John McDonnell paid tribute to the friendliness of Blackpool people as he savoured the prospect of part conferences returning to the resort.
The Shadow Chancellor was delighted to see the town’s new £25m conference centre taking shape as he attended the Road to Rebuilding the Economy conference at the weekend highlighting Labour’s plans to revive local economies.
“It would be great to see the party conferences back in Blackpool,” said Mr McDonnell.
“I have very fond memories of conferences here – my first one was in Blackpool some 40 years ago and I always looked forward to coming back.
“And that was down to the people and their friendliness. There was always a very warm welcome in Blackpool and I really hope conference will be back here soon.”
It’s more than a decade since the last major party conference came to town, with the Conservatives last in Blackpool in 2007, while Labour’s last appearance here was five years earlier.
Since then, with the requirement for added security as well as more extensive facilities, venues elsewhere in the North West, such as Manchester and Liverpool, have come to the fore, along with Birmingham.
But Conservatives chairman Lewis Brandon revealed in September that his party had been talking to council chiefs about the potential to bring the Tory gathering back to Blackpool.
Work began on what will be the biggest addition to the council-owned Winter Gardens since the 1930s at the start of the year.
Piling to support the foundations was completed in May and the scheme, which will mean the complex is due to be completed by next spring.
It will include a state-of-the-art conference hall for 2,000 delegates and be linked to the Empress Ballroom and Opera House to form a joint capacity of up to 7,000.
The cost is being met through £15m from the Government’s Growth Deal, £7m from Blackpool Council, and £2.9m from the Coastal Communities Fund, also via the Government.
Blackpool Council has since added a further undisclosed sum to its financial contribution after it emerged the cost of the project had increased due repairs required on existing` facades where the conference centre will attach to the Victorian buildings.
Planning permission is also in place for a three-to-five storey hotel on land between Leopold Grove, Adelaide Street and Alfred Street, currently the site of car park.
It includes a second floor bridge to link the development directly with the conference centre.
After Mr Lewis indicated the Conservatives’ interest in returning, a spokesman for Blackpool Council said: “Together with the Winter Gardens we have held discussions with a number of conference organisers about the potential to bring back some of the large-scale events that Blackpool used to host.
“Initial discussions have taken place with various unions, associations and political parties including the Conservatives and while these are mostly at an early stage we are confident that as the opening of the conference centre draws nearer, the Blackpool offer will become a significantly more compelling one.”
The Winter Gardens dates back to 1878 and was developed to become one of the most important entertainment centres in the country.
After the Second World War, conferencing became a core part of the offer, with all the major political parties holding their annual get-togethers at the venue.