Blackpool blows a fuse as row hits 'worst-ever' illuminations

For a century it has been a uniquely British spectacle that still attracts millions of out-of-season visitors to Blackpool's Golden Mile.

But this year the seafront's "world famous" illuminations have been overshadowed by claims – denied by organisers – that they are the shoddiest ever staged in the history of the event and may even put people off coming to the town altogether.

Much of the criticism has come from hoteliers and business leaders, who have gone to the lengths of convening an emergency meeting entitled "Save Blackpool Illuminations".

Blackpool Council has been accused of penny-pinching, but officials blamed a bulb shortage following a fire at its illuminations depot earlier in the year. The council also had to battle gales both this year and last that wrecked several of the more elaborate displays.

The officials are adamant that all the technical glitches have been resolved. They have also pointed to a number of eye-catching new additions that light up the resort's prom, tower, and piers.

The illuminations traces its history back to 1879 when "artificial sunshine" was created by eight arc lamps, the first electric street lights in the country.

A more elaborate display in 1912 marked a royal visit – after which it became established as a regular event to extend the holiday season into the dark nights. Today there are six miles of shimmering lights, where the traditional bulb shares the limelight with fibre optics, lasers and LED technology.

Three million visitors are expected this year, so there is much at stake. Goodwill is the goal of the world's biggest free light show. Unfortunately for organisers, public opinion is divided. "They aren't as good this year and they are short by a couple of miles either side of the prom," said doughnut shop proprietor Matthew Stirrop.

"I have been on the pier more than 25 years and this year's displays are way, way down on previous years. It's all down to money," he added.

Trader Mandy Richards, from Hull, who sells hats, scarves and gloves at fairs, said: "I thought they were beautiful myself, but I have just had a lady customer asking: 'Have they cut down?'"

Ms Richards trades directly beneath the new flashing heart display on Blackpool Tower, which recently had a £20m refurbishment.

She said: "I like the heart, but it is a bit of a lonely heart. It would be nice if the whole tower was lit up."

Kath Lawrence and Bev Boughton, from Bristol, were among an extended family of three couples and seven children making their annual pilgrimage, with grandmother Irene Lawrence, 71, from Wigan. Kath said: "The lights are maybe not as good as previous years', but they are still nice."

But Kirsty Lemarinel, 19, and Jess Whittle, 18, from Chorley, Lancashire, were determined not to join in what some see as an increasingly po-faced debate.

Jess said: "We have been six times in the last week and think it's terrific." One stallholder added: "The trouble is people take it too seriously."

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