Destination Blackpool: Promenade vies to become 'Brighton of the North' following major investment

Four years after unveiling £100m of improvements, a new plan called Destination Blackpool aims to tackle the 'deep-rooted negative perceptions of the town'

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The Independent Online

Low grey clouds bleed into the Irish Sea from Blackpool promenade as the fells of the Lake District loom on the distant horizon.

The resort wants to become a quality year-round place for families – like the Lakes – once it shrugs off its bawdy stag and hen party reputation. Despite being England’s most popular seaside resort, with 14 million visitors last year, it lacks Brighton’s charm or the culture of Margate’s Turner contemporary gallery.

A recently published three-year plan called Destination Blackpool aims to tackle the “deep-rooted negative perceptions of the town” by shifting away from stag and hen nights and the “benefits culture that blights the resort” by 2017.

It is the latest attempt to boost Blackpool’s image, and comes just four years after the resort unveiled its new £100m improvements to the promenade. Howard Plant, a businessman, bemoaned the lack of decent hotel accommodation. He claimed empty bed and breakfasts have become a “dumping ground” for  heroine addicts.

 

He said the M55, the motorway that serves the town, was the death knell for Blackpool as people no longer stay overnight, as they can drive home easily. Earlier this year, the council asked the Treasury for power to reduce housing benefit paid out locally by 30 per cent to landlords of substandard accommodation as an incentive to improve, but it was rejected.

Two of its piers – the Central Pier near Blackpool Tower and the South Pier – went up for sale this week, commanding a multimillion-pound price tag.

Blackpool is the country’s sixth most deprived local authority and is the poorest of the larger English seaside resorts. There have been previous calls to action and false dawns, including a 2007 super-casino plan that never materialised.

Iain Hawkins, of Merlin Entertainments, which owns Blackpool Tower, said the report is the continuation of good work that has taken place over five years. “The resort is starting to flourish,” he said.

“It’s important that it’s a place for everybody,” he added. “I don’t want people to leave the circus or Sea Life and walk out to see a group of drunken people in mankinis.”

The report identifies tackling negative perceptions of higher-spending visitors who are “unconvinced” by Blackpool. Perhaps the stags and hens don’t help. The council banned mankinis in parts of the town during the day after a Public Space Protection Order outlawed inappropriate clothing. But tourists are vital to the area’s economy, generating £1.295bn annually, and with 24,000 jobs dependent on them.

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Blackpool's Central Pier was put up for sale this week (AFP/Getty)

Nicholas Wright, a retired teacher, is disappointed by the lack of vision. “Blackpool is a bit of a curate’s egg,” he said. “The council seems to like making a big splash but there needs to be more of a cohesive plan.”

Weaknesses identified by the report include lack of strategic investment in the Illuminations (a key attraction for Blackpool),  an over-reliance on bars and clubs, and a lack of quality retail brands.

Andrew Brownbridge bemoaned the failure to get a casino. His barber’s shop is closing after footfall dropped. “There was no plan B for Blackpool after the casino. All the other regeneration feels rather peripheral,” he said.

Graham Cain, a Blackpool councillor, said it had recently received more than £2m to improve arts and culture. There was a “feelgood factor” in the resort in 2014 when it “turned as corner” as it hosted a run  of Mamma Mia! at the Opera House. This year,  Cats will have a summer season there.

He conceded that finding a decent hotel room is problematic. “We have got too many beds but what we haven’t got is enough of a good quality.”

 On party groups, he said: “We are not saying we don’t want stags and hens – we just don’t want rowdy and lewd behaviour, or the inflatable penises and breasts.”

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