Geordies facing the loss of their fantasy Spanish City

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The Independent Online

Girl it looks so pretty to me, like it always did Like the Spanish City to me, when we were kids Tunnel of Love, Dire Straits

Girl it looks so pretty to me, like it always did Like the Spanish City to me, when we were kids Tunnel of Love, Dire Straits

An Edwardian funfair, immortalised by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits in one of the greatest pop love songs of the 1980s, is in danger of being demolished.

The Spanish City, in Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, has been part of Geordie folklore since opening in 1904, drawing millions of visitors from as far afield as Glasgow. "The Spanner" achieved fame with a younger generation when, in 1980, it inspired Tunnel of Love by Knopfler and his band Dire Straits.

But even this has not been sufficient to save the big dipper, the house of fun or the waltzer rides, which now look certain to be bulldozed into history.

The funfair has done well to withstand the battering of nearly a century of cold North Sea winds and rain. But the passage of time has struck the final blow, strangling the supply of visitors to Whitley Bay and to its famous fairground.

Teenagers now spend their money on home computer games, while parents can pick up cheap foreign holidays - with the promise of better weather.

Last night Knopfler, who moved from Glasgow to Tyneside as a child, spoke of his sadness at the loss. "The Spanish City is something I will always associate with my days at Whitley Bay seaside as a child," said the 51-year-old singer. "I'll be really sorry to see it go."

On Tuesday, North Tyneside Council will decide whether or not to purchase the site from Jersey-based Dobson Leisure for £2.5m. In theory, it is part of a major plan to revamp Whitley Bay, which has fallen on hard times, in common with British seaside resorts. It now has 28 charity shops.

But controversy rages in the town, with many fearing the land will be used for housing rather than to build a new tourist attraction to bring the visitors back.

The Spanish City is said to have taken its name from the Torreadors, a popular music hall act who performed on the Promenade at the turn of the century. The group was so popular that traders moved in, painting their stalls with Spanish scenes.

Rides and amusements quickly followed and, in 1910, the Empress Ballroom was opened, a huge white dome modelled on the Moorish designs of Granada.

Spanish City's popularity continued to grow through both world wars, peaking in the 1960s and 70s, when the resort was packed with tourists, particularly during Glasgow and Edinburgh fortnights.

But today the resort has fewer than 50 hotels and, even on sunny Bank Holidays, the funfair usually has just a handful of people perusing the stalls.

The tourism manager for North Tyneside Council, Peter Warne, said: "Whitley Bay doesn't have a future as a seaside resort for families wanting sun, sea and sand.

"Even with global warming, the temperatures will never be what people want."

Instead, the town is trying to market itself as a base for tourists - including Scandinavians arriving by ferries on the nearby Tyne - to tour the region.

"As a resort, we have to offer something else. We have to offer them adventure and a leisure destination. We have to make it a more cultural resort, with quality restaurants.

"The funfair is out of date. Even bingo is going online now. Unless you are going to offer something of EuroDisney quality, people aren't going to come."

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