Blackpool conference centre gets £25m go-ahead

A proposed new conference centre for Blackpool
A proposed new conference centre for Blackpool
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Tourism chiefs were today popping the champagne corks after Blackpool was awarded £25m to realise its conference centre dream.

The massive development, which includes a new hotel, will allow the Winter Gardens to host up to 7,000 delegates.

It is hoped the announcement will put the resort back in the big league with potential to see the return of major political conferences.

Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn said: “This is a once in a generation opportunity which will alter the face of the resort forever.”

The Government announced the project as part of its national industrial strategy a series of measures across the North West as part of a £556m cash boost for the Northern Powerhouse.

It said this would include: “A 21st century conference centre and hotel in Blackpool at the Winter Gardens – helping the town re-establish its presence as a leading conference destination.”

The conference centre plan was mooted last year when the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership began lobbying for funding for a series of projects across the county.

Work could begin later this year with a view to completing the project by spring 2019.

It would be based at the Leopold Grove side of the complex and would have a double height entrance foyer, with exhibition space on the first floor.

Above this on the second floor would be a large uninterrupted space capable of hosting major conferences of up to 2,000 people complementing the existing Grade II listed building’s exhibition spaces and venues.

The news has been welcomed by business and community leaders across the area.

Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn, who was part of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership team which put together the bid for cash, said it was a triumph for Blackpool.

He said: “By coordinating the efforts of the 14 political leaders of Lancashire, and the business-led Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP), I felt confident that we would secure the best possible outcome for Lancashire. The Prime Ministers announcement confirms that this approach was crucial.

“We had hoped to secure somewhere in the region of £35m from Growth Deal 3.

“To have been awarded just shy of £70m therefore is nothing short of a triumph, and shows the value of us all working together, and I want to thank all of the leaders of Lancashire, and my fellow LEP directors for their support and efforts to bring home this result.

“Projects around advanced manufacturing in Blackburn, the Burnley Growth corridor and huge housing delivery south of Lancaster will make significant improvements to those communities, and bring in further millions of pounds of private sector investment.

“But for us here in Blackpool, the icing on the cake is that we can now deliver on our plans for a £20m state of the art conference centre - linking the historic Winter Gardens to the new facilities it needs.

“This pulls together various strands of investment and infrastructure planning including new town centre hotels aimed at business tourists, the new tramway extension and the potential for further new restaurants and other growth around the Winter Gardens site.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity, secured by collaborative working, which will alter the face of the resort forever.

“People can start to expect to see preparatory works on site in the late spring, as we begin the process of building Blackpool’s conferencing future.

Claire Smith, from the hoteliers association Stay Blackpool, said it would be a major boost for the resort and what it could offer to visitors.

She said: “This is absolutely fabulous – what we have been after ever since the super casino bid failed.

“However, the new conference facilities must not be to the detriment of the business we already have.

“If money can be found in all of this to improve the existing facilities at the wonderful Winter Gardens, such as the things our biggest customers, the dance festivals have been asking for like air conditioning, then it will be brilliant for our resort.

“The new centre will be a great size and will hopefully attract new conferences we don’t already have.

“We will have accommodation to suit every pocket for any conferences and together with the new centre we will have the entertainment and venues which will make Blackpool’s offer even more brilliant.

Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce said: “This is a significant announcement for Blackpool which is set to benefit in the years to come by re-establishing the town as a leading conference destination.

“This is a clear commitment from government to back business post Brexit to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of economic growth for years to come.

“The funds allocated to the Northern Powerhouse is set to address the future needs of industry and consider potential new markets which will certainly deliver economic impact, jobs and growth across the north.”

Martin Long, from the Blackpool Business Leadership Group, said: “We supported the proposed conference centre and so it is great news for Blackpool and the regeneration of the town centre.

“The project will create jobs, as will bringing new conferences to Blackpool, and it will be a major boost for the economy.”

The Lancashire Enterprise Partnership said the Government cash would fuel projects which alone could generate or support nearly 8,000 jobs, create 4,700 new homes and deliver £2,247m to the Lancashire and UK economy by 2030.