Winter Gardens’ repair work claims another victim as show halted

Ballroom repair sees another gig cancelled
Ballroom repair sees another gig cancelled
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Another gig at Blackpool’s legendary Empress Ballroom has been pulled – but Winter Gardens chiefs say the venue will reopen next Friday.

READ MORE: Gig postponed as Blackpool's Empress Ballroom repair gets underway

The Kooks are the latest act to cancel a show at the historic venue, after a section of the ceiling fell in last month.

Assessments have been taking place and repairs are underway, but Winter Gardens’ bosses have been unable to get the go-ahead for music events although they say the venue will reopen for other events from next Friday, November 4.

At that time, eight scaffolding towers will be in place to allow restoration work to take place.

The first show cancelled at the Empress was Alt-J’s gig, when a panel of the ornate plasterwork ceiling was found to have fallen from the roof early on Monday, September 4 during routine checks of the entertainment complex. Placebo shifted their show earlier this month to Manchester’s Albert Hall.

The Kooks were due to play at the Empress Ballroom

The Kooks were due to play at the Empress Ballroom

Libertines postponed their September gig, rescheduling for Thursday, December 14. It remains unclear as yet whether this date – the final gig in the Empress’ diary – will go ahead. No shows are currently scheduled for 2018.

Initial estimates said the ballroom would re-open at the start of October, but the schedule for restoration and a full reopening has not been confirmed.

Blackpool Council, the owners of the Winter Gardens, has now brought forward plans to carry out a major survey of ‘historic plaster ceilings in entertainment venues within its ownership’.

The survey was already scheduled for 2018, but Winter Gardens managing director Michael Williams said ‘proposed changes to the official guidance on plaster ceilings’ following an incident at London’s Apollo had brought forward a ‘programme of further investigation, repair and restoration by approximately one year’.

Mr Williams said: “This will give us greater certainty as to the condition of these ceilings and allow us to plan and budget for repairs and restoration at an earlier stage.“However, in order to

undertake the refurbishment of the Empress Ballroom ceiling, we will need to install a working platform at high level and this will be supported by a series of towers that will span the length of the ballroom.

“Clearly, this will impact on events that we host in the venue.”

Where sell-out gigs can accommodate around 3,000 revellers, attendance at the events which are going ahead is significantly reduced from the Empress’s maximum capacity.

Headlining bands also bring in heavy stage, sound and lighting rigs.

Mr Williams added: “We would like to apologise for any potential inconveniences as a result of the works to the Empress Ballroom. This issue has been forced upon us a result of extreme circumstances and we appreciate the understanding that everyone has shown thus far.

“We have tried to minimise its impact as the other alternative was to close the venue which clearly would be a last resort as we would have had to cancel events which would be disappointing for event organisers and attendees.

“We have developed an excellent programme of events at the Winter Gardens and genuinely do appreciate the fact that promoters continue to hold their events in Blackpool and for the subsequent benefits that this brings not only to the Winter Gardens but also the resort.”

The repairs and surveys in the rest of the complex will not affect work on the new conference centre, and restoration works in the Spanish Hall will continue as previously planned.

Despite the cancelled gigs, a Winter Gardens spokesman said the venue had not suffered due to lost revenue during the closure which happened during a relatively quiet spell in the ballroom’s schedule.

The prestigious Blackpool National Dance Championships, from Thursday to Saturday, November 16 to 18 will go ahead in the ballroom, as will The Big Benidorm Reunion on Saturday, December 2 and the annual New Year’s Eve Family Party.

‘Real progress’ at venue

After more than a decade of work to restore a key Blackpool landmark, bosses have hailed the ‘real progress’ made.

The Winter Gardens has been singled out for praise in the latest Heritage At Risk register, published today by Historic England.

After years on the list of locations under threat because of their poor condition, steps have been taken to secure the site’s future.

More than £4m has been spent on repairs and restoration works to the Spanish Hall and Empress Ballroom over the last five years.

The latest edition of the register says the Winter Gardens site ‘sits in the very heart of Blackpool and is a testimony to the town’s rich history and contributes greatly to our nation’s culture’.

It adds: “Eager to see it saved for future generations, we have given a £500,000 grant towards the £1.2m repair of the roof of the Spanish Hall. The works are expected to be completed next year.”

Michael Williams, managing director of Blackpool Entertainment Company Limited, which operates the Winter Gardens on behalf of owners Blackpool Council, said: “We know there’s still a long way to go with repairing the Winter Gardens and we knew when the Council bought it that we’d need to be in it for the long haul, but real progress has been made and continues to be made.“Along with the council we have been working closely with Historic England to tackle the bigger issues and they continue to be incredibly supportive.

“Recent issues with the Empress Ballroom ceiling have been a setback, but Historic England have are working with us and have provided us with advice.”

Events have been disrupted since a fallen ceiling tile forced bosses to make urgent repairs to the Empress Ballroom, which is set to reopen early next month.

The Winter Gardens said it has been dealing with a backlog of major issues in recent years as part of efforts to restore the attraction.A previous version of the Heritage At Risk register said

buildings were ‘ suffering from serious neglect when acquired by Blackpool Council in 2010’.

However, today’s version recognises the steps taken to remedy the situation, although it remains on the list for now.

Winter Gardens chiefs said a major survey was undertaken in 2015 to help them understand what needed to be done over the next 10 years.

Carl Carrington, secretary of the Winter Gardens Trust, said it was too soon to expect the venue to be taken off the list entirely but welcomed recognition of the progress made so far.

He added: “We all know the are still issues we need to tackle, but the council has responded positively to the recent issues and it’s clear they remain committed to working with Historic England and other agencies to resolve them.”

The Heritage at Risk Register 2017 reveals that in the North West, 89 Grade I and II* buildings, 114 scheduled monuments, 134 places of worship, seven registered parks and gardens and 65 conservation areas are at risk of neglect, decay or inappropriate change.

There are 409 assets on the North West Register, 14 fewer than in 2016.

Charles Smith, Heritage at Risk principal for Historic England in the North West, said: “Heritage promotes a sense of belonging and civic pride – and it can also be a huge driver for economic growth, stimulating regeneration and tourism.

“This year we have seen some wonderful places saved as result of fruitful partnership working with councils.”