, president of hoteliers’ group Stay Blackpool, said the news was ‘absolutely wonderful’.
“We all fully understand it has been a huge job,” she added. “I was, I have to say, a little scared when they started removing the paint that they’d find that was what was holding it up.
“The weather has been awful on so many occasions during the project - when do we get snow and ice in Blackpool? - and I think they had that two years running.
“Ninety per cent of our guests comment on how fabulous it looks lit up at night, but ask when is the scaffolding coming down.
“And for it to be in time for Easter, it’s even better than I could have expected.”
The news has also been welcomed by resort MPs Gordon Marsden and Paul Maynard. Mr Marsden, MP for Blackpool South, hailed the completion as a fitting handover gift from Iain Hawkins, the former boss of Merlin in the resort to Ms Shane.
“It has been a huge job but it will be great to have the Tower restored to its full glory for the start of what we hope will be a good season for 2016,” he added.
MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys Paul Maynard said: “I’m sure everyone with the interests of Blackpool at heart will be delighted that the iconic shape of the Tower will be restored for all to see.
“It has taken far too long for some people, but now I hope we will have a much longer-lasting Tower.
“It’s not a job you can rush, and I’d rather it was done properly and well than quickly and it being a worse job.”